Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
Figure 1: Al Darb Farm- youth members, are preparing raised beds in their ecological farm.
The FADOC project, under the vision of A democratic Palestinian society, endorses youth participation and encourages and supports them in their political, social, economic, and cultural rights. Youth are also supported and empowered by the civil society leaders, academics, and others who believe they are part of a larger struggle towards liberation, the realization of fundamental human rights, and just peace. Palestinian youth, aged 15 to 29, are aware of their social, economic, political, and cultural rights and can assertively advocate for these rights on the local and international levels to exercise their role as the future building blocks of the future sovereign Palestinian state. They are working for their unity, proud of their identity and values, and looking at Palestine as a whole.
They believe that change in the Palestinian, regional and international spheres is inevitable and are convinced that their role in that change is crucial. They are leaders in the Palestinian society and part of the decision-making process, ensuring change in their communities, rippling to change on a national level. They are actively engaged in building alliances with the various stakeholders on these levels.
The program has worked with youth groups across the WB on the democratic civic engagement where these groups came up with collective initiatives that serve their aspirations of better and self-sufficient Palestinian communities on the multiple holistic dimensions:
How can we build a resistant economy that is not based on production in the first place? How can we Boycut occupation without the productive economy?
The Israeli market’s Palestinian imports reached 55% of its total gross import and yet exports 81% of its good to the Israeli market in a trade deficit of 4 billion dollars, which shows a high dependency on the Israeli markets. Mentioning that is due to the limitations of the Israeli side’s economic policy restrictions, which keeps widening the financial gap towards Palestinian Economic autonomy of growth.
40,000 Palestinian youth are graduating yearly, two-thirds of whom are not employed left to face their harsh realities. The educational system is being focused on the service sector more than the vocational and agricultural brings us to where the Palestinian labor market is flooded with specialized graduates’ service sectors. On the contrary there is a high demand for a skilled labor force in the agriculture and vocational sector.
Palestinian youth are faced with the fundamental question: “should we surrender to our limited reality? Or look for alternative economies with our own hands”. Hence, realizing that utilizing the scarce resources into valuable income generation alternatives is the solution. On the other hand, Palestinian youth finds that investing time and effort in the land is the way forward. Therefore, 12 groups of youth under the project have started collective agricultural initiatives under permaculture, ecological farming, and food processing. These collective initiatives are aspiring to become cooperatives in the Palestinian regulatory standard. Currently, 8 of these groups consist of 5-10 members, and four women cooperatives already registered and adhered to the cooperatives regulatory system.
“The agricultural sector in Palestine was more than 60% of the national income in 1967, and it has fallen to almost 6% nowadays. A result of liberal policies based on the free market and consumption, lack of support for the local production, and here the importance of agricultural cooperatives to correct the course and return to the land through local production.” Say, Rami Massad, Project Coordinator, PAC.
National Dimension: Palestinian youth realize that protecting the Palestinian lands projected to Israeli occupation confiscations comes through cultivation and reclamation. Such cooperatives are demonstrating role models for the Palestinian youth for resilience and steadfastness techniques.
Social Dimension: Cooperatives are examples of collective work representing an inherited culture among the Palestinian society, which can be seen during the harvest seasons where all the neighborhood, family, and friends gather to help crop cultivation. Also, community olive pressers could be found among every 4-5 villages for collective pressing. With youth cooperatives, we are reviving the voluntary and collective work culture in the Palestinian society, which has been recently shifted towards individualism and privatization, just as the situation worldwide.
Youth cooperatives aim to profit, employ youth, and prioritize providing social services to their community and surroundings according to societal needs.
Figure 2: Aldarb Farm, Ramallah.
Environmental terraces are graves; instead of death, we are putting life seeds!
Lur Amin, 20 years old, a university student from Ramallah, started with a group of 5 other students an ecological farm, focusing on ecological agriculture and sustainable environmental farming, planted about 800 m2 of land at Ramallah Friends School, aiming at educating the younger generation about agro-ecology.
Lur says: “ We started our farm in 2019, after being exposed to training in another ecological farm, where we had the inspiration to start our own as a way to contribute to the culture of agroecology. We faced many challenges as first-hand learners to build our skills, understand every aspect of the land, and use organic composting. And later, how could we sell with fair prices, finally, managing our time between studying and working on the farm, but we have always been driven by our eagerness to learn. We sold our first harvest season to our network.”
