Strawberry Fields Are Forever in the West Bank and Gaza

Strawberries in hanging systems in greenhouses near Tulkarem, in the West Bank
Strawberries in hanging systems in greenhouses near Tulkarem, in the West Bank
Lubna Rifi, USAID
Fruit is big business—and getting bigger
“If we get enough production and buyers, then we plan to freeze at least 60 tons per year.”

May 2014—Picture a strawberry. Now picture 200 tons of strawberries. That’s how many strawberries are produced annually by Palestinian farmers in the West Bank. Unfortunately, this delicious fruit is only available for a few weeks of the year.

Or is it? Al Salam, a Palestinian agribusiness company that produces frozen vegetables, has embarked on an initiative to freeze strawberries so that Palestinians and others in the region can enjoy the vitamin C-rich fruit year round.

“We conducted an experiment this year and froze 20 tons,” says Adly Natsheh, the owner and managing director at Al Salam Group, which purchased strawberries from farmers in the Tulkarem area and packaged the first frozen strawberries in the West Bank. Natsheh has high hopes and big plans. “If we get enough production and buyers, then we plan to freeze at least 60 tons per year,” he says.

USAID assisted Al Salam through the Compete Project, which was initiated in 2011 and runs through December 2016, facilitates rapid expansion of critical and promising sectors of the Palestinian economy such as agriculture, tourism, information and communication technology, and the stone and marble industries. Under Compete, USAID has partnered with Al Salam since 2012 to launch a marketing campaign and forge connections with local farmers selling potatoes, carrots, onions and broccoli, all of which were frozen and sold in the West Bank and in Israel.

“Right now, exports to Israel constitute 10 percent of our total sales,” Natsheh says, adding that the company seeks to export to additional countries and markets.

USAID also helps Palestinian farmers negotiate contracts with domestic and international agribusinesses, and provides technical assistance that addresses gaps in product quality, access to capital, job skills and the export supply chain, resulting in an additional $8.1 million from the agriculture sector to the Palestinian economy in 2013 alone.

Indeed, Al Salam may soon have more produce to export thanks to the assistance USAID provides to most of the 25 Palestinian farmers growing strawberries in the West Bank, including upgrading nurseries that produce strawberry seedlings.

As part of its overall efforts to grow the West Bank economy and the agriculture sector in particular, USAID has launched a new initiative to work directly with five farmers to upgrade their farms. Through the intervention, USAID will introduce hanging systems and computerized irrigation systems, which will reduce the amount of water needed for the strawberries by 20 to 30 percent and increase the yield from the hanging systems by 100 percent to 230 percent. The pilot project is expected to yield a total of 150 tons of strawberries of improved quality and will hopefully be expanded in the future to include additional farmers. USAID’s technical assistance should account for a 50 percent increase in the entire domestic production of strawberries.

At present, the farmers do not export their strawberries because local demand is high and the fruit that is produced is consumed locally and in Israel. But as the innovations introduced result in increased yields, Palestinian farmers will be able to export to other countries.

Considering all of the innovations in the Palestinian strawberry sector, it might be time to update the lyrics to the Beatles classic to “Hanging Strawberry Rows Forever.”

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Last updated: May 09, 2014

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