PARC is one of the largest NGOs in Palestine concerned with sustainable rural development and social change. It targets the most vulnerable and marginalized groups living in the rural areas, home of almost 60% of the Palestinian people. Over 21 years of work, PARC has achieved solid results in resisting the Israeli occupation, protecting farmland from confiscation and enabling rural people to access social and economic resources and actively participate in decision-making and development processes.
This paper is prepared in the context of PARC’s efforts to lobby the parties concerned with the agricultural development to give better attention and support to this sector, which encounters challenges resulting from external and internal factors.
Agriculture continues to play an important role in the economies of the majority of developing and third world countries despite the negative consequences of the rapid and large transformations occurring in the world economy nowadays as a result of aggressive globalization.
The agricultural sectors in these countries are subjected to huge pressures invoked by globalization such as the dumping of food and agricultural products from the US and Europe in their markets. The dictated obligations to introduce structural adjustments cut support to vital sectors such as agriculture and favor new sectors that can only survive with external inputs. The imposition of privatization policy forms another obstacle that these countries face in their confrontation with unified global capital and gender blind globalization. Consequently, these policies lead to the deformation of the agricultural structure and destruction of traditional farming methods and crops, which are replaced by export crops and systems requiring high-technology tools and huge capital investments. Societies in developing countries will not escape the impact of these policies.
Nevertheless, the agricultural sectors in developing countries are anchored in their capacity of steadfastness against the aforementioned pressures for the sake of ensuring the minimal required food production to prevent mass starvation and total devastation. They enjoy a high presence in the national consciousness and developmental awareness of the people of these countries. Furthermore, the agricultural sectors are rich repositories of the collective proficiency and know-how of the native people of these countries.
The Palestinian agricultural sector demonstrates the following comparative advantages that give it a prominence in the Palestinian de facto situation under the Israeli occupation.
1) Maintaining and reproducing of the Palestinian steadfastness and existence:
The various statistical data indicated that this sector plays a very crucial role in ensuring job opportunities and employments. The agriculture’s contribution to employment has risen from 12.7% in 1995 up to 16% in 2004. In addition, agriculture has guaranteed work for more than 39% of those who work in informal sectors. In 2004 more than 17% of Palestinian families relied on subsistence farming to survive.
2) Ensuring food security:
The agricultural sector still plays a central role in achieving food security for Palestinian families as quite a good number of families depend on this sector in answering their needs by means of family and domestic projects. It is worth noting that despite of the slight drop by 2% in the size of farmed lands between the years 2002-2003, the Palestinians managed to maintain a relatively steady average of cultivated lands with field crops, vegetables and fruits besides raising animals such as cows, goats and sheep. These indicators reveal the flexibility and sustainability of the agricultural sector in the provision of the basic food needs for the majority of the Palestinians away from the control of the Israeli economy mechanisms. Thus, the Palestinian agriculture contributes greatly to the enhancement of the economic independence and future disengagement between the Palestinian and Israeli economies.
3) Playing a vital role in the success of other economic sectors:
Agriculture in Palestine is considered a source of sustainability of many Palestinian industries such as food, fodders, leather, shoes, soap, furniture, cosmetics and tourist industry. Agricultural produce constitute essential inputs to all of the aforementioned industries which indicate that this sector is a central productive focal point in the Palestinian economy.
4) Reducing unemployment:
As was earlier mentioned, the Palestinian agricultural sector is known for its elasticity and ability to generate jobs, which can help ease the harsh economic situation and alleviate pockets of poverty among the population. The Palestine Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) data for 2004 indicated that unemployment percentage reached 24.5% in rural areas whereas it reached 25.5% and 32.7% in cities and refugee camps respectively.
5) Utilizing agricultural machinery:
The Palestinian agricultural sector contains quite a big number of machines and equipment despite of the deformation that occurred in its structure and the erosion of its resources.
6) Maintaining agricultural know-how and proficiency:
Palestinians have quite good knowledge of agricultural practices and technologies. Rural areas reflect cultural, social and agricultural accumulated awareness. These facts enable the agricultural sector to absorb the external pressures and challenges faced by the Palestinian people.
7) A climate that promotes diverse crops:
In Palestine, quite a big number of crop varieties are produced nearly around the year. Some of these varieties have a competitive advantage such as dates, which is grown in limited amounts throughout the world.
8) An international reputation for high-quality natural and organical produce:
The trend of the Palestinian farmers and consumers is against the genetically improved and chemically proliferated crops. This can enhance the marketing opportunities for the Palestinian agricultural produce in the world market in addition to placing it in the forefront of the Palestinian economic sectors.
9) A tradition of great economic strength:
Historically, Palestinian agriculture comprised the lion’s share of the economy. During the seventies its contribution reached nearly 50% of GDP. However, there was a huge decline in 2004 when it dipped to 10.8% of the GDP, which was the average percentage of agriculture during the past four years. It is worth noting that the systematic policies of the Israeli occupation authorities aimed at the destruction of Palestinian agriculture, in addition to the lack of budgetary support from the Palestinian Authority were the root causes of this deterioration in the agricultural sector.
10) Deep connections to all of Palestinian society:
The Palestinian agricultural sector is central to 88% of Palestine’s cities, towns and villages. Nearly 60% of Palestinians live in the rural areas. Moreover, this sector introduces the strongest foundation for developing the status and role of the Palestinian women as statistics indicated that almost 90% of the women in informal economy work in agriculture. And rural women form 30% of the Palestinian women power.
11) Local agricultural production can be globalization-proof:
The Palestinian agricultural sector escapes the harsh consequences of globalization compared with the other Palestinian sectors most notably the commercial and public sectors which rely on foreign grants and loans and therefore are subjected to the external obligations and prerequisites.
The above-mentioned facts and figures indicate that the Palestinian agricultural system is the safety valve for guaranteeing the long lasting Palestinian sovereignty and will. Therefore, the Palestinian Authority, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture, the non- governmental organizations working in rural and agricultural development and the private sector are called to make intensive efforts to improve this sector and encourage local and foreign investors to invest in agricultural infrastructures and projects.
Developmental Media and Research Dept.
Ghada Zughayar, DG Assistant for External Relations
PARC- Beit Hanina
P.O. Box 25128, Shu’fat/ Jerusalem
Tel. 00972 2 5833818
Fax: 00972 2 5831 898
E-mail: ghada @pal-arc.org
Mobile: 052 2 327 644