Palestine: Conflicts With Israel, Yet the Largest Wheat Trade
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In Palestine, farmers cultivate Wheat in different areas, concentrating production in the north, where the land is flat and adapted to the mechanization of agronomic practices. Jenin and Tubas in the northern West Bank, including the north of Jordan Valley, are the main production areas.
Palestinian farmers cultivate several varieties of durum Wheat, of which the most common are non-native (Amber, Om Alrabeea, Howrani, Ammar, Om Qays, and Mike), while local native cultivars are rare (Heteya Yellow, Heteya White, Heteya Black Nawrasi, Kahtat, Kahla, Nab Eljamal).
Local varieties are threatened, as farmers prefer new ones for higher productivity. Local seed banks, on the other hand, are conserving these varieties. The harvest period starts in mid-April (for freekeh) from Jenin and continues until July in the Nalblus plain to the north.
There is no data on the quantities of local varieties produced. However, the average production is 45,000 tonnes, which covers only 10% of Palestinian consumption. The average individual consumption of Wheat is 120 kg per year.
Wheat is processed into semolina (burgul), flour, semolina, and roasted green Wheat called ‘freekeh,’ which is widespread in Palestine and the region. It can also be soaked, boiled, and eaten directly, or even cooked after coarse grinding, without previous processing.
The Palestinian territories have been suffering from a supply shortage and soaring local Wheat and flour prices, both the primary source of imports, since the outbreak of Ukraine conflict. Currently, the Palestinians depend entirely on the imports of Wheat both in terms of food and animal feed, with up to 40,000 tons of imports annually to cover the demand for each.
“Every country in the world has its own (food) stock. But the Palestinians do not have that ‘luxury,'” Sameh Jarrar, the director of the Plant Genetic Resources Department in the Seed Bank at the Agriculture Ministry, said, adding that Palestinians have been making every effort to garner sufficient local alternatives to food imports in case the conflict would not end soon.
Researchers would work with local farmers to grow the varieties in test fields to promote yields, climate resilience, and genetic diversity, according to Mohammed Abed, director of the 750-hectare Beit Qad Experimental Station for field crops.
“We preserve by planting the varieties annually, multiplying them, and renewing the bank occasionally. We annually provide some 50 tons of improved seeds to farmers, who cultivate them and sell the yield in local markets,” he said.
Facing a mounting Wheat crisis, a government-run Seed Bank in West Bank has been racing against the clock to provide hundreds of local farmers with tons of improved Wheat seeds in the hope of greater yields.
However, things do not seem easy primarily because “Israel controls much of the Palestinian arable lands in the West Bank and has imposed restrictions on Palestinian farmers’ access to the lands,” according to Ahmed Rabaia, a local agricultural expert.
“In 2010, there were about 2,500 hectares producing about 45,000 tons, which constituted between 10 to 15 percent of consumption. Due to Israeli violations, we have only 1,800 hectares left, and those produce only about 30,000 tons, and this amount constitutes between five to six percent of consumption,” Rabaia added.
Palestinian Wheat Import
In 2020, Palestine imported Wheat worth $11M in Wheat, becoming the 136th most significant importer of Wheat in the world. In the same year, Wheat was Palestine’s 88th most imported product. Palestine imports Wheat primarily from: Israel ($5.61M), Russia ($3.58M), Hungary ($1.29M), and Romania ($508k).
“At a time when we do not know when the Russia-Ukraine conflict will end, it is necessary to search for other sources such as Egypt, Canada, and Australia to reduce the risks that we may be exposed to in the future to obtain Wheat at low prices,” Rabaia explained.
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