Palestinian farmers in the West Bank town of Jericho are banking on their basil plants to gain a foothold in European and American markets.
A growing number of Palestinian farmers are resorting to planting basil in order to earn an income from West Bank land in the Jordan Valley area cultivated by their families for generations, after being slapped with trade restrictions by the occupying Israeli officials.
“Currently we have, in Jericho, approximately 120 dunums (around 30 acres) of land planted with basil. Regarding the production of one dunum - basil produces for four months. The quantity of produce differs in the summer and in the winter. The average production is approximately 350 kilos every 21 days, so around 1.5 tons per season. Within four months, each dunum produces 1.5 tons of basil,” Director of Plants Production department at Jericho office of the Ministry of Agriculture Mahmoud Birham explained.
The project aims to ease living standards of the farmers by creating job for the unemployed Palestinian youth.
The basil plant can be harvested nearly year round, but doesn’t imply that the herb is a staple in regional cuisine. Instead of being sold locally, basil is shipped to Europe and the United States where there is a high demand for it.
“Unfortunately, we do not sell basil in our local market because people do not use it in cooking here. The companies sell their products to America or European countries. However, marketing the basil is done under specific conditions; in order to export basil to America, strict restrictions and conditions must be adhered to,” Birham added.
Yasser Abu Dahouk says many local farmers like himself have gained expertise from those who previously worked for Jewish settlements around the valley.
A combination of little rainfall in the area and the lack of water resources which have been predominantly controlled by Israel since 1967 leaves farmers to abandon the crop. But when it’s a good year, they take advantage of the unique climate and plant the herb when everywhere else sees the end of crop season.
“Growing basil is easy, it’s not expensive, because we just need to spend money on the green houses and the grafts. Each dunum of Basil plant contains 18,000 basil grafts. Each green house contains four rows, each row contains three water tubes, near each tube's point we plant two grafts of basil,” said Palestinian agricultural engineer Soboh Abu Karsh.
Palestinian businessmen plan to create more farming jobs in Jericho and Jordan Valley, otherwise known as “one big greenhouse.”
Mahmoud Birham - Director of Plants Production department at Jericho office of the Ministry of Agriculture
Soboh Abu Karsh - Palestinian agricultural engineer