By: George Kurzom
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
This article seeks to formulate a policy based on the resilience approach that aims at reinforcing the ability of society to learn from the outcomes of sudden changes and modify the goals and interventions accordingly.
Preparedness for sudden events under the resilience approach requires tolerance with short-term losses. The resilience approach gives priority to the work of the system at the long term. While the adaptation and vulnerability approaches give preference to the sensitivities and vulnerabilities of the present generation, the resilience approach adopts a cross-generational perspective.
Whenever governance styles inhibit effective community participation and restrict the practices of participatory social administration, local resilience will tend to diminish and the adaptability will be limited. In contrast, the socio-ecological system is more resilient when it functions in a multi-dimensional manner and in a clear decision-making process, where there are dynamic knowledge, production and learning and where the social capital stock promotes trust.
Interventions based on the resilience approach are basically designed to reinforce the qualities of a certain system in order to avoid sudden turnarounds in the dual socio-ecological system towards an undesired status. The monitoring of a system’s resilience, or in other words, monitoring the ability of a dual system to continue to function in the face of change or to become an improved system, such monitoring takes place by assessing the ability to experiment, learn, monitor any newly emerging disturbance and self-organize in response to unexpected pressures.
The resilience approach to natural resources management stems from the ecological theory of the 1970s, aimed at better addressing the nonlinear and largely uncertain dynamics of the ecological systems. A resilience-based policy mainly focuses on the cumulative ability of the system to control and respond.
This approach is based on a basic hypothesis that on the long run, there should not be any tradeoff between ecological integrity and human wellbeing; rather sustainability is only possible through the conception of integrated and interconnected socio-ecological system over time. A policy that is informed by the resilience approach requires much tolerance with the immediate localized changes, fluctuations and losses in favor of a greater benefit in the system’s integrity as a whole.
Resilience against climatic, economic and political challenges
To reinforce the resilience of Palestinian popular segments against climatic and external and internal economic and political challenges, it is necessary for official, government and NGO stakeholders to act quickly on developing a clear strategy to confront the climate crisis, including the establishment of a coherent vision of scientific research and technology in support of this strategy. It is also necessary that the Palestinians are equipped with the necessary tools and mechanisms to measure the extent of atmosphere pollution, as well as special monitoring stations to assess risks associated with air pollution and accordingly develop the required plans, policies and measures to confront air pollution and the potential climate change associated with it.
Since the high use of external production inputs in the agricultural units increases the emission of CO and CO2, and consequently increases the consumption of fossil energy that is controlled by the Israeli occupation, presumably we have to seek to mainstream agricultural techniques that reduce the use of external inputs by reusing, recycling and effective management of the farm’s materials and equipment and the energy. This is envisaged to maintain and improve environment quality and protect national resources. To do so, it is necessary to develop research that supports production patterns with low external input.
It goes without saying that independence in the agricultural and food production is a prerequisite for achieving food sovereignty. To achieve this independence, we should encourage and develop production patterns that are mainly based on the local stock of knowledge and experience by inventing environment-friendly, natural and biological farming techniques and stimulating the energies of youth and academicians in conducting scientific research based on experiments and applications of the producers and farmers themselves. Such research would especially focus on irrigation, processing of agricultural, organic and liquid waste, and improving the quality of local and heirloom seeds and reproducing them, among others. Naturally, such an approach will contradict the continuing dependence on the Israeli and foreign food.
Agricultural development based on local agricultural resources, potentials, practices, experiments and knowledge is the core of organic agriculture.
Since agricultural patterns built on the premise of “market economy” and high external production inputs that are promoted by many Palestinian economists and politicians have been originally developed in western societies, which have different climates and agricultural patterns from those in Palestine and other Levant countries and have nothing to do with the actual needs of our farmers, they evidently disregard the local resources and potentials and overlook the prudent and rich local farming practices, experiences and knowledge that have been acquired and developed by our farmers over the years. Furthermore, there is a lack of interest in local indigenous crops, seeds and animals. Official agricultural research often focuses on supporting well-off farmers who have the capacity to purchase “modern” agricultural technology and supplies which the majority of farmers cannot afford, and which are also unsuitable for rain-fed agriculture and local low external input farming.
Here lies the problem with many agricultural “experts” and agronomists, who are strongly influenced by western curricula and textbooks that taught them agronomy on the basis of “market economy” and high external inputs, such as chemicals, hybrid seeds, irrigation water and others.
