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Palestinian farmers, Israeli civil administration hold meeting on strawberry production in Gaza

Nov. 10, 2016 10:25 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 12, 2016 7:17 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- A meeting was held on Thursday between Palestinian strawberry farmers from the Gaza Strip and officials from the Israeli Civil Administration to discuss plans for planting strawberries in the Bisan valley of the besieged enclave.

In a statement released by the Israeli Civil Administration, an Israeli official said that the administration had initiated a project to facilitate the planting of strawberries by Palestinian farmers in collaboration with Agriculture Affairs Coordinator Samir Madi, Head of the Liaisons and Coordination Department Raim Falah, and USAID.

The project started on an area of 12 dunams of land (about four acres), which has generated a profit of some 33,000 shekels ($8,599).

The statement added that after the proven success of the project, additional Palestinian farmers took part in it and extended the planted area to 61 dunams (15 acres).

The project has so far produced some 425 tons of strawberries, and has generated an income of some 5 million shekels ($1,302,999) for Palestinian farmers participating in the project.

The statement also added that the civil administration would initiate a seminar on the project, with the expected participation of 30 Palestinian farmers, in cooperation with the Israeli-based company Bio Bee.

The Gaza Strip has suffered under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, when Hamas was elected to rule the territory. Residents of Gaza suffer from high unemployment and poverty rates, as well as the consequences of three devastating wars with Israel since 2008, most recently in the summer of 2014.

Strawberry production, and much of agricultural production, has been on the decline since the Israeli-imposed military siege on the Gaza Strip and the consecutive ban on Gaza exports, leading many strawberry farmers to abandon the practice due to the high cost of production.

Strawberry farmers had been dependent on smuggling planting materials through tunnels between the besieged territory and Egypt. However, following the destruction of smuggling tunnels by Israeli forces in 2013, farmers were forced to purchase Israeli-imported seedlings, insecticides, and fertilizers, which dramatically raised the price of production.

In 2014 Israeli authorities began easing export restriction from Gaza into the occupied West Bank and Israel following the 2014 Israeli offensive, which created a five-fold increase in exports in 2015 from the previous year, according to the UN.

However, despite the easing of restrictions, the production and export levels in Gaza has remained significantly lower than before the Israeli-imposed blockade, which has continued to suffocate the economy in the small Palestinian territory.

The UN has said that the besieged Palestinian territory could become "uninhabitable" by 2020, as its 1.8 million residents remain in dire poverty due to the Israeli blockade, while continuing to experience slow-paced reconstruction efforts aimed at rebuilding homes for some 75,000 Palestinians who remain displaced since 2014.
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