On January 12, 2009, LRC organized a workshop to announce the results of 1.5 years, first of a kind study implemented in the West Bank. The study is part of the Land Development Project funded by the Italian Cooperation, supervised by the UNDP, and executed by 6 of the largest agriculturally-driven organizations in Palestine in cooperation with the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture.
The study was conducted by LRC, a branch of the Arab Studies Society in Jerusalem. The workshop was held under the patronage of Dr. Ismael De'eq, Minister of Agriculture, and Mr. Maher Ghneim, Minister of Colonization Affairs.
The workshop begun with Mr. Jamal Talab, LRC manager, welcoming the guests and showing his gratitude to the Italian Cooperation, the bright face of the Italian Government in Palestine, who represents the true face of the loyal to the cause Italian friends.
He also focused on the importance of the study which provides decision makers with viable information to be used in planning for the future.
In his speech, Dr. De'eq praised the study and the people conducted it. He also showed gratitude to the Italian Cooperation and the UNDP for funding and supervising the study.he also insisted that the results must be used for future planning and that the Ministry of Agriculture will surely effectively benefit from the results. On the other hand, he also pointed to the importance of boycotting the Israeli colonies goods and hoped that the next step will be stopping Palestinians from working there indicating that for that to happen, the Palestinian Authority should be able to provide tens of thousands of job opportunities.
Mr Ghneim also admired the study and the people who conducted it. He tried to bring attention to the suffering of farmers in Tana village, Nablus Governorate, saying that priority should be given to lands located near or inside the segregation wall using the motto "they build the wall and we shall destroy it. They uproot trees and we shall plant them".
Mr. Ibrahim Matar, Representative of the Italian Cooperation persisted on the importance of the agricultural sector not only in Palestine, but in the whole world, and that this sector is crucial for development and food security. He said that the Italian Cooperation always seeks contribution in such development projects whether directly or through international organization like the UNDP. The study was part of the Land Development Project, which is as he said one of the most important projects if the IC, with a total budget of 2.2 million euros, it intended to reclaim 2000 dunum and water harvest more than 10000 m3. In addition, it is supposed to create 70000 job opportunities. This project shall be evaluated during the coming two months; a follow up stage shall begin during 2011.
He also tried to point to other projects done in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture; most of them are concerned with the development of olive sector and opening the doors of the international markets for the various Palestinian olive products with a total budget of 1.1 million euros in the period between 2008 and 2010. Furthermore, he talked about some infrastructure renovation projects held in areas damaged by the segregation wall with a total budget of 6 million euros. In the end, he summed up by discussing some skills improvement courses offered to the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture and saying that the Italian Cooperation projects funding plan will be available during the second half of this year.
Mr. Geoff Prewitt, Poverty Reduction and Civil Society Adviser, spoke on behalf of the UNDP and insisted on the importance of use of lands in the development process and prioritizing lands development and encouraging investments in this field. Farmers, who contribute to more than 50% of the costs of the land development, must believe in the importance of this sector in the development process and in improving their life style to do so. He also claimed that land reclamation is crucial for limiting colonies expansion.
On the other hand he praised the study because it provides decision makers with large amounts of information. He assured that such an overview is significant for expanding horizons and he claimed that 1.6 million acres of lands are not exploited enough and that there is apparent need for the development of 56000 acres a year for the coming 30 years.
He also said that despite the fact that agriculture is one of the oldest professions in history, it is still facing many difficulties and challenges and that there is an urgent need for adjusting policies to comply with the needs of all farmers and providing them with the most recent technology. He also expected that this study is considered a strategic practice in information gathering and usage alongside specifying the needed resources for investment in land including plans and infrastructure.
Afterwards, the study staff made a presentation on the study methodology and the most important results; they also showed some maps that were draw through the study period. According to the staff, the study objective was creating readable data for all decision makers in all the related sectors on both national and international levels. Moreover, the objective included the production of need-driven maps and evaluating the desirable asset. The study included a total area of 2000 km2 and the result was that 467 km2 were suitable for reclamation by planting trees but in different levels, 60 km2 were 100% suitable, 230 were less suitable, and 177 km2 were nearly suitable.
The most surprising result was that 10 % of the agriculturally exploited lands were not used at all; this was discovered through a mass scan of the used lands.
The final result of the study that included 2000 km2 was that 467 km2 can be reclaimed, 800 km can be used as grazing areas, and 390 km2 are suitable for foresting.
Throughout the discussion that took place after the presentation, Mr. Kayed Janazra, the project manager, assured that since the beginning of the projects of land development during the nineties of the past century, the projects that were held through systematic organizational approach and were classified as one of the priorities of the Palestinian agricultural duties. However, questions have always aroused about priorities, strategies, roles, and expected outcomes. Mr. Janazra claimed that this particular study has answered part of the questions saying that the agricultural development project is a long term process that needs dedication and different resources and that it will take more than 30 years to be held if the political factors on the ground allowed that. Nevertheless, the need for continuous development, maintenance, and creativity cannot be neglected.
He assured that the study puts the workers in the agricultural field against the challenge of putting clear strategic plans and acquiring the needed human and non-human resources. Planting 56000 km2 per year, about 4.3 million nurslings costs around 32 million USD.
He also pointed to the huge efforts needed for the production of the study during the last 18 months. In addition, he also showed gratitude to the IC, the UNDP, and the Ministry of Agriculture staff.
On the other hand, Dr. Zakariya al Salawda, manager of the development and preservation department in the Ministry, expected that this result is going to be an inspiration for other researchers to go further in their researches since this study proved that this particular field can provide more than 70000 job opportunity. He also pointed to the importance of the age groups included and the role of women in this sector.
The most important recommendations of the study were the need for a ministerial decision that calls for higher level of coordination between the different ministries and the need of complementary studies in this field since there is now clear basic information that might be useful for any department, organization, or donors. It also called that the coordination process should be taken seriously and not for the waste of time. Furthermore, LRC assured that the information should be available for anyone who might take advantage of it.
It also pointed to the importance of performing tasks in a much more efficient and effective way and the usage of different kinds of trees in the reclamation process so as to make it more versatile.
On the other hand, one of the recommendations was prohibiting the construction of any kind of residential or industrial areas. Also, the prevention of turning such areas into garbage dumpsters.
In addition, the study urged for classifying all sorts of lands, and the need for foresting not only public forests but also private ones and the need for a new cultivation system for forests in order to make Palestine, or what is left of it, greener.
LRC guarantees that it is going to conduct courses and workshops all around the West Bank to publish the detailed results of the study to larger number of people. LRC recommends that all the organizations interested in the field should have GIS professionals within their staff to be able to gain as much benefits as possible from the study. It also called for the importance of using high technology in the field of maps and maps drawings, and that all the old maps must be replaced with the most recent ones.
On the foresting level, it is crucial that the different governmental sectors update their maps since they are still using more than 40 years old maps. The new maps should have certain classifications of the lands owned by the government in order to make easier documenting violations against these lands.
LRC thanks all the participants for their serious and fruitful participation and it hopes that it is a beginning of a new bright level.