Adel Collective: Female Palestinian farmers help harvest a healthy homeland
Palestinian grandmother Youna loves taking care of her grandchildren, but there is one day of the week she refuses.
Every Monday, Youna and her husband Asaam keep their day free so they can make the 30-minute drive from Jifna in the occupied West Bank to Palestine’s administrative capital, Ramallah.
It has been the couple’s ritual for almost nine years when they head to market day at the Adel Fair Trade cooperation, a not-for-profit established in 2011 to empower women farmers and food producers.
"Creating a healthy Palestine is at the core of Adel’s values, in that it fundamentally ties into its role in resisting Israel’s ongoing occupation"
Like many, they get there before the market has even opened to stock up on the week’s fresh food and other pantry items for themselves and their daughter’s family.
“This is my place,” Youna explained as she reminded her husband to buy eggs, “I come here because it’s healthy and friendly.”
The average total of their weekly spend for the two broods is about 120nis (£28/$36), which is a great price for organic, sustainable and locally grown produce no matter where in the world you live, but especially for the Palestinian Occupied Territories which is in the top 40 of most expensive places in the world to live.
A kilogramme of tomatoes is about 5nis (£1.18/$1.49), more than half the price less than local supermarkets, which often sell Israeli grown produce.
But for Youna there are plenty of reasons to shop at Adel – Arabic for 'fair' – she explained as she loaded up the trunk of her car with their impressive haul of fresh goodies.
“We want to encourage more food grown in Palestine,” she said.
Creating a healthy Palestine is at the core of Adel’s values, in that it fundamentally ties into its role in resisting Israel’s ongoing occupation.
When one thinks of political or social resistance, what comes to mind are physical acts of revolt or boycotts and sanctions.
But for Adel, resistance comes in the form of making sure the population is as healthy as it can be.
A healthy Palestinian, fuelled by organic, locally sourced produce is the ultimate act of defiance.
That’s the thinking at least for Jihad Abdou, chairman of Adel.
“This is the start of the solution to our success in Palestine, if we are healthy then we can face any obstacle,” Jihad told The New Arab.
He described how the organisation’s mission to create opportunities for women and other minority groups, affords them “dignity through economic development.”
Working closely with colleague and Adel treasurer Rima Younes since the organisation’s inception, the pair got the idea to start the fair trade group while working for a union of charities.
"This is the start of the solution to our success in Palestine, if we are healthy then we can face any obstacle"
Before getting anything off the ground they spoke with women in communities across the West Bank.
"They told us that after the Second Intifada they and their husbands didn’t have work and said ‘if you want to enhance and improve something for us, do it from the economic side. We want to work and we want to live’,” Rima explained.
Unemployment rates soared to 53 percent during the Second Intifada where the number of poor people tripled and private agricultural and commercial assets suffered more than half of all physical damage, according to the United Nations.
Within a couple of years of intense research, the first six families were signed up to the cooperative, and soon a steady stream of organic olive oil, traditional biscuits (cookies), herbs and pickled vegetables were pouring out of areas such as Nablus and Jenin.
“We concentrated on the areas where they lived and asked what the famous food was there. If there were a lot of lemon trees, we would produce lemon juice,” Rima said.
The number of producers has jumped to 527 in just 11 years and after initially having a strict criterion of who could sign up – mainly poor women with big families or disabled people – that has expanded and even includes four youth groups farming mushrooms in Jericho.
Always wanting to find opportunities for its clients, Adel turned its attention to agroecology.
It is a method of food production that aims to utilise natural resources without depleting them, but the transition to this sustainable method was met with some hesitance in the beginning.
“They asked ‘why would we change how we do things', so we paid for the first trial to show them the benefits,” Rima explained.
The shift to agroecology was also inspired by the desire to create an entirely Palestinian product.
“Not only does it reduce water usage and produce five times the amount of safe food, but all the ingredients are from Palestine,” Jihad explained.
“So we can create this economy from within Palestine.”
"Adel relies on donations from foreign organisations and private donors, with one woman this year contributing $5,000 of her own money to put towards the $7,000 rent of the shop where they hold their weekly market"
The Adel board, its 65 ambassadors and four experts – in farming, marketing and management – are always on the lookout for ways to expand its production. It recently encouraged one farmer to branch out into almond milk and the Adel shop now sells apple cider vinegar.
Even an upcoming holiday to Italy will double as a research trip on cheese production they can bring back to Palestine.
“We’re saving ourselves,” Rima said.
Despite their tireless efforts, Adel has recently experienced its fair share of setbacks with Rima concerned about how they will survive the year.
The team’s original shop, storage facility and office sat on the edge of Ramallah on the road to the Qalandia checkpoint.
It was the perfect spot for families heading back to Jerusalem to stop and pick up their week’s groceries.
Those made up 90 percent of Adel’s sales, but it got turned on its head when the Israeli army turned up one day.
“The Israeli soldiers came in with a notice from the Israeli government saying they would destroy the building and we had six months to leave,” a devastated Rima recalled, adding “they gave no reason, that’s just what they do.”
They opened another shop on the other side of the road but then the Covid pandemic arrived and Palestine’s strict lockdown rules meant it was shut down, but Adel was still forced to pay rent after spending thousands on remodelling it.
The organisation began bleeding thousands of dollars per month to keep food fresh, cover overheads and continue to pay farmers so they would not lose income.
Rima and Jihad, along with some other volunteers started providing deliveries to about 25 families in the West Bank but would wait hours at Covid checkpoints set up by the Palestinian Authorities.
She said the strict restrictions on movement “reminded me of the Second Intifada” where Palestinians faced harsh curfews, but they persisted with the deliveries despite it actually costing Adel money.
“We wanted to keep delivering to maintain the relationship with our customers beyond the pandemic,” Rima explained.
Adel relies on donations from foreign organisations and private donors, with one woman this year contributing $5,000 of her own money to put towards the $7,000 rent of the shop where they hold their weekly market.
But Rima worried how they would find the rest of the money before October as sales have dipped.
“We used to make about 8,000nis (£1894/$2,395)at the weekly market and yesterday we only made 3,005nis (£711/$899)… our family consumers are spending less, almost half because they’re not making income,” she said.
“If we can’t cover rent, we can’t survive."
Shannon Power is a freelance journalist. Their work can be found in The Guardian, The Independent, Metro, SBS Life, The Sun, Monocle & more.
Follow them on Twitter: @shannonjpower