Anna Clayton met up with Mohammed Ruzzi, from the Palestinian Fair Trade Association, to learn more about the programme.
(Italic is direct quote, non-italic is a summary.)
Tell us about the Trees for Life programme and what motivated it?
Trees for Life started in 2006. The motivation? To increase the cultivated area of olives of a specific variety – it’s the most important thing.
Many of the farmers are registered with the PFTA (whose olive oil is exported via Canaan Fairtrade and sold under the Zaytoun brand). Part of their production – a small part, of course – comes from trees that were distributed by us.
Why is it so important to increase the number of olives being cultivated?
We Palestinians consider olive trees to be our identity [and] the story of Palestine links us with the land. Our conflict is about the land [and our work connects us to the land]. Simply, this small quantity of olive oil for us is a powerful weapon to bring our story worldwide. It’s a kind of ... non-violent resistance.
When you, as a European customer, enter the market and you discover there is an olive oil labelled as Palestinian olive oil. Maybe you do not know anything about Palestine, but you will start searching about and start reading about our story. So yes, everything here in Palestine is linked to politics. Everything, even fair trade.
Every year in October and November applications for the Trees for Life programme open. Any Palestinian farmers interested in planting trees can apply – they do not have to be registered with the PFTA.
At the end of November, a special committee (elected during the PFTA General Assembly) reviews all the applications to agree on the number of trees that will be distributed to each applicant. In making its decisions, the committee considers the situation of the applicant, their location and the type of land they are working with.
In addition to organic Baladi olive saplings (for which farmers pay a symbolic two shekels per sapling), organic almond and carob trees are also distributed for free to increase the tree diversity on farms.
At the end of January, we start distributing. Some farmers ... go to the nursery and they receive their trees. And [for] some villages we bring the trees in a ... truck. Until now, more than 175,000 trees have been distributed by us. Not all 175,000 trees succeed but at least ... more than 80% succeed.
Where do you source your organic saplings from?
The PFTA created a tree nursery to raise organic saplings. The nursery is private [and is] under our supervision [to ensure that it complies with organic standards]. But in the end, when we take 20,000 trees from [them], we pay [the nursery] for the trees.