FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa

Transforming the management of resources in olive production through Farmer Field Schools in the West Bank, Palestine

Elayyan Abu Arra working with his new irrigation tools in Aqaba, Tubas, the West Bank, 2020. ©FAO/Ayman Al Alem

Olive cultivation is considered one of the most fundamental aspects of the Palestinian identity and culture. The quality of Palestinian olive oil keeps it of vital importance to the economy and the people, supporting the livelihoods of approximately 100 000 families[1], and employing thousands of people to extract over 19 metric tons of olive oil and over 87 metric tons of pressed olives.[2] In Aqaba, Tubas Governorate, a representative reflection of the importance of olives is witnessed. Like many Palestinians, Elayyan Abu Arra is a farmer in his sixties who relies on olive cultivation as his main source of income to support himself and his family of ten people.

Among the vast olive fields in Aqaba, Elayyan owns one with 200 olive trees. He used to cultivate and maintain his trees through traditional methods which made him continuously face the obstacle of inconsistent production and therefore income. In September 2019, and under The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)’s project titled – “Implementing the 2030 Agenda for water efficiency/productivity and water sustainability in NENA countries”, Elayyan joined the Farmers Field Schools (FFS) programme that aims to support farmers by various means including in-kind support, capacity-building, and guidance on water efficiency and sustainability. 

Through his experience in the FFS, Elayyan was able to overcome some of the main technical challenges he used to face in olive production including the alternative bearing phenomena where production levels fluctuate vary significantly from year to year reducing production of olives drastically; and adopt more advanced olive cultivation techniques such as supplementary irrigation, integrated pest management, and proper pruning, Elayyan’s production increased steadily by over 50 percent (1 850kg compared to 1 200kg before joining the FFS). This increase has also reflected on Elayyan’s ability to use water more effectively enabling him to increase olive oil production and gain an additional profit of USD 4 000 in the season.

Additionally, the project has supported Elayyan and other farmers to use organic fertilizers and olive picking machines, which according to Elayyan has not only caused an increase in production but also helped him and his family increase the efficiency of harvesting and save their energy to perform their other duties. 

According to Elayyan, joining the FFS has been a rewarding experience on all levels. He was able to include some of his family members in the capacity-building sessions provided by the project; for instance, after attending several sessions, Mr Elayyan’s 30-year-old  son learned to substitute using pesticides with proper ploughing techniques in cultivation, moreover, his wife enhanced the quality of the pickles she produces after being trained on processing and packaging. Like many farming families, the FFS leveled-up their knowledge and capacities to maintain and enhance sustainable production of olives and olive oil;

This activity is implemented under the regional project “Implementing the 2030 Agenda for water efficiency/productivity and water sustainability in NENA countries” directly under the Regional Water Scarcity Initiative. This project is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

[2] Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Main Economic Indicators for Olive Presses Activity in Palestine by Governorate, 2017. www.shorturl.at/jvE16