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
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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