Palestinian olive oil profits in the West Bank could double if Israeli restrictions ended

A new Oxfam report highlights that while the olive oil sector generates income and employment in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), numerous obstacles ranging from a lack of investment in farming practices to the impact of settler violence – are stifling its true potential.

Palestinian olive oil, reputed to be among the best in the world if produced to high standards, has the potential to become a leader in olive oil organic and fair trade markets worldwide, according to a new report released by Oxfam today as the olive harvest season begins in the West Bank.

The report, “The road to olive farming: challenges to developing the economy of olive oil in the West Bank”, highlights how the olive sector, which contributes up to $100 million in yearly income for some of the poorest Palestinian communities, could bring a brighter future for the Palestinian economy, provided its full potential is realized.

“With limited investment, and simple changes in farming methods, Palestinian olive farmers could double their incomes and produce a consistent supply of high quality olive oil able to compete at home and abroad,” explains Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International. “Yet, such investments can have little effect unless Israel, which has occupied the West Bank since 1967, refrains from actions that restrict Palestinian farmers from access to their land and means of livelihoods, and to foreign markets,” he adds.

The report calls on Israeli authorities to put an end to restrictions of access to land and to markets for Palestinian farmers. Physical barriers such as checkpoints and road blocks prevent the free movement of people and goods within the West Bank and cut Palestinian agricultural produce, including olives and olive oil, off from internal, Israeli and international markets. Due to the presence of numerous Israeli settlements and outposts – which are all illegal under International Law – in the West Bank, settler attacks or harassment against Palestinian olive farmers are common and often increase during the time of the harvest. The Israeli imposed blockade on the Gaza Strip has also affected the import of olives and olive oil from the West Bank considerably.

The report also calls on the Palestinian Authority and on donors to support Palestinian olive oil producers and their families by increasing investment in the sector. A lack of adequate resources and ineffective management, combined with environmental factors and poor production practices have caused stagnation in its development. The report explains how organizing producers into cooperatives  and improving farming and olive pressing techniques would help small scale farmers produce a consistent quantity of high quality olive oil that meets requirements of export markets in Europe, the US and Arab countries, as well as maintain a steady supply for the domestic market.

Oxfam, with funding from the European Union, works in partnership with local organizations to improve the quantity and quality of the olive oil produced by 30 West Bank olive cooperatives,so that their product can gain Fair Trade and organic certification. The higher prices on these profitable niche markets will help Palestinian olive oil be competitive despite high production costs and obstacles to trade, which place it at a competitive disadvantage. 

“If the Palestinian Authority, Israel, the international community, donors and NGOs all do their part to invest in olive oil, they will also be investing in a more stable and secure future for the Palestinian people,” says Hobbs.

 

Notes to editors

 

  • Around 45 % of agricultural land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is planted with approximately 10 million olive trees with the potential to produce up to 34,000 metric tons of olive oil in a good year, but only 5,000 tons in a bad year, with the average quantity of oil produced annually between 2001-2009 being around 17,000 tons.
  • In a good year the olive sector contributes to 15-19% of Palestinian agricultural production. This is equivalent to around $160-191 million. Olives and olive oil are one of the main Palestinian exports.
  • Olive cultivation provides employment and income to around 100,000 farmers 
  • Approximately 95% of the olive harvest is used for olive oil, and the remainder for pickles, table olives and soap.
  • The local market is the primary consumer of Palestinian olive oil, averaging 12,000 tons per year.
  • Palestinian olive oil is currently exported to the Gulf countries, Europe, North America and East Asia. In 2008, 2,352.24 tons of olive oil were exported from the oPt (around 13% of production) in addition to 787.39 tons of pickled olives.
  • In the first six months of 2010, the United Nations reported that hundreds of dunums of agricultural land and thousands of olive trees and other crops had been damaged in settler-related incidents. Israeli NGO Yesh Din, an Oxfam partner, recently published a study in which it did not find a single case where the Israeli authorities had taken action to bring those involved to court.

 

Contact information

 

For more information, please contact:

Catherine Weibel, Oxfam Media Lead in Jerusalem

+ 972 54 639 5002 or catherine.weibel@oxfamnovib.nl

 

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