Last month, representatives of the Fairtrade Foundation and international Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) held a workshop in Ramallah on the process of certification, Fairtrade price setting and producer support for Palestinian olive farmers.
Central to the workshop was Zaytoun, a UK-based co-operative community interest company (CIC). All of its suppliers attended and local co-ordination for the visiting delegates was provided by Taysir Arbasi, Zaytoun’s director in Palestine.
At the workshop, producers agreed a guideline price scale for the Fairtrade market premium and this was approved by FLO at the start of June.
All partners in the supply chain now need to apply to FLO for inclusion in the certification process, which will start from July with the aim of being completed in time for this year’s olive harvest.
Since 2004 Zaytoun has imported more than 150 tons of olive oil (including earlier this year, certified organic olive oil), as well as Nablusi olive oil soap, za’atar (thyme based herb mix), dates, couscous and almonds.
Originally established as an all volunteer initiative, driven by solidarity with the people of Palestine, Zaytoun has now grown into a sustainable international ethical business.
Its products tell the story of the communities behind them. Through marketing materials, talks and visits from Palestinian producers, Zaytoun is able to communicate the importance of traditional livelihoods.
Heather Masoud of Zaytoun says that trade, while difficult in the current political climate, is the best way to make a difference: “The Palestinian people have long been associated with terrorism or victimhood in the popular media, and their rich culture and society has often been overshadowed by this emphasis on violence or extreme poverty.
“Aid donations, whilst necessary, rarely foster foundations for long-term prosperity and social revitalisation. Our trade with the Palestinian people has brought in excess of ï¿½£1 million to their economy, and support for rural society.”
Earlier this year Zaytoun became a co-operative community interest company, enshrining in its constitution its primary purpose — co-operative working on behalf of the Palestinian people, and strengthening links between them and British consumers.
Taysir Arbasi says that the intimidation of Palestinian farmers is relentless: “The continual destruction of the olive groves is destroying the culture and the life source of the farming community; without the olive oil, farmers would need to find a new source of income to feed their children and to manage their lives.
“The newly built Israeli separation wall which annexes the agricultural