WHERE IT ALL STARTED
The land of Canaan is widely believed to be the cradle of civilization and agriculture. It is where the first agricultural revolution began. To this day, traditional agricultural community represents the main feature of Palestinian culture. Approximately, 60% of the population lives in 400 villages that mainly comprise family farms. The people are highly dependent on agriculture, especially olive trees. More than 100,000 families totally depend on olives as their primary source of income. Beside the economical aspect the olive tree, it also has important social and historical values.
The survival of these sound sustainable farming traditions that evolved over millennia along with their ecosystem, including actual olive trees that are over 2,000 years old that continue to feed us to this day, represents a human inheritance that the world community as a whole can benefit and draw from.
A CALL FOR ACTION
For centuries, agricultural land was churched, passed down through generations, and treated as a sacred asset that is to be protected, taken care of, and respected immensely. However, agriculture was severely affected by the political and economic instability in the region. Hindered access to markets, land, and water resources presented by conditions of occupation and political conflicts, threatened the sustainability of agricultural traditions and the ecosystems they sustained over the known history of human agriculture. Moreover, a host of socioeconomic challenges put huge pressures on agricultural commodities prices, and as a key component of the agriculture economy, olive oil was no different. During late 90s and early 2000, olive oil prices were down to record lows, this threatened the existence of the entire olive oil industry since it was no more viable for farmers to invest in olives, not even labor, let alone all the other inputs needed to sustain an olive farm.
At this time, Nasser Abufarha, a native of Jalameh village north of Jenin, was finishing his PhD education in the US. He travelled to his hometown for a research he was working on for his studies, and while talking to his siblings and relatives, who are predominantly farmers, about the existing dire conditions the olives sector is going through, he realized that he needs to take action to preserve and help the sector.
Nasser started flirting with his network of contacts in the US and Europe about possible sustainable interventions that can help the small-scale farmers who were on the cusp of abandoning their farms. That’s when the Canaan idea was born.
The Canaan project idea was formulated around affording viability for Palestinian rural communities to sustain their livelihood, farming traditions, ancient trees, and millennia-old permaculture and ecosystems. Nasser utilized the olive trees as a way to give Palestinian farmers a sustainable living and a voice at the same time. Over the years, and as the project progressed, he ended up developing a strong network of producer, commercialization, and research organizations working hand in hand to empower more than 2,000 small hold-farmers.
These farmers started growing organic crops, mainly olives, and were able to sell their produce at a fair price, thus allowing a sustainable living. The project also influences positively to the general development of the region, as it offers employment opportunities to farm workers and there is alot of investment in community projects, research and extension, education. etc. Moreover, as a direct result of the project, the price of olive oil has generally risen in Palestine, improving also the incomes of Palestinian farmers outside the fair-trade system.