Grassroots International Board Member Marie Kennedy and staff member Salena Tramel visited partners and allies in the West Bank and Israel prior to joining a delegation to Gaza, co-sponsored by Code Pink. This entry is from Marie’s notes from her meetings in the West Bank.
March 1, 2009 – A Conversation with Rula Al-Khateeb of the Palestinian Farmer’s Union (PFU)
Rula Al-Khateeb, delegate at Via Campesina’s 5th International Conference in Maputo, Mozambique last October, and Public Relations Coordinator of the Palestinian Farmer’s Union met with us to discuss the PFU and its progress in becoming a Via Campesina member organization.
Begun in 1993 by Grassroots’ partner the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC), the Palestinian Farmers Union (PFU) is a secular, non-partisan organization with 9,831 members and 16 member organizations. The PFU functions mainly as an advocacy group for Palestinian farmers. Since 1995 they have been raising awareness about the recovery of the value-added tax paid by Palestinian farmers and have been successful in reclaiming 22 million sheckles that had been lost by farmers through taxation.
Rula Al-Khateeb explained how education about marketing and has allowed some farmers to establish cooperatives that allow them to collectively purchase their agricultural inputs, cutting down on the prices they would have to pay as individuals by 20 to 30%. The collective model has also been used to establish 76 lending cooperatives, which give farmers money that they need to purchase livestock and other expenses, and which they would otherwise not have access to since banks tend to see small-scale farming as a high-risk investment.
In order to allow Palestinian farmers to compete with Israeli agriculture locally and in the global market, the PFU, working with another of Grassroots’ partners the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, has sponsored training and testing programs in order to get olive oil up to international marketing standards. Thanks to these efforts some farmers have begun producing organic olive oil.
Recently the PFU, like all of the groups with whom we met, has been trying to support families suffering from the aftermath of the attacks on Gaza. Throughout the Gaza Crisis, the PFU was able to collect data on the situation within the region and they are currently seeking funds to reconstruct the farmland that has been destroyed during the conflict.