Palestine is recognised as ‘the original home of the olive tree’. An estimated 10 million olive trees grow there, many believed to be over 1000 years old. The soil and climate combine to yield some of the world’s finest olive oil. Over 90% of the olive harvest is used for oil, and the remainder for pickles, table olives, and soap.
Mohammed Issa is an olive farmer from the village of Anin, in the north of the West Bank. “The zaytoun, the olive, means everything to us. My father and my grandfather farmed on this land, and now my children work alongside me harvesting.”
Like most Palestinian farmers, Mohammed’s family have tended their olive groves for generations. However, Anin is on the line which separates Israel from the West Bank. With the creation of Israel in 1948, Mohammed’s family lost their land on the other side of the line. In 2003 they lost more land because of the construction of the wall. They live with Israel’s threats to confiscate more of their most fertile land.
Before the completion of the wall in his local area, Mohammed sold his oil in villages in Israel. However, the wall made access to these areas almost impossible. He could only sell locally, and the price he could get fell by 50%. This severe drop meant that the cost of producing the oil was greater than the income he made from it.
Throughout Palestine, farmers such as Mohammed face a common set of problems resulting from Israeli policies: lack of consistent access to their land; water shortages; confiscation of land; and destruction of their olive groves for settlement and wall construction.
Mohammed is now a member of the Anin Coop for Olive Oil Production. Since 2005, the Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA) and its marketing arm, Canaan Fair Trade, have organised over 1,700 olive farmers in Palestine into fair trade cooperatives. These cooperatives help to restore some of the traditions, values and social ties which have been weakened by the conflict.
Working to fair trade standards means that the farmers receive a fair trade premium and a minimum price, which guarantees that they can farm profitably. Mohammed can now afford to send his children to university, which he believes is essential to give them a better future.
Zaytoun Community Interest Company is a cooperative, founded in 2004 to create and develop a UK market for Palestinian produce. In 2009 it launched the world’s first Fairtrade certified olive oil, sourced through Canaan Fair Trade. Southwark Cathedral even uses this olive oil for anointing. In addition to Fairtrade olive oil and olives, Zaytoun sells dates, almonds, couscous, soap and the Palestinian herb mix “za’atar”.