Lur Continues: “ We realized the farm would give you the best only if you are taking care of it and existing around. So we cooperated with other youth cooperatives during the pandemic and supported each other in marketing and sharing experiences. We have 10-12 kids who come every Friday to volunteer and learn about farming and the environment through our network. Also, we have more than 50 volunteers who visited, helped, and learned about ecological farming. For us, when we are digging environmental terraces, it feels like we are digging graves to put life, not death.”
Lur finishes by saying: “ our dream is to replicate this experience in as many schools as we can in Palestine.”
Figure 3: Asira Al Qebleih Cooperative- Nablus, preparing their land to plant Thyme, 2020.
Social bonding through cooperative work!
Hakima from Aseerah Alqibleih village, Nablus, 32 years old, with ten other women, initiated a cooperative work in 2020. First, started planting one donum with Thyme. After one year, they expanded to planting four donums and added vegetable crops to their production basket.
Hakima says: “during the pandemic lockdown, we gathered to provide income for ourselves and relied on our community to buy our products and support us. As a result, we received trust and support as we are providing organic products. Moreover, the community started sending their youth to volunteer when they can. It is fulfilling to see friends and families support believing in us. This scenery reminds me of the stories of people in the villages coming together, uniting during harvest season in the Palestinian villages; it is in our culture”.
Figure 4: Land of Despair Cooperative-Saffa village, Ramallah- After a long day of wheat harvest
The land of despair will grow hope!
“Land of Despair Cooperative” is a collective youth initiative in Safa village, West of Ramallah, established in 2017. It consists of nine members, seven of which are university students, and their mission is to convert all abandoned lands in Safa village into green lands. Started their dream by collecting 200 shekels per month from each person to plant one and a half dunums with wheat. Currently, they cultivate 35 dunums inside the village. The “cooperative” seeks to revive the land through agriculture to promote self-reliance economic production patterns and provide food sovereignty within the village. “The land of despair will grow with hope; the name is not a source of pessimism. Instead, it stems from the fact that despair and misery are the prices of hope and growth. We aspire to reach financial independence, refine our skills instead of panting behind jobs in the service sector. We seek to have more youth participation and awareness of the land value”.
The youth in the land of despair practice many agricultural activities, explaining in their conversation: “We grow irrigated and rain-fed crops throughout the year. We give wheat a priority, as we grow it in an area of 15 dunums and peas in 5 dunums, in addition to beans, squash, and chickpeas on seven dunums. We also allocate an area of half a dunum to cultivate ecological, organic vegetables through environmental terraces that benefit nature. Our crops are free of chemicals, and we are working to solve our agricultural problems through organic solutions.”
The youth hold the responsibility of their communities by organizing voluntary work inside the land, building relationships within the community, and donating vegetables to low-income families.
We believe that real change comes when we return to cultivating the land
Figure 5: Kafr Nima Farmers during harvest season - Kafr Ne'meh Village - Ramallah
Abdullah Khouira, 25 years old, from Kafr Nima village, west of Ramallah. Abdullah says:
Real change comes when we return to cultivating the land!
“After we reached a dead-end in obtaining decent job opportunities, I decided with five other friends who are fresh graduates to establish the Kafr Nima Farmers’ Cooperative. We believe that real change comes when we return to cultivating the land.”
Within this vision, and since 2019, Khouira and his companions have guaranteed a plot of land of one and a half donums, rehabilitating and cultivating it with winter crops, such as beans, peas, potatoes, and lettuce, with self-financing from the cooperative members.
Khouira proceeds: “The success of the first season prompted us to think about expanding. An area of one and a half donums is no longer sufficient to produce what meets the village’s needs and the markets outside it. So in 2020, we started expanding, secured four dunums for cultivation. At the beginning of 2021, during the winter season, we planted 14 donums.” Finally, Khouira says: “ we dream of vegetables self-sufficient village and expand to the surrounding villages, and increase the memberships that we have through more youth joining our dream.”
Figure 6: Earth Lovers Cooperative, Burin Village, Nablus, during land preparation, and cultivation season, Year 2020.
If you give the land, it will give you back!
Mohammed Omran; started in January 2017 with another six-person youth cooperative group in
Burin village, Nablus. Aimed to cultivate seasonal crops as a way to have self-sufficiency. Mohammed pledged his half-donum-land to the group, his companions followed through, pledging their lands as well; the cooperative group had 15 donums around Burin to cultivate. Mohammed says:” Burin is known for olive farms and livestock herding; all vegetables and fruits are brought from other villages or from the central market that is flooded with the Israeli crops. When our group started the greenhouse and announced our first harvest season crops for sales, the village community supported us. Mainly that with the 15 donums, we employed 25 men and women from the village during the harvest seasons and provided fair prices in the market.”
