When Nasser Abufarha, a native Palestinian who had been in the U.S. attending college, returned home to finish his doctoral research in cultural anthropology in 2003, he became preoccupied with the plight of Palestinian olive oil farmers. Oil prices had plummeted below costs and livelihoods were being hurt from lack of market opportunities. He founded the Palestine Fair Trade Association in 2004, working to empower small farmers through education and training. He also launched Canaan Fair Trade, a producing and exporting company that gives the farmers a direct link to the international market.
Abufarha developed the first internationally recognized standard for fair trade olive oil in the region with the belief that it would empower marginalized Palestinian rural communities caught in conflict. “Canaan assesses its accomplishments based on how much we are moving producing communities from the position of vulnerability to that of economic security,” Abufarha explains. “To that end, beyond price, we are invested in increasing crop yields for farmers, increasing quality so we grow the value return of the products they produce [and] the sustainability of the soil they produce from, and helping them navigate some of the social or political issues that may be limiting their potentials.”
Today the organization works with 1,700 farmers and 200 female producers, selling their products in 17 countries worldwide. Since Canaan’s launch, the average price of Palestinian olive oil has more than doubled, and in 2008 Canaan broke ground on a new 32,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art olive-processing facility that employs 40 Palestinians and can commercialize the products of 3,000 to 5,000 farmers.