Awad Melhim is a farmer from Anin village, in the Jenin district of Palestine. Married, with 10 children and 11 grandchildren, he now works as a full-time farmer, tending olive trees on 40 dunums (4 hectares) of land near his home.
Anin co-operative joined the Palestine Fair Trade Association in 2006, shortly after it was founded. At that time, even though their trees were productive, Anin farmers were struggling to find a market for their olive oil. The traders buying the oil were paying prices which didn’t even cover the time and cost of harvesting their olives.
Joining the PFTA meant farmers like Awad could make a living from their farming, because they were paid a fair price and guaranteed a route to market. And the Fairtrade premiums that are earnt by the co-operative benefit the whole community – last year the premiums contributed to facilities at the village school as well as to the purchase of new agricultural tools and equipment for the farmers.
Finding a sustainable income from farming has meant a shift in so many ways for Awad and his family. Of course, it offers more financial security, which opens the door to better choices – Awad told us that a more reliable income has improved his family’s diet, for example.
Beyond the tangible benefits, a reliable farming livelihood sustains a feeling of pride in his work, as Awad explained to us “When I produce olive oil for sale, I feel I contribute to life and to society as well as to my family’s life.”
A new farming livelihood
Awad’s life these days looks very different to the days when he used to work inside Israel as a labourer. Despite his hard work, his wages barely covered his expenditure. Once the wall was built, travel to work inside Israel became impossible and Awad turned to reclaiming his lands, rehabilitating the 40 dunums (4 hectares) he now works for a living.
Part of this land was inherited from his father and the remainder was purchased by Awad from other farmers in the village. The whole area was uncultivated land with rocks and wild trees, so he worked on it for many years to rehabilitate it, including planting over 1000 olive trees.
Sadly, a further 20 dunum plot of land is inaccessible to Awad since the building of the Israeli separation wall across his land in 2008. He has not been given a permit to access this land, which is now grazed by sheep and cattle owned by Israeli settlers. The land he can farm is under threat from wild boar, often released by the settlers, who damage his trees and other crops.
Climate change challenges
Like other Palestinian farmers, in recent years Awad has noticed the impact of climate change on his harvest. The patterns of blossoming and ripening of fruit are no longer as predictable in timing and volume.
Awad regularly joins training organised by the PFTA, which supports farmers’ capacity for climate resilience. Farmers share success stories as well as challenges, through the network of Fairtrade cooperatives in the PFTA.
To mitigate against the worst effects of climate change, Awad uses age-old regenerative farming techniques such as improving the soil with natural manure. This acts as a fertiliser to support the health and productivity of his trees – especially important when they are stressed by long periods of intense heat and dry weather. He told us: “I used to see my father and grandfather delivering manure to the land using donkeys, and heaping it around the trees. So I do as they did, because I’m interested in how they looked after the trees.”
Traditional wisdom combines with entrepreneurial skills to support Awad Melhim’s resilience. Despite loss of land to the occupation, and the growing impact of climate change, Awad’s livelihood allows him a security and a sense of continuity as he farms his ancestors’ land.
His relationship with his trees is a personal one – as he told us:
“The olive tree is like a child, I tend its growth as I would tend my children. I witness it growing as if it were my son or daughter growing up and beginning to sustain me.”
Anin village co-operative
- 81 members
- Located in Jenin governorate, West Bank, Palestine
- A co-operative annual yield of 75 metric tonnes.