By: George Kurzom
Agricultural extension to farmers in Tubas
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
Since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and to date, the service and financial mediation sector has been growing steadily in both regions, with its share in the GDP reaching more than 23% in 2013. At the same time, the share of agriculture has declined dramatically from about 35% at the eve of the occupation in 1967 to 9.8% in 2000, and then to 5.5% in 2010, 4.6% in 2012, 4.1% in 2013 and 3.8% in 2014.
Agriculture’s absorption of the labor force has also sharply declined from around 32% in the early 1980s to 11.5% in 2012 and to 10.4% in 2014, while 36.1% of the workforce were working in the service sector in 2014. Although the agricultural sector enjoys a large absorptive potential in terms of Palestinian labor force, the Palestinian Authority (PA) investment plans have allocated marginal shares to this sector out of total investments. In contrast, the Israeli settlers in general, and settlers in the Jordan Valley in particular, have continued to expand in the Palestinian agricultural areas under their control, cultivating more and more land, while the area of Palestinian cultivated land has been shrinking constantly, not only because of Israeli policies of confiscation and Judaization of Palestinian land, but also because of lack of effective Palestinian official positions and policies towards land and food production.
Since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Israeli occupation has incessantly continued to create new demographic realities on the ground by settlement activities and other means, leading to the fragmentation of the West Bank to Palestinian residential enclaves surrounded by Israeli military forces, military bases, settlements, bypass roads and the colonial Wall.
External factors related to the looting of water, appropriation of land, Jewish settlement activity, the apartheid Wall, the obstruction of marketing potentials and others, constitute the most serious objective causes of the significant decline in the Palestinian agriculture but they are not the only causes. There are other subjective causes, such as the purchase of agricultural lands by some investors to transform them to “border industrial zones” (jointly with Israeli capital!), such as the plain of Marj Bin Amer in Jenin, in addition to constructing establishments and buildings on wide areas of green zones and agricultural lands, causing further damage to the Palestinian agricultural structure.
The shocking agricultural reality is reflected in the huge and rapid shrinking of cultivated areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In 2008, for example, the area of cultivated land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was estimated at 1513 sq. km, or around 25% of the total area. In less than four years, in 2011, the cultivated area in the West Bank and Gaza Strip declined to 932 sq. km, or 15.5% of the total area, reflecting a 38% of reduction in the cultivated areas over a period of less than four years!
Since the 1967 occupation, a tragic Palestinian reality has been reflected in the major and consistent shift from the diversified and self-sufficient food production in the Palestinian rural areas to economic and food dependency on Israel. While the Palestinians have been forced to abandon their agricultural lands, the number of Palestinian laborers in the Israeli market has increased. Thus the Palestinian society has been transformed into a consumer society importing most its food from Israel and abroad, which has caused a serious decline in the local capital accumulation that has not been re-invested domestically in agricultural or industrial production.
Since 1990s, a serious and consistent decline in the food self-sufficiency ratio (production to consumption) has been observed. In 1993, for example, the ratio exceeded 100% with regard to certain crops, namely citruses and certain types of fruits (213%), olives (190%) and main vegetables including watermelons and melons (149%). During the first decade of the 21st century, the self-sufficiency ratio declined to less than 100% for citruses, fruits and main vegetables and to less than 150% for olives. As for grains, forage and animal production (red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and milk), there has been a significant deficit in the self-sufficiency ratio since 1993, at 15%, 25% and 47% respectively, and has further declined to less than 10% for grains and forage and less than 25% for animal production by the last years of the first decade of this century.