By: Saad Dagher
small farms produce most of the food we consume
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
The establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) was preceded by the existence of several Palestinian agricultural and development institutions, which emanated from political parties and organizations alert to the policies of the occupation that aim at destroying the agricultural sector, as well as its direct annexation to the occupation and its policies—a process based on snapping land from their owners, and turning people into tools in the service of the Zionist colonial project. Among those institutions were organizations that started as volunteer movements or were an extension of voluntary work movements, such as the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees, MA'AN Development Center, Palestinian Agricultural Work Committees, Palestinian Center for Economic and Social Development, and many others.
Such organizations played an important role in re-paying attention to the agricultural sector and reorienting farmers to care for the land and its cultivation. These organizations continue to play an active role in this context, although the orientations of some of them have changed, or are forced to catch up with the wishes of some funders. Therefore some projects and programs became fruits of the funding directives, sometimes associated with policies that are not innocent, mislead, or misleading.
Having said this, many diverse bodies with different objectives operate in the Palestinian agricultural sector. The foremost player continues to be the occupation, which now clearly began to enter the line of implementation of "subsidized projects" with some farmers, in addition to the known repeated policies of uprooting trees and looting land and controlling water and markets.
Apart from the occupation, and with the emergence of MoA, and the presence of Palestinian and foreign institutions and the agencies of the United Nations, and farmers companies and unions and associations; and given what is available in our hands, we must talk about the agricultural sector in terms of roles; roles which we, as Palestinian governmental and non-governmental institutions, can identify, influence, reorganize, and above all redirect the rudder.
Since its inception, we know that the PA is captive and is not free. The most important manifestation of the said restriction is a major sin: PLO legal approval of the geo-political division agreements, the agreements that divided the people and the occupied territory in 1967 into what is known as Areas “A”, “B”, and “C”. It was in fact a trap in which the PLO was caught, and which the Zionist colonialist wanted as a tool to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian State on the occupied part of 1967 in Palestine. This is what is evident today. This restriction also applies to the Palestinian ministries’ inability to operate in very large areas, which constitute about two-thirds of the area. The most important amongst the ministries is MoA, which is the main ministry whose work is directly related to land and food production.
These complications, interferences, and complications pose a pivotal question regarding the complementary roles between the civil society and the governmental role (i.e MoA). It is equally important to define a policy for the international institutions which are now implementing direct projects with farmers and peasants. Despite the occupational policy, though, MoA is still capable of holding and guiding the rudder.
Policy-making, strategy development, and planning are and should be led by MoA with the involvement of local institutions, which have been instrumental in raising important issues and adopting important programs, such as the issue of conservation and development of baladi seed. MA'AN Development Center (at its inception in late 1980s and early 1990s) established the first baladi seed bank. Palestinian Agriculture Relief Committees joined in and started the first program for the development and conservation of baladi seeds. A decade later, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees also established seed banks.
These initiatives, despite their great importance in contributing to the conservation of seeds, do not substitute for the existence of a national seed bank under the supervision of MoA. More importantly is that MoA oversees the development of a policy on this matter—a policy upon which the programs and projects be built. The said policy should be implemented by local development organizations who believe in the importance of baladi seeds and their association with the Palestinian agricultural heritage and the issue of “food sovereignty”.
MoA’s role would be to monitor that these agreed policies are being worked on and respected. Leaving the burden of the daily follow-up to the organizations, MoA will direct the organizations to build projects and programs to serve in that direction.
Similar to the role played by the organizations in the field of conservation and development of baladi seeds before the establishment of the captive PA, some organizations pioneered in introducing other concepts, such as organic agriculture, which the Palestinian Agriculture Relief Committees adopted in the early nineties. At the same time, MA'AN Development Center worked and still does on adopting and developing the concept of sustainable agriculture "Permaculture". For the past 20 years, activists have been working on popularizing environmental farming methods. In addition, almost all of the organizations have worked on projects and programs for land rehabilitation and agricultural-roads construction. MoA as well had worked in implementing such projects and not only supervising them.
Division of Roles
The question is once again about the role of NGOs and MoA, and whether MoA is required to overburden itself by carrying out direct actions. It now looks like a kind of competition over these projects and their implementation; there is also some level of repetition. I firmly believe that MoA’s role is to coordinate policy formulation and adoption, strategies formulating and interpreting into plans, and overseeing adherence. Its role is also to push organizations to submit project proposals that correspond with these policies and strategies, on the one hand; and on the other hand, to commit the funding bodies to those policies and strategies, not allowing them to impose their wishes, be it the what, how, when, or where.
Although MoA now claims this role of general supervision and the development of policies and strategies, a state of competition-like on the sources of funding is very evident. This shouldn’t be the case between a governmental body and the civil organizations. Accession of MoA’s role lies in its enabling the organizations to do their role while overseeing, guiding, and supervising compliance with the policies put by MoA. This also applies to the role of the organizations, whose role is to abide to the policies and strategies, and to work according to the MoA’s directions and remarks.
What distinguishes NGOs is their catholicity from any political commitments that might paralyse their work. They are able to function without considering the Oslo Accords, or the Paris Economic Agreement and its annexes, or any other agreements that restrict the PA and MoA. Furthermore, the work of NGOs is characterized by flexibility, while the public sector is bound to procedures that restrict its flexibility, and therefore its prompt response. Procedures at NGOs are easier and faster, far-off bureaucratic government procedures, which are often hindering speedy response. They are also far-off the bureaucratic financial procedures.
On top of all this, and what is more important, is the type of agriculture that we want! If what is discussed in the media and the numerous meetings and conferences is the importance of having a Palestinian resistant economy, then it is obvious that agriculture is the pillar of such an economy, because of its organic link to food production, without which there will be no meaning of discussing resilience. This means that an agreed definition of the concept of agriculture should be developed in the context of a resilient economy. Based on this definition, other concepts should be assessed and measured. Among such concepts, one can list, to name a few: Europgap, global gap, climate-smart agriculture, micro agriculture, genetic modification, subsidized crops, and hydroponics. It’s also of importance to compare the congruence of such concepts with the concept of agriculture as a pillar of a resistant economy.
Therefore, MoA has a pivotal role in determining the appropriateness of projects and their conformity with the ideology of the resistant economy. Resistant agriculture must be self-contained and self-reliant, free from dependence on external inputs, such as imported genetically modified or hybrid seeds, fertilizers, and chemical pesticides. Such agriculture is directed to meet local food needs rather than exporting, and is based on food production that supports human health.
Translated by: Carol Khoury