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Source: United States of America
18 July 2012








Palestinian ‘Liquid Gold’

By Anna-Maija Litvak

With USAID assistance, Palestinian olive oil is flowing to international markets, providing a boost for struggling growers.

THE FRAGRANT and healthy oil extracted from the fruit of the olive tree, indigenous to the rocky hills of the West Bank, has long been important to the Palestinian people and their culture. Some historians even argue that the first cultivation of olive trees may have taken place in the area now comprising the West Bank and Israel. However, fre­quent droughts and inefficient growing practices have led to inconsistent quantity and quality, making it tough for farmers to realize profits from selling the fruit and the products derived from it on the world market.

Today, about 200,000 Palestinian farmers support their families by growing olives. Most of the olive products are produced for local consumption, but Palestinian olive oil is fast gaining international recognition for its unique aroma and flavor.

USAID is working with Palestinian farmers to improve the quality of the olives and make the methods used throughout the production process more sustainable, equitable and environmentally friendly. Newer, more efficient methods should boost in-comes in a region where rural families often struggle just to get by. This project comes on the heels of an eight-year-old effort that was among the first to acquaint Western palates with Palestinian olives.

In 2004, Nasser Abufarha, an entrepreneur from Burqeen in the northern West Bank, was looking for a way to boost the local olive oil market, and came up with a winning combination: authentic organic Palestinian olive oil coupled with the desire of Western consumers for responsibly produced goods. To bring the local oil to international dinner tables, he established Canaan Fair Trade, a company that processes, packages and markets the organic olive oil produced by artisan farmers throughout the West Bank.

“We are not just making a bottle of olive oil. We are working on the relationship between the socially ethical consumer and the Palestinian farmer producing the oil,” said Abufarha.

This unique concept has made Canaan the largest exporter of fair-trade and organic Palestinian olive oil to Europe and the United States — while providing a sustainable income for more than 1,700 farming families. Canaan’s Estate Olive Oil is highly prized by gourmets around the world, even at a cost of $15 for a small 12.7 fluid ounce bottle. Farmers traditionally make approximately 18 Israeli shekels (about $4.50) per kilogram when they sell their oil locally. With Canaan, each farmer gets about 24 Israeli shekels ($6) per kilogram — an almost one-third increase in earnings.

But Abufarha believes his company goes even further: “We go beyond being fair to farmers. We also affect social change by organizing the farmers into cooperatives. This increases interaction between the producers and stimulates the overall culture of olive oil production.”

Currently, there are 43 farmers’ fair trade cooperatives and nine women’s cooperatives focused specifically on empowering rural women to become economically successful. The members of the cooperatives support each other, while Canaan provides them services to improve their products. Through the cooperatives, the farmers benefit from collective pressing that enables them to press smaller quantities of olives on a daily basis, leading to higher-quality oil with lower acidity, as well as other shared benefits. In this way, the olive farmers, who usually produce around 60 kilograms of olive oil a week, can double their production.

IMPROVING THE harvesting and production process is an important part of the work Canaan does with the farmers. And this is an area where USAID’s assistance to West Bank agriculture has helped make a measurable difference. USAID has invested in training the olive producers and improving growing methods to increase yields and to cultivate products of a high enough standard to compete internationally.

prized by gourmets around the world, even at a cost of $15 for a small 12.7 fluid ounce bottle. Farmers traditionally make approximately 18 Israeli shekels (about $4.50) per kilogram when they sell their oil locally. With Canaan, each farmer gets about 24 Israeli shekels ($6) per kilogram — an almost one-third increase in earnings.

But Abufarha believes his company goes even further: “We go beyond being fair to farmers. We also affect social change by organizing the farmers into cooperatives. This increases interaction between the producers and stimulates the overall culture of olive oil production.”

Currently, there are 43 farmers’ fair trade cooperatives and nine women’s cooperatives focused specifically on empowering rural women to become economically successful. The members of the cooperatives support each other, while Canaan provides them services to improve their products. Through the cooperatives, the farmers benefit from collective pressing that enables them to press smaller quantities of olives on a daily basis, leading to higher-quality oil with lower acidity, as well as other shared benefits. In this way, the olive farmers, who usually produce around 60 kilograms of olive oil a week, can double their production.

IMPROVING THE harvesting and production process is an important part of the work Canaan does with the farmers. And this is an area where USAID’s assistance to West Bank agriculture has helped make a measurable difference. USAID has invested in training the olive producers and improving growing methods to increase yields and to cultivate products of a high enough standard to compete internationally.


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