Farmers continue to grow produce in the Gaza Strip despite Israel's ban on exports, but productivity has plummeted.As I have been reporting, the amount of exports from Gaza through Israel has increased by orders of magnitude in the past couple of years. Gaza farmers are in better shape than at any time since the Hamas takeover of the sector. Yet from reading this article, especially its statistics, you would get the opposite impression.
Israel bans all exports from Gaza aside from a few trucks of berries and flowers each day during winter under an agreement with the Dutch government. Farmers are denied access to lucrative markets in Israel and the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Israel has leveled vast areas of arable land in the coastal enclave over the last decade.
But farmers continue to produce strawberries, carnations, cherry tomatoes and bell peppers to export in limited quantities to Europe, although shipping fees reduce the profit margins.
Mahmoud Ikhlayyil, chairman of the strawberry and carnation association in Gaza, says farmers used to plant 2,500 dunams of strawberries before Israel's siege, but only plant between 900 - 1,000 dunams today.
This year, farmers avoided growing potatoes after a disastrous season in 2010 when no potatoes were exported, Ikhlayyil said.
"Farmers paid storage fees equal to 1.5 shekels ($0.40) per kilo, and in the end they sold it in the local market for 1 shekel per kilo."
In 2010, 25,000 dunams of fields had been planted with potatoes, he added.
In 2009, Gaza flower and berry growers suffered big losses when Israel delayed export permission by two months.
The Palestinian Bureau of Statistics says the enclave's exports in 2005 were worth $41 million.
The figure plummeted to $30,000 in 2006 and $20,000 in 2007 and there was no significant export trade in 2008.
Notice how Ma'an's research on Gaza exports seems to dry up after 2008. However, in March of 2011 I noted via YNet:
So far, Gaza's farmers have exported some 367 tons of strawberries worth €1.8 million ($2.5 million), about 5.3 million carnations worth €850,000 ($1.17 million) and 6 tons of peppers.
And I reported recently:
During the past year, Palestinians from the Gaza Strip have exported more than 399 tons of strawberries, 10 million carnations, 6.5 tons of Cherry tomato and 6 tons of red, green and yellow bell peppers to European markets. In the coming year, Palestinians are expected to export 1,000 tons of strawberries, 20 million carnations and 150 tons of red, green and yellow bell peppers. In the coming year, Palestinians are expected to export 1,000 tons of strawberries, 20 million carnations and 150 tons of red, green and yellow bell peppers.
A little math shows that in this coming year, Gaza exports should amount to $7.5 million for strawberries and $4.5 million for carnations. I don't know the prices for the peppers, nor for cherry tomatoes, and furniture exports are going to start on a trial basis, so I cannot estimate the total value of exports expected this season, but it looks like we are conservatively talking about well over $12 million.
True, this is far less than the $41 million reported before Hamas took over, but it is a great deal more than what Ma'an is reporting. And the entire tone of the article is to make Israel look bad, when in fact it would have been easier to write an article about how Gaza farmers are doing far better than at any time in the past six years.
Also, I have not seen anywhere that there were any plans to increase the exports to include potatoes. Why would Gaza farmers plant a crop when there was no expectation of export for that crop? The "disastrous season" seems to be the fault of poor planning by Gaza farmers, not because of anything Israel did, as the article implies.
And why are there no exports through Egypt? True, the Rafah crossing is not meant for commercial vehicles, but no one seems to be working on building a new crossing into Egypt where an entire new market could be built not only to Egypt itself but to the entire Arab world. And certainly a few small trucks filled with goods can go through the existing crossing, the same way that small trucks have been driven through the other way by Viva Palestina and other groups in the past couple of years.
This isn't journalism. It is a hit job.