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Zaytoun: ten years of selling Palestinian olive oil 

Zaytoun sells olive oil, dates, almonds, herbs and grains from Palestine. It also organises trips to Palestine to learn about the region and its food, and to help with the olive harvest. Cathi Pawson tells us more.

This year, Zaytoun celebrates ten years since our launch of the world’s first ever Fairtrade olive oil from Palestine, and fifteen years since the foundation of our company. Our mission has remained the same throughout those years. Through our social enterprise, we work to provide a sustainable income to Palestinian farmers and their families by creating a market for their high-quality, fairly traded products.

Small farmers everywhere often struggle to make ends meet, but Palestinian farmers struggle more than most – with 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control and an estimated 400,000 illegal Israeli settlers having built on Palestinian land. Obstacles to trade include the arbitrary closure and theft of large tracts of fertile land and water sources, highly restricted access to farmland throughout the year and restrictions on the movement of people and goods within the country and across its borders.

“[The Israeli occupation of Palestine has] set in motion a continuous process of de-agriculturalisation and deindustrialisation, thereby depriving the Palestinian people of their ability to produce and cultivating dependence on aid and on Israel’s economy” - A 2016 UN Report

Set against an economic growth rate that is steadily falling, and unemployment that is rising, this deprivation of a source of revenue and employment is significant.

Image: zaytoun palestine sense of future

With high unemployment, many Palestinians are forced to work far away from home and often in Israeli factories, or in the illegal Israeli settlements that are built on their own ancestral lands.

Their enforced absence is eroding the productivity of a pastoral agriculture that has sustained Palestinian communities for centuries.

A proud farming tradition

To counter this, our business supports small-scale family farming in a country where 60% of the population live in 400 villages that are highly dependent on agriculture, especially olive trees.

The farmers with whom we work farm traditionally using only organic inputs, tending indigenous varieties. This age-old way of farming supports resilience in the face of climate change; in a land where water is precious and access is restricted, crops are grown that are rain-fed and require minimal tending. The survival of regenerative farming traditions supports both the communities and their surrounding ecosystem.

We’re proud to have won awards for the quality of our products and the nature of our social enterprise. Our company’s performance is defined less by profit and turnover, and more by the impact of our trading activity: fair prices for the largest possible number of producers; employment opportunities provided by our suppliers; supporting a product or activity that keeps Palestinian food and farming heritage alive.

In 2017, we purchased almost £1m worth of products and services from Palestine, supporting over 2,000 small farmers to sustain their livelihood. 

We plan to widen the basket of Palestinian products we offer. This further supports the sustainability not just of our enterprise but that of the farmers’ livelihoods in the event of a crop failure.

We are grateful to our network of committed volunteer distributors, to the many shops and wholesalers that sell our products, and to the wider network of those who support our work, visit Palestine with us, host speakers and share our values.

For more information head to the Zaytoun website.

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