By Mohamed Al Sharef, Agriculture Team Leader, CHF International - West Bank and Gaza
Being a farmer in Gaza is a tough job. Limited agricultural land and the resulting intensive use of pesticides to increase crop yield coupled with the shortage of water are major challenges faced by farmers, a largely male dominated profession in Gaza. But due to the stagnant Gazan economy, farming is undertaken excessively. The resulting fruits and vegetables are not enough to feed the population and are tainted with chemicals making them unsafe for consumption. International organizations have been addressing the above issue by providing food aid, largely consisting of dry food, to families in Gaza for decades. However, this is not enough for families, especially children, to get a nutritionally balanced diet. Additionally, receiving this essential food aid makes families in Gaza reliant on international organizations and unable to determine and take care of their own food needs. To build on the existing strength and resiliency of Gazans, CHF in partnership with Mercy Corps and USAID through the Palestinian Community Assistance Program (PCAP), initiated a food security activity, which focused on providing Gazan families with the ability to grow their own food.
The focus was on providing urban garden kits, which families could use to grow vegetables and fruits in their own backyard and animal production kits, which allowed families to take care of their own protein intake. CHF supplemented this distribution with trainings to the families and regular extension visits to ensure that they know how to utilize and benefit from these agricultural kits. So far, 2,000 such kits in various combinations have been supporting Gazans provide nutritious food to their children and themselves. Additionally, in many instances the home gardens and egg-laying units have been so successful that the families have been able to sell the surplus food items, thereby earning money that adds to their meager income.
This CHF activity under PCAP also intentionally targets women headed households, which are the most needy due to the restrictions on women working in a conservative society like Gaza. A case in point is Saniora Al Dirawi, a Gazan woman, who farms for her family. An unlikely sight in Gaza!
Saniora heads a family of nine members. Her husband has been suffering from chronic diabetes, blood pressure, and severe joint dislocations. As a result of this debilitative condition, he is unable to support his family and so his wife has taken charge. “All my children are going to schools and I will do everything possible so they will complete their education,” said Saniora, explaining why she decided to start working. The family receives cash and food assistance from the United Nations agency responsible for refugees and the Ministry of Social Affairs. But this assistance barely allows the family to scrape through.
So Saniora decided to apply to become a partner of the CHF urban garden activity, to utilize the land behind her home and put it to some good use. She took the training offered by CHF and learned new techniques, such as proper spacing, and weeding of crops, cultivation of better varieties of vegetables and the use of a drip irrigation system. She also learned how to make compost though use of organic materials.
“This home garden is the backbone of my ability to provide my children with fresh food,” said Saniora. Adding that, “since we started, we cultivated so many kinds of vegetables eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, radishes, arugula, bean, chick-pea, pepper, potato, green onions, and garlic”. Saniora managed to sell items that exceeded her home needs or bartered them for other items. “During the last week we only went to the food market once to buy tomatoes, the rest of our needs are produced in our home gardens,” explained Saniora.
Saniora and her children take care of the garden. Every day they pick fresh vegetables to be prepared, cooked, or frozen for future use. Their homemade potatoes taste nothing like the one you can buy from market. “Our vegetables taste better because we don’t use any chemicals. And now that we received the kits to produce rabbits, we look forward to having more fresh meat and earning an extra income by selling the new born ones,” said Saniora.
CHF through PCAP will continue working with Gazans like Saniora to provide them with the opportunities to support their families, thereby building their resiliency and making them the key actors in their own development.