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Palestinian olive oil goes global with Fairtrade

Olive oil is a symbol of national pride and a crucial provider of a livelihood for tens of thousands of Palestinians. But these days, amid land confiscations, limited access to markets because of checkpoints and water scarcity, farmers in the West Bank are striving to cover their costs and making ends meet.

Traditional olive growers have been especially hard hit.  Even though they can make a surplus, the cost of exporting Palestinian products makes it difficult for the oil to leave the country. But as Fairtrade fortnight launches this week, Palestine’s olive growers, backed by the Fairtrade Foundation, are now getting premium prices for their oil from all over the world. With European Union funding and help from Bethlehem University’s Fairtrade Development Centre, and Oxfam, a two year project, the first of its kind in Palestine, has taken expertise and guidance to olive oil growers’ collectives, to help gain their oil Fairtrade status and organic certification. Once the oil can carry the Fairtrade branding, it can reach international markets and fetch a good price.

At the end of 2008, the Palestinian olive oil became the first olive oil in the world to gain the Fairtrade Labeling Organisation’s international certification. UK-based ethical trading company Zaytoun, which has signed a long term contract with the farmers to buy whatever olive oil they are willing to sell, is now marketing it.

Tael Misaf, a farmer from the West Bank, joined 31 other farmers from his village of Beni Zeid, to form the Beni Zeid Co-operative for Organic Olive Oil Production. Now British specialty shops, delis and other food markets are selling his olive oil. “After the second intifada, I didn’t even think about selling my oil - all the markets were closed,” he told Reuters news agency. “I stored the oil until it was spoiled and then I thought of giving up,” he added. Tael says the Fairtrade label means more than the assurance that he will cover his costs. “In this village we believe in gender equality, we don’t believe in child labour, we want equity in our work. The principal of Fairtrade is important to us,” the father of nine said.

Launching Fairtrade Fortnight this week amid the recession, the foundation’s Big Swap campaign is urging shoppers to switch everyday shopping basket items for Fairtrade items. 

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children