West Bank and Gaza farm rehabilitation funded

ROME, Italy, July 30, 2004 (ENS): A pilot project to improve the deteriorating agricultural resources of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip was announced on Thursday by the government of Italy and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Orchards and fields will be replanted, irrigation systems installed and rangelands reseeded over the next two years.

The $1.5 million project will be funded by Italy and implemented by the FAO. The goal is the support of close to 12,000 poor people in rural areas of Bethlehem, Hebron, Gaza and Tulkarm.

Project activities will be carried out jointly by the FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture of the Palestinian Authority.

The project is rooted in an assessment of the food and nutrition situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip conducted in 2003 at the request of the Minister for Agriculture of the Palestinian Authority. The FAO, the World Food Programme and the UN Relief and Works Agency carried out the assessment, which was funded jointly by the European Commission and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

With rising poverty and unemployment, the food security situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has considerably deteriorated over the past three years, the assessment found.

The World Food Programme (WFP) reported during its assessment that unemployment is at 67 percent and, "as a result of the deepening poverty, Palestinians have begun to sell vital assets in order to purchase food."

Food insecurity is a reality for 1.4 million people - about 40 percent of the population living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the assessment found.

Food is a constant worry for an additional 1.1 million people - 30 percent - who are under threat of becoming food insecure should prevailing conditions persist.

Though food is generally available, the assessment concluded, access is limited due to curfews and closures imposed by Israel, in addition to high unemployment, depletion of resources, exhaustion of coping strategies and strained social support networks.

The assessment confirmed the findings of other recent studies that Palestinian households have until now been able to manage in the difficult circumstances albeit with dwindling resources and increased vulnerability to shocks.

But "resilience has been greatly weakened, vulnerability increased and coping mechanisms severely strained by the rapid and inexorable decline in the economy and the continuation and further tightening of closures and curfews," the UN agencies report, saying the project is urgently needed.

"Farmers and their families will directly benefit from improved skills, techniques and infrastructure provided by the project," the FAO said.

As part of the project, orchards will be replanted with improved varieties and greenhouses will be replaced.

Irrigation systems will be installed, rainwater harvest systems will be established in this arid environment, and integrated pest management equipment will be provided to the farming community.

Project plans include planting of vegetables, fodder, olive and fruit trees; renovating animal sheds; rehabilitating rangeland through reseeding, fencing and constructing water points; and training the private and public sector in the proper management and sustainable use of inputs and natural resources.

In the medium to longer-term, the FAO said, there should be increased investment in agriculture as it creates labor intensive employment, provides a variety of food for promoting dietary diversification, encourages women's participation in the development process and prevents further asset depletion and welfare dependency.

"While the political and economic situation remains volatile and unpredictable," the FAO said, "the project will develop and test innovative approaches suitable for an urgently needed long term rehabilitation of agriculture and will minimize the risk in terms of resource utilization."

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