Agricultural Sector Warns from collapsing of the agriculture sector and food production Due to the Israeli aggression, blockade, and lack of support to farmers

Civil agricultural organizations representatives, human rights activists and experts have stressed the need to work towards rehabilitating the agricultural sector, which was damaged by the last Israeli aggression and the ongoing siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.

The sector comes with great importance as it is a fundamental pillar of sovereignty over land and resources, and the need to support this sector guarantees the continuity of providing the necessities of life with dignity to the people.

The representatives demanded the need to support farmers and fishermen affected by the repeated Israeli attacks on the Strip while stressing the need to achieve partnership among the various parties according to an integrated vision to support and develop the agricultural sector.

This came during a round table organized by the agricultural sector in the Palestinian NGOs Network (PNGO) and moderated by Noha Al-Sharif from Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC).  

The session entitled “The Reality and Challenges of the Agricultural Sector in the Current Circumstances”, was attended by a large number of Ministry of Agriculture representatives, agricultural NGOs, experts, and human rights activists.

Wael Thabet, Head of Policy and Planning Department at the Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza, spoke during the session along with Saad Ziada from the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Network's representative of the agricultural sector, and Hamdi Shaqoura from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

The speakers addressed many agricultural sector-related topics regarding its statistical and investment aspects, its relationship with other sectors, and its contribution to the domestic product. All of that proves that it is one of the most important sectors that provide job opportunities and inputs for other sectors.

The discussion also touched on a review of budgeting, financing, and reconstruction mechanisms in light of the challenges represented by the existence of the Israeli occupation and its unjust policies, siege and division, the lack of protection, and the dispersal of funding through intermediary international institutions.

In his speech, Wael Thabet referred to the damage the agricultural sector bore, as the losses reached farmers, fishermen, and sheep and poultry breeders, especially in the border areas, as a result of the Israeli bombing.

The Strip depends on agriculture in its various sectors, Thabet said. Agricultural areas, which include areas for gardening and crop cultivation, covered a size of 200,000 dunams; however, these areas have encountered damage estimated at 166 million dollars. The losses reached the manufacturing sector as well, which was documented through the data compiled by the Ministry of Agriculture.

The damages have affected water supplies and infrastructure with many more agricultural facilities and machinery such as fishing boats, he explained. The Ministry estimated the losses of the fishing sector at $120,000 daily because fishermen can't either do their job or face the Israeli boat attacks while fishing.

In turn, Saad Ziada mentioned the challenges of the agricultural sector, especially after the recent aggression on the Gaza Strip, stressing that the sector plays a vital role in supplying citizens with agricultural, animal, and fish products.

He noted that reviving the sector is essential since it contributes to local production, which is currently estimated at 4-5% of the size of the local market.

Ziada called for reconstructing the agricultural sector, as the process includes three stages. The emergency stage, the recovery and restructuring stage, and the developing stage, which is unreachable at the moment because of the Israeli blockade and political split.

Furthermore, Ziada stressed the need to support the agricultural sector under the difficult economic situation facing farmers and fishermen. The size of the general budget for the agricultural sector is estimated at 1%, as the sector mainly depends on external funding, he emphasized.

If the sector’s external funding stopped, what would be the fate of the sector in both the Gaza Strip and in Palestine in the absence of other funding sources, Ziada wondered.

For his part, Hamdi Shaqoura referred to the legal dimensions of the Israeli violations on the agricultural sector. These violations are represented by the siege, political division, and recent aggression. Shaqqura noted that the Gaza Strip crisis is an artificial humanitarian crisis and that the tightening of control over the Strip has led to a humanitarian catastrophe at various levels.

Moreover, he pointed out that what was being exported from the agricultural sector was estimated at about 4-5% of exports before 2007. The blow directed at the sector created an economic crisis in the Gaza Strip and led to a rise in unemployment by 35-45% and an increase in the poverty rate to 60%. In addition, some agricultural areas are hardly accessible due to their close border location, which puts farmers' and fishermen's lives under the mercy of Israeli attacks and violations.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, with all its annexes, prohibits all attacks without military necessity on civilian facilities, Shaqoura asserted. That includes attacking, destroying, removing, or disrupting civilian agricultural lands. In the same sense, the Israeli practices that postpone the reconstruction process and leads to the starvation of Palestinians are considered a flagrant war crime.

On a related note, Khaled Al-Habil, a fisherman, said that people in his profession have been suffering for the last 15 years. The Israeli authorities continue to arrest and murder fishermen while performing their duties. The imposed restrictions are nothing short of suffocating, especially when the Israeli side changes the fishing zone limit which results in gear and equipment loss.

Similarly, Mahmoud Ashour, a farmer, from the Shoka area in Rafah expressed loss on his side. Mr. Ashour owns citrus and grape farms, which were severely damaged during the last aggression. Farmers were unable to reach the agricultural lands, which led to the drying up of the grape crop in the area, which was too heavily damaged by Israeli bombing.

At the end of the workshop, the participants called on the ministry to support the agricultural sector and its divisions. It is also important to intensify efforts by the ministry in the Gaza Strip and Ramallah, especially that some of the ministry's representatives were attending the workshop.

The attendees highlighted the importance of involving all parties in assessing the needs and damages. It is important, according to them, to be involved in defining the interventions for the agricultural sector.

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