The group successfully expanded its variety of products and used its revenue to buy one and a half donum of land for the cooperative ownership. Mohammed continues:” if you give the land, it will give you back. Our national duty is to protect the lands approximate to Israeli settlements (which are threatened with confiscation) through cultivation and farming; that’s our way of resilience. We have faced many challenges and obstacles regarding the registration of the cooperative, the regulatory system, and the open market system in Palestine during our journey. Still, in the end, one hand can’t clap, but two can.” Mohammed finishes by saying:” We dream that our local product reaches to end customer with the acceptable quality and fair price.”
Figure 7: On the left, Abdallah Khouira from Kafr Nimeh Farmers is happy about the broccoli harvest. On the right, a group of kids visiting the cooperative "Land lovers in Burin”.
FADOC project serves as an umbrella for these cooperative initiatives!
Similar circumstances led to the birth of other cooperative groups in the various governorates of
the West Bank, including “Roots of the Sun Youth Cooperative” in Tulkarm, the “Land of the Sun Farm” in Hebron, and “Ritaj Women’s Cooperative” in Tulkarm.
The FADOC project supports and sponsors these cooperatives at the level of marketing and develops and manages their internal systems, equipment support, and knowledge transfer as the project serves as an umbrella of networking and experience sharing.
Accordingly, our experience started at the Youth Partnership Forum as a popular socio-economic alternative and in the current Palestinian context. It is certainly different from 30 or 40 years ago in various political, economic, and social fields. We do not blow up what was before or copy it! Instead, we adapt according to current circumstances; we represent the project experience through the following:
Figure 8: during an exchange visit between youth cooperatives - 2020
1) Awareness-raising among youth groups, to build a culture of cooperatives, where many concepts and collective values. For more than two years, we have been talking and negotiating with youth groups about the importance of the social economy, the history of the cooperative movement in the world and Palestine, concepts and principles of cooperatives, food sovereignty, and agro-ecology. Presentations of local and international experiences and accompanying youth towards successful youth experiences. All through exchange visits, theoretical and practical pedagogical courses on the topics, until groups of young people began to crystallize their ideas towards heading to land and agriculture collectively. As a result, we have 12 agricultural youth initiatives or groups that developed their internal systems according to their first-hand experience.
- Building the capacities of collective youth initiatives administratively and financially to build and strengthen their internal systems and good governance through hands-on mentoring and coaching in their respected fields.
- Provision of financial support (needed equipment); according to their work development plans. Eight cooperative initiatives were provided with equipment and tools required to develop better their on-ground initiatives, such as greenhouses, fences, agricultural working tools, seedlings, etc.
- Agricultural extension services by contractual agronomists provide technical and customized guidance on agriculture and agro-ecology through collective training and farmer to farmer field visits for better farming productivity and efficiency.
Figure 9: Technical guidance on agriculrure and ecological farming - 2020
- Collective Marketing and Networking, specifically popular marketing, to come over marketing challenges. The project launched a community campaign, “Supporting Small Farmers and Youth Cooperatives, which was represented in several stages:
- In light of the tight closure during the covid-19 pandemic and the inability of farmers to market their products, we launched a fundraising campaign, whereby farmers’ crops were purchased and distributed in the form of food baskets to needy families during March and April 2020. Five hundred food baskets were distributed at that time. Of course, the campaign continued until the present time during the existence of a marketing crisis.
Figure 10: During the "Cooperatives' Hisbah/ Collective Market" – 2020
- Popular marketing days across Palestine included (Ramallah, Nablus, Tulkarm, Hebron) for specific seasonal crops according to the needs of the farmers. Crops included (watermelon, lettuce, yogurt, cheese products, cucumbers, beans, beans, peas, .etc.). However, aiming to support farmers during the harvest season was priced dropdown according to the flooded market and the pandemic restrictions of movement across the cities, which created a burden for farmers to transport their products to the central markets.
- Popular Markets (Cooperatives Hesba) are permanent popular markets organized periodically to market products by choosing specific places in the middle of cities. A significant number of small farmers and youth cooperatives participate in them and display their organic products. As a result, people come to buy directly from them at a fair price for them and the consumer.
Within our current vision and plan, we are looking forward to working vertically with the existing collective initiatives (cooperatives) and expanding horizontally by increasing the number of initiatives to be supported. In addition, aiming at creating successful youth models at the national level, capable of stimulating other youth to embrace this approach.
These cooperatives shall seek to coordinate among themselves later to defend their issues and rights, and not only to exchange information and experiences, but to joint work and collective projects, and with this form of cooperation, we can form an alternative collective economic model.