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Adopting green hydroponic production to increase food security, income generating and competitiveness of agricultural cooperatives sector in Palestine

Palestine is under the partial administration of Israel and thus suffers from difficulties in building economic independence. Local co-operative movements, primarily in the West Bank countryside, are characterised by low functionality and a lack of reach. Agricultural products are grown on a small scale, are of inferior quality and labour productivity remains low. In addition, the level of food security in Palestine is linked to the low class of cultivated land and limited access to land and water resources due to the political situation in the West Bank.

Crop cultivation and animal husbandry is related to both the living standards of members of co-operatives and their families and the level of food security of the rest of the population, especially those living in urban areas. Innovative and easy-to-use vegetable and herbal growing technologies in hydroponic and tank systems solve the issue of the availability of fresh food in areas with limited access to cultivated land. Continuing support for the co-operative way of working develops the self-organisation of the local community and builds its economic independence.

The implementation of the project is an extension of activities focused on creating a co-operative agribusiness model in the West Bank. These actions were conducted in Palestine in 2014-2015 with financial support from the Polish development co-operation program (projects 81/2014, 305/2015).

Adopting green hydroponic production to increase food security, income generating and competitiveness of agricultural cooperatives sector in Palestine

The first module of the project is scheduled for 1 April - 31 December 2016 in the West Bank. Its activities will cover eight production and sales co-operatives of the Mawasem group, three supermarkets supporting the sale of these products, and four units producing fresh vegetables and herbs in hydroponic and reservoir systems (including three new entities engaged in social and charitable activities). The project will be run by the Polish Centre for International Aid (PCPM) with the Institute for Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem (ARIJ) as the local partner.

The project is aimed to implement the thematic priority "Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development", established under the Multiannual Program for Development Co-operation for 2016-2020.

The direct aim of the project is to support small farmers and their co-operatives by using innovative hydroponic and reservoir farming to increase their food security and increase their income within the business linkage chain in the Mawasem co-operative group. As a result, the measures to be taken aim to increase the efficiency of this sector within the Palestinian economy. The actions will prepare the participants for a transition to a self-sufficient development model, based on market mechanisms. A crucial element of the project is the use of collective work and functional-product advantages and the geographical diversity of co-operatives operating under the Mawasem brand.

The beneficiaries of the project are 600 rural families, whose living is supposed to improve as a result of its actions. As a part of the project, actions informing about the Mawasem production group and its support for it by the Polish foreign ministry in Polish society will be also carried out.

The second project module was implemented from 1 January to 31 December 2017, as part of the cooperation between the Polish Centre for International Aid Foundation and the local organisation Arij (Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem). This module referred to the measures begun in 2016 by aiming to improve food safety, increase income earned from agricultural activity and improve the efficiency of agricultural cooperatives in Palestine.

Emphasis was primarily placed on the capacity of farms to attain profitability. The area of hydroponic crop cultivation was enlarged, which resulted in surplus yields that exceeded past levels which had only covered consumption. The farmers, associated in local cooperatives, received technical assistance in the form of essential equipment, which had a beneficial impact on the quality and hygiene of the products, and consequently led to better reception by the consumers. On the other hand, support was also directed at increasing business skills, particularly related to management and commercial operation in the market. The cooperatives were also helped in finding recipients for their products and in establishing professional cooperation with them. Throughout the whole project implementation period, promotional activities were undertaken to advertise Mawasem products and also to strengthen the agricultural cooperative concept in Palestine.

Adopting green hydroponic production to increase food security, income generating and competitiveness of agricultural cooperatives sector in Palestine

As part of the measures taken, 35 hydroponic systems and 40 tank systems with a total area of 335 m2 were installed in four centres. 13 training sessions were carried out, including 8 on sowing and cultivating, scheduling and using crop calendars, calculating costs and financial efficiency for vegetable and herb production, 3 business training sessions and 2 on cooperative values. The centres received regular technical and substantive support in the form of monitoring visits (a total of over 1400 visits), and innovative vegetable production provided nutritional safety to about 600 beneficiaries. In the 2 modules of the project in 2017, cultivations will be extended in order to be sold. The centres were supplied with seedlings, fertilizers and equipment for future packing halls for production for sale (5 sets, including foiling machines, sealing machines, boxes, scales).

As part of the support for the production and marketing model of Mawasem co-operatives, 8 SWOT analyses and proposals for steps leading to their further development were developed. The co-operatives were equipped with equipment that increases the efficiency of sales and production: shelves, sealing machines, milking machines, subsidising the construction of irrigation tanks and stainless steel tables for production (9 sets with a total value of over PLN 90,000). Marketing support was continued for the group's products (participation in 3 fairs, 24 tastings, 14 adverts in the press) aimed at increasing the effectiveness of its sales channels.

Between January and December 2016, the Mawasem group recorded an increase in sales of its 9 primary products by 53% compared to 2015, which translated into an increase in the incomes of co-operative members and the quality of life of their families. The created system had an impact on the economic independence of the participating units, contributed to the development of their business awareness (business strategy planning), and increased the sense of social responsibility. The developed model confirmed its attractiveness by growing interest in the introduction of similar production by other farmers (hydroponic and tank farms). The group applying the Mawasem production and marketing model was expanded in 2016 by another 4 co-operatives. 

Information on support for Palestinian co-operatives also appeared in Poland:

  • photo exhibitions at the Centre for Muslim Culture in Warsaw, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University,
  • participation in the "Wege Bazar" event at the Medyk club,
  • blog on "dzisiajwbetlejem.com”,
  • press articles,
  • film reports in the programme "Biznes i Świat" on TVN24.

In the second project module, which lasted throughout the whole of 2017, all of the anticipated results were achieved.

During the two project modules, cultivation of 820 m2 was planned, where hydroponic crops were to cover 420 m2 and tank cultivation 400 m2. Under the project, the 2017 crop area increase made it possible to produce a greater quantity of vegetables and consequently to sell the surplus on the local market. This improved the financial situation of the project beneficiaries.

Cooperative members took part in a series of training sessions designed to improve their business skills. They kept in touch with the business trainer who monitored their progress. The cooperatives improved significantly the system of self-organisation of business and of building their strategies of operation, which in the future will translate into their economic self-sufficiency and independence from external financial support. Under the project, the hydroponic cooperatives by themselves selected the places where they could sell their products, establishing with the recipients the financial conditions of further cooperation. In one case, the cooperative came out with its own initiative of setting up a seedling nursery, thereby reducing expenses.

In accordance with the plans, the produced fresh vegetables reached four shops and two restaurants. The key consideration was the proximity of the recipient to the cooperative to reduce transport costs, and also the adjustment of possible sales to the quantity of offered products. For products with a longer shelf life, sales in Poland were expanded – two new distributors were found (a restaurant and an online shop).

The cooperatives were incorporated into a comprehensive promotion programme, where 225 commercials were broadcast on TV, 3000 brochures were printed, while the project participants took part in three local fairs and four international fairs. The promotional activities were carried out in Poland as well:

  • Mawasem products were available during the Oriental Holiday Bazaar at the Asia and Pacific Museum in Warsaw,
  • an exhibition with photographs from the project was held, along with a lecture on Palestinian agriculture, at the university in Lublin;
  • a lecture was presented on the project activities, at the Fairtrade festival in Warsaw;
  • material was publicised on the radio, in the press and online.

In addition, the cooperatives were supplied with the equipment needed to manufacture and sell products. Cooperation was established among the cooperatives at the commercial level as well as in experience exchange.