October 27, 2019. Farmers in the Gaza Strip have recently finished planting their strawberry fields. This year, farmers planted 2,000 dunams (200 hectares) of strawberries, which is 800 dunams more than last season, and 1,100 dunams more than they planted in 2017. Each dunam yields about 3.5 tons of fruit, providing work for two to three people. This means that this year, strawberry farming in Gaza is expected to provide jobs for between 4,000 and 5,000 workers, up to 2,000 more than last year. Given soaring unemployment rates in the Strip, this growth in the sector is significant.
In the past few seasons, Gaza-grown strawberries have sold well in the West Bank, encouraging farmers to allocate larger areas of land to strawberry farming. In the past five years, since Israel began allowing limited sale of produce from Gaza in the West Bank, strawberry farming in Gaza has tripled. However, unless Israel lifts ongoing restrictions imposed on the sale of produce from Gaza, strawberry growers from the Strip could end up with surpluses that they have nowhere to sell, resulting in severe financial losses.
In late 2014, Israel began allowing limited sale of Gaza-grown produce in the West Bank, after seven years during which it banned all exit of goods from the Strip. In 2015, Israel first approved the sale of small amounts of Gaza-grown tomatoes and eggplant in its own territory. Though the lifting of the sweeping prohibition on marketing goods from Gaza in 2014 was certainly a step in the right direction, ongoing restrictions imposed by Israel on the exit of goods continue to greatly limit profitability for farmers and hinder economic growth.
The Gaza Strip Ministry of Agriculture reported that the sale of Gaza produce in Israel in 2018 amounted to 11.1 million ILS (roughly 3 million USD), which is less than one percent of the value of the produce and farming equipment purchased by Gaza from Israel that same year (1.024 billion ILS, which is almost 300 million USD).
The high costs of shipping and the potential harm to produce during the long journey overseas make export abroad a far less feasible option for Gaza growers. The cost of exporting a ton of produce to Europe, for instance, can be as high as 1,200 USD, on top of the already high cost of transporting produce from Kerem Shalom Crossing to the airport. This means that access to markets in Israel and the West Bank is crucial for Gaza’s economy.
Gaza farmers and suppliers are willing and able to grow and sell a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in compliance with regulatory standards. What stands between them and selling their produce – including Gaza’s delicious strawberries – in Israel is the consistently and unnecessarily restrictive policy that Israel enforces.