PARC’s Ongoing Commitment to Small-Scale Farmers and COVID-19 Efforts
Equal Exchange is proud to partner with the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC). For 37 years, the organization has been committed to Palestinian farmers, cooperatives, and community groups in the West Bank and Gaza. PARC continues to inspire us during the pandemic with its long-range vision and its hands-on effectiveness.
Continuing Challenges for Palestinian Farmers
Life in the West Bank and Gaza is arduous for Palestinian farmers due to the arid climate — and the day-to-day restrictions that are part of the reality of Israeli occupation. Crops must be cultivated in the parched, sandy earth, which over the past decades has become more difficult given climate change-induced drought. Much of the water used for irrigation comes from Israel and has daily caps. On some days — often unexpectedly — the water is shut off for hours or doesn’t flow through the pipes at all. In addition, the Israeli government restricts the water that’s collected in Palestinian wells or is captured during rainfall.
The occupation causes other hardships for Palestinian farmers. It is cumbersome and costly to export their products through Israeli ports, and numerous inspections are required at checkpoints along the way. The wall between Israel and the West Bank separates a number of olive farmers from their trees and presents serious challenges for pruning and harvesting.
This past February, the Israeli government threatened to curtail the shipment of West Bank products through the Israeli ports of Haifa and Ashdod, but several weeks of negotiations kept the ports open. There is no guarantee that the Israeli government won’t attempt to close the ports again at some time in the future. PARC is a non-governmental organization (NGO) which provides invaluable assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and helps address shortfalls and challenges that may arise for farmers. At the start of the pandemic, PARC used its resources to address sudden hardships, such as the loss of jobs and the lack of food, that affected farm families and the general population.
PARC’s Campaigns to Provide Relief During COVID-19
Back in March, when the outbreak of COVID-19 started in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Authority (PA) declared a state of emergency, and a two-week lockdown began. Given the severity of the situation, the lockdown was extended for another month. This paralyzed all aspects of life in the West Bank, and it particularly affected vulnerable low-income communities and households.
PARC focused its efforts on assisting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by enacting a comprehensive plan. First, it provided food to marginalized groups. Next it distributed a range of inputs, such as seeds and plants, to its farmer cooperatives; it also assisted groups in marketing and distributing their produce. Finally, PARC helped reduce the spread of the virus by educating West Bank farmers on ways to protect themselves from COVID-19.
During the past six months, PARC has served as a lifeline for farmers, producers, and the general population in the West Bank and Gaza. Below is a partial list of PARC aid campaigns that it organized, together with farmer cooperatives, to provide assistance to vulnerable families during the pandemic.
In the West Bank:
- Distributed food and fresh vegetables in the Bethlehem area, which was one of the first areas to be placed under lockdown: 2,330 families
- Distributed fast-growing vegetables for home gardens: 3,510 families
- Collected and distributed olive oil for those living in refugee camps: 1,700 liters for over 1,000 families
- Distributed fruit seedlings to prepare for the next season: 23,000 trees to 302 beneficiaries
- Collected wheat and ground and packaged it as flour to distribute: 190 families
- Provided sanitization educational sessions during the initial outbreak of COVID-19: 38,450 people
- Provided food packages and hygiene kits for families dealing with unemployed family members and other hardships during the pandemic: 500 families
- Promoted self-sufficiency by distributing 6,000 meters of water pipes and 25,000 seedlings for the planting of home gardens
- Donated two tons of vegetables to food and quarantine centers
- Provided farmers with necessary material to rehabilitate their land: 1,000 farmers
Background on PARC’s History and its Ongoing Work
PARC was established by visionary leaders in 1983, ten years before the Ministry of Agriculture in the West Bank was formed by the Oslo Accords; it’s viewed by many as the original Palestinian Department of Agriculture. From its inception, PARC’s mission has been to create strategies that allow Palestinian farmers to succeed at growing crops and developing products, while providing jobs for farmers and sustenance for families. It embraces broad objectives for agricultural economic development in the West Bank and Gaza.
Back in 1983, PARC worked with hundreds of farmers. Today, it works with thousands. It administers a wide range of projects on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. There are 41 producer cooperatives that grow and process olives (for oil), dates, maftoul (couscous), almonds, and other products. PARC provides technical assistance for producers in areas such as fertilization, harvesting of crops, water enhancement systems, storage facilities, and quality control testing of agricultural products. In addition, PARC puts a specific emphasis on assisting women and youth through various programs. It has helped to build a range of community-based organizations and cooperatives based upon principles of democractic participation, transparency, and accountability.
Palestinian Small Farmer Products Available through Equal Exchange
And after weeks of waiting this past spring, we’re pleased to announce that the new 2020 shipment of West Bank organic extra-virgin olive oil is available for purchase. The last olive harvest was bountiful and we’re thrilled to have a good supply of the robust extra-virgin organic olive oil in stock. You can shop for it here. We also carry delicious super jumbo Medjool dates, handmade whole wheat maftoul, and smoky freekeh for soups and stews. Learn more about these PARC products here.
Thank you to everyone who supports Palestinian farmers by purchasing PARC products. You join us in showing solidarity to this alternative supply chain every time you do.
The 2021 board of directors for AVACH posing in front of the warehouse in Querecotillo…24 September 2020