During my recent visit to Jenin, in the northern West Bank, I had the chance to visit the Canaan Fair Trade Company. With USAID assistance, Canaan is helping Palestinian growers increase their yields and tap into the rapidly growing global market in organic, fair trade products. The projects I saw showed how relatively modest investments can pay huge dividends for rural communities.

Assistant Administrator Mara Rudman sampling Palestinian delicacies while visiting Canaan Fair Trade. Credit: Ghassan Al 'Jamal, USAID/WestBank/Gaza

Growers in the hills and valleys around Jenin have been making healthy organic cold-pressed olive oil and other local delicacies for centuries. But frequent droughts and growing practices that did not always most effectively conserve an unreliable water supply, combined with a limited local market for their products, have made it extremely challenging for growers to realize substantial profits from their hard work.

By bringing together local growers to raise standards, improve packaging, and market their goods jointly under the Canaan Fair Trade brand, Canaan has helped growers to reap greater rewards from their products while producing more sustainable results and conserving the resources used in doing so. Word of their successes spread quickly and today Canaan sources its agricultural food products from a network of 49 cooperatives, providing incomes for more than 1,700 farming families belonging to the Palestine Fair Trade Association.

A machine in the Canaan Fair Trade facility affixes labels reading “Delicacies from the Land of Milk and Honey.” Photo Credit: Canaan Fair Trade

With USAID’s support, Canaan has been able to find new markets by preparing for and participating in the 2010 and 2011 Fancy Food Shows in the United States. These shows are the largest specialty food fairs in North America. Canaan’s management told me during my visit that their products are proving so popular in North America and Europe that the company is looking to expand further. To assist Canaan in this, we also have been able to partner with them on initiatives to help growers increase their yields.

I had the opportunity to see this in action, when I visited a USAID-supported pilot agricultural program that was recently undertaken by Canaan in partnership with the Palestinian Center for Agricultural Research and Development. In an olive grove near Nablus, 300 trees were divided into designated plots, and during the course of a year the different plots received specific inputs of organic liquid fertilizers and supplementary irrigation. At the same time, a control group of olive trees did not receive any additional agriculture inputs, reflecting the usual olive tree cultivation methods in the West Bank. At the end of the season, the targeted olive trees produced fruit of twice the weight and size of the control group, increasing yield and doubling the volume of olive oil per tree. Best of all, the cost of the new methods paled in contrast to the value of the output.

Following the success of this pilot program, USAID will partner with Canaan in the coming seasons to increase the number of farmers applying these best practices and will work to teach other growers about the potential gains they can realize from applying the techniques.  Since 65,000 people in the West Bank count on olives for at least a portion of their income, increasing the productivity of olive farming will have a significant impact.