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Organic olive oil fair trade project improves social and economic situation in Palestine

MediaGlobal

The Rebuilding Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to rebuilding communities and advocating government policies based on human rights and international law in the occupied Palestinian Territories. Their many notable campaigns have included uniting Palestinians and Israelis to rebuild homes and schools, saving a village in the Jordan River Valley, building a playground in memory of a young Palestinian girl, and registering a mini-zoning plan with the Jerusalem municipality.

The Rebuilding Alliance recently launched their first social venture, the Organic Olive Oil Fair Trade in Palestine Project, in partnership with Canaan Fair Trade. This project aims to promote peace and justice, and achieve economic improvement in the area.

“Olive oil is the national product of Palestine and a wide segment of Palestinian society depends on the olive harvest. Palestinian growers are under tremendous challenges to produce and then get their products to market under occupation. If they have to compete on price, they fall short,” Donna Baranski-Walker, Executive Director of the Rebuilding Alliance, told MediaGlobal.

It is especially hard for West Bank farmers to survive because the Israeli barrier cuts through their villages, and from the olive groves. Opponents note that the barrier’s route does not follow the accepted border between Israel and the West Bank, but rather it goes through Palestinian Territory, separating Palestinian farmers from their crop land.

“Farming is a primary source of income in the Palestinian communities situated along the barrier’s route, an area that constitutes one of the most fertile areas in the West Bank. The harm to the farming sector is liable to have drastic economic effects on the residents, whose economic situation is already very difficult, and drive many families into poverty,” said a representative of B’Tselem, a respected Israeli human rights group, in their report.

“Without jobs there is no hope for peace. This healthy organic olive oil is a good way for people who value health, food, and human rights to help sustain the livelihood of Palestinian growers and help plant thousands of olive trees,” said Baranski-Walker.

Fair trade pays the farmers a living wage, reinvests in the community, and supports sustainable farming and healthy working conditions.

In 2004, the price of olive oil was $1.50 to $2 per kilo. However, in 2005, Canaan Fair Trade paid their farmer cooperatives double that price, plus a 10 percent premium because the olives were organic and an additional 10 percent premium for fair trade. The market price for Palestinian olive oil the following year nearly doubled. In turn, farmers’ increased revenues improved the economic situation in the West Bank. Canaan continues to pay their cooperative farmers over market price plus premiums for certified farmers, as well as provide necessary material support.

The Palestinian Fair Trade Association (PFTA), which was formed in 2004, became the first certified fair trade for olive oil in the world. In a short four years, Canaan Fair Trade has become the leading olive oil exporter in Palestine. The fair trade olive oil is cultivated, harvested, and produced in the traditional, sustainable Palestinian methods.

Aside from relating to olive oil production, jobs were also created at a bottling plant in Jenin, printing labels, and in Nablus, making shipping cartons. Drivers were also employed to pick up the olive oil at the groves.

Canaan benefits 2500 families through the Organic Olive Oil Fair Trade in Palestine Project. Not only has it helped existing farmers, but it has also allowed others to start-up their own farms because Canaan has planted over 24,000 olive trees since 2005.

Canaan Fair Trade also supports the children of families. Baranski-Walker explains, “The Canaan Scholarship extends for four full years to deserving students from farm or refugee families. These students work as interns in the PFTA during the summer months, developing leadership skills that will bring lasting benefit to their communities.”

The extra virgin olive oil has been referred to as “liquid gold” because of its rich significance in Palestinian culture and current economic gains. “The Rebuilding Alliance hopes the taste of ‘liquid gold’ will warm hearts, open minds, and motivate positive action,” Baranski-Walker added.

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