Gift a Tree for Life

For many years Ethical Consumer’s gift subscriptions have included sponsorship of an organic olive tree sapling in Palestine. This is then distributed by the Palestinian Fair-Trade Association (PFTA) as part of their Trees for Life programme.

During the 2017-18 planting season, our gift subscriptions resulted in 223 organic saplings being distributed throughout the West Bank.

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.

image: olive tree palestine christmas interview
Mohammed Ruzi (PFTA office manager), Adnan Hassad (PFTA farmer and Trees For Life participant) and Ahmed Taharieh (PFTA Field Officer).

What sort of farms receive the saplings?

Targeted farmers or targeted beneficiaries are farmers that are poor; farmers who have land located near settlements and farmers who have had their land taken after the building of the separation wall. So, in order to link them to their land, we give them trees.

Planting trees links you to your land because when you plant trees you need to visit your land always. So, these lands which are located inside the separation wall, these need a special permit from the Israeli authorities. When you plant the trees, you will always go to the Israeli Authorities to ask for a permit because you have land and you have to work to serve this land. Sometimes these trees are destroyed or uprooted by the Israelis. We know. We give [the farmers more trees] the next year … In the end, they will stop uprooting these trees.

We also target young couples, starter farmers, single women and women who are interested in working in the agriculture sector.

Trees are also occasionally distributed for free to schools and mosques.

When Ethical Consumer gives our tiny donation to the Trees for Life programme, what does our money go towards?

All the money goes to fund the trees.

However, some of the wider Trees for Life programme funding also supports a fairly new regenerative farming and land race seeds programme. To learn more, see the Palestine Fair Trade Association website and Canaan Food and read the 2018 impact report.