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Tons of flowers, strawberries piled up at closed Gaza crossing

Jan. 8, 2010 12:49 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 13, 2010 1:38 P.M.)
Gaza – Ma'an – For the first time in years, Gazan farmers were told a semi-regular system of exports for flower and then strawberries would be put in place at Israeli crossings.

During 2009 there were four days when the export of goods was permitted from Gaza, there were zero days in 2008. During these years the carnation industry in Gaza has staggered, with most of the product going to feed livestock. Because of scarce water, in mid-2009, farmers that wanted to grow strawberries had to apply for permission from the de facto Gaza government to get the okay to use more than their quota of fresh water for the crops.

For the past month, an irregular schedule for the export of the goods was working at the Kerem Shalom crossing. There is, however, more product awaiting export than has been permitted through the crossing, and the perishable items are lined up in trucks near the border waiting for their turn to leave.

As of Friday, with the crossing suddenly closed Thursday after a mortar shell landed in the vicinity, three truckloads with 5,970 kilograms of strawberries and one truckload of 120,000 cut flowers were waiting at the crossing. Though the crossing is scheduled to be open on Fridays, this has not been the case since August.

According to the Agricultural Development Society (ADS) in Gaza noted that the "more than 300 out of 750 tones of strawberries that continue to be harvested between now and mid-February, are supposed to be exported; the flower season continues until the end of may and is expected to generate more than 30 million cut flowers for export, so far only 630,000 have left the Gaza Strip."

The nature of the industry is that if farms stop producing flowers or strawberries, re-starting the production will be difficult and costly. Goods produced but not sold or exported, however, represent an even greater danger.

“Each shipment that cannot be exported causes accumulating economic losses for farmers, and increases the burdens both farming families and the agricultural societies working to get the goods sold," the ADS said. The society called on crossings officials to ensure the agreed upon amount of goods exit the Strip.

The exports have so far been possible because of the help of the Dutch government, which continues to help 179 farmers in Gaza who work a total of 300 dunums of land for flower farms, and another 500 dunums of strawberry fields. The products from these farms are allocated for sale abroad.

The society thanked the Dutch government, but said farmers would prefer to make a living from their crops, rather than rely on donations from the country to compensate them for the spoiled or perished crops.

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