Ala'a in his tomato greenhouse in the West Bank. Photo Credit: Darcy/CARE.
By Alison Darcy, CARE Australia
Ala’a is a 35-year-old tomato grower, his farm nested within the Jordan Valley in northern West Bank. As we approach the village, the dramatic rocky landscape changes to lush farm lands and dotted greenhouses of tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers.
Netted greenhouses abundant with green tomato vines with juicy red tomatoes, a staple in the Palestinian diet, welcome us as we enter Ala’as’ farm. For the past six years, Ala’a has been growing tomatoes. His once small patch of land has grown into 24 greenhouses. Ala’a is the ‘King of Tomatoes’, explains Feras Badran, an agronomist from CARE’s partner organisation, the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ).
In 2017, CARE selected Ala’a under Soquona ‘Our Market’, a project funded by the Australian Government under the Australia Middle East NGO Cooperation Agreement (AMENCA) to establish a demonstration tomato farm. Ala’a was the perfect choice says Feras. He has a flourishing tomato farm, is well respected by farmers young and old, and is willing to adopt new techniques.
Over the past nine months, through support from CARE, Ala’a has established a demonstration tomato greenhouse that follows safer pesticide practices to fight against funguses, viruses and insects. The purpose of the greenhouse is to demonstrate to other farmers the benefits of safer pesticides and of following good cultivation and harvesting practices, explains Ala’a. In 2017, CARE facilitated exchange visits for over 90 farmers (mainly women and youth) from neighbouring villages Jenin, Nablus and Tubus to visit Ala’as’ farm.
The comparison is powerful. In Palestine, Ala’a explains, ‘people need to see to believe. When they see others, they follow’. For all farmers the goal is increased quality and quantity, so hearing how Ala’a has saved around 20% or $900 USD annually in production costs is a powerful lesson. ‘It is the perception that is changing’ Ala’a tells me. ‘Here people think more pesticides is better and often use unsafe substances’. After visiting Ala’as’ farm, their behaviour is changing. ‘They are spraying less, adopting safer pesticides and applying good cultivation and harvesting practices’.
This is an important change. Consumers across Palestine want safer products. For Ala’a this was one of his main motivators to become a model farmer. ‘It is based on ethics’, explains Ala’a. ‘Safer products are better for our health and the environment. There are less pollutants, fewer chemicals, and they conserve water, increase soil fertility and use less energy. It is the right thing to do’.
In the West Bank, agriculture plays an important role in people’s lives. The Jordan Valley, West Bank’s food basket grows about 50% of West Bank’s vegetables and for much of the valley’s population, agriculture is not just a job, but part of their lifestyle. Vegetables that meet certified standards are a key ingredient for West Bank to reach, and be competitive in global markets. With growing consumer demand for safer products, certified vegetables are an important step for farmers to raise their income by attracting interest from the private sector.
CARE, with its partners ARIJ and International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), is working with the Palestine Standards Institute (PSI) to develop standards for safer vegetables. Over the past two months, the project has tested residue levels in Ala’as tomatoes twice. . A third green light will give Ala’as’ tomatoes the certified tick of approval that will meet national certification standards for safer products.
CARE is additionally working with small-scale farmers like Ala’a to facilitate access to new market opportunities with the private sector. This will provide long-term and stable income streams for farmers across Palestine and help the private sector meet the increased consumer demand of safer vegetables.
By helping Palestine farmers have safer vegetables and facilitating linkages to domestic and international markets, CARE with partners ARIJ and ICARDA are improving lives and helping to bolster the Palestine economy. Through support from the Australian Government, CARE under Souqona is aiming to improve incomes for more than 13,000 farmers (42% women and 32% youth) over three years by connecting them to markets and generating more than $15 million AUD from private sector investments.
 Calculated by: $150 per dunum per season. 6 dunums. 150*6. One season per year.