Traditional farming does not conflict with advanced science and research. It is challenging to integrate science into small-scale traditional farming but still possible. Achieving a significant increase in organic and semi-organic practices requires further research and training in order to achieve a better understanding of how eco-agricultural systems work. For example, research should be conducted on aspects of functional integration of the different insects in order to improve natural methods of pest control. It is also necessary to enhance knowledge on soil characteristics and structure and the dynamics of nutrient recycling in order to advise farmers on the best uses of integrated agricultural patterns, crop rotations, nitrogen-fixing plants and green fertilizers to improve soil fertility.
Chemical fertilizers are not part of the solution for drought and desertification but rather part of the problem. Thus focus needs to be made on the environmental solution that is reflected in encouraging famers to produce organic fertilizers themselves or distribute them to farmers, since such fertilizers provide the dry and nutrient-poor soil with organic matter and microorganisms lacking in such soil because of drought and desertification. In result, the soil qualities and fertility will improve.
Production and use of local seeds
Furthermore, the West Bank and Gaza Strip currently face a real scarcity of most varieties of local seeds and even complete loss of some of them. This is because Israeli and other foreign seeds and chemicals companies have sought for long years to remove the Palestinian local seeds from the market and replace them with hybrid (artificial) seeds, thus forcing local farmers to buy these seeds and the associated chemical supplies in every new season. This has increased the cost and the dependence on the Israeli and foreign seeds and chemicals companies, allowing them to maintain continued control of the Palestinian food and deprive grassroots population groups from their food sovereignty.
In order to promote a strategic direction towards the collection, reuse and reproduction of local indigenous seeds, research and extension work should be focused on refuting some of the common misconceptions in this regard. For example, many Palestinian farmers think that hybrid (artificial) seeds and seedlings increase production and are easier to cultivate and fail to notice that these seeds consume large quantities of water and require chemical pesticides and fertilizers that damage the soil, as well as many other services. Some farmers also do not realize that the roots of hybrid (artificial) seedlings do not penetrate the soil like what local heirloom seedlings do, as the latter extend their roots deep and vigorously in search for humidity deep in the ground even if not irrigated.
It is of utmost importance to conduct agricultural and economic studies to demonstrate that when relying on hybrid (artificial) seeds, wealth and capital flow in the direction of Israeli and other foreign companies because of farmers’ structural dependence on these companies as they are forced to purchase the hybrid seeds and their chemical supplies from the same companies and their agents on a continual basis. In contrast, the reliance on local indigenous or heirloom seeds allows wealth and capital to flow in both directions (from farmers to the local community and vice versa). In other words, the production and use of local seeds ensure that wealth and capital are kept and recycled within the same country, since the reliance on local agricultural supplies such as heirloom seeds, manure, green fertilizers, animals, workforce and other resources keeps them within the same local production and consumption cycle. Farmers can themselves produce the essential agricultural supplies (local seeds and organic fertilizers), thus enhancing their self-reliance and achieving national sovereignty over seeds and consequently over food.
It is also of utmost importance to demonstrate comparative observations that prove the unique characteristics of local or heirloom seeds, which are adapted to local conditions and resistant to pests and diseases, contrary to the hybrid (artificial) seeds that require chemicals in order to control pests and diseases. In addition, fruits and crops from local seeds have certain qualities that are lacking in those from artificial and chemical seeds, such as being rich in nutrients, having a long production period and more consistent production, being able to tolerate dry climate and resist various diseases and pest insects, and being able to preserve important genetic traits. The disappearance of many genetic traits with the loss of local seeds explains the fact that hybrid seeds do not have the ability to resist diseases and pest insects, leading to the occurrence of new pests and diseases.
Finally, there is a need for a critical economic development review of the misconception that the Palestinian agricultural marketing is the main problem. This misconception can be refuted by demonstrating that the Palestinian production surplus (production against consumption) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip exists in a few crops only, while the same region suffers from a grave shortage in most agricultural needs that form the backbone of food sovereignty, leading to importing these deficits from the Israeli occupation or from abroad. Does not the occupied Palestinian territory import most of strategic crops such as grains, wheat, forage and others? Thus the problem is what and how we cultivate. We are cultivating limited amounts of the essential and strategic crops. At the same time, and in an unplanned manner, we are cultivating other crops in unnecessarily huge quantities without having adequate guarantees for their export because we do not control the crossings, borders and the export process itself.
We should also study the situation of small agricultural holdings or what is known as the fragmentation of holdings, perceived as a problem by many. We propose to discuss our claim in this article in particular that small holdings are not a problem, as a resilient and self-reliant agriculture gives preference to going back to small holdings. The problem lies in the absence of a national production policy that is based on local production inputs and that encourages people to engage in agriculture and diversify the production in a way that primarily responds to local needs Only then we will liberate ourselves from the mentality of searching for salvation that comes from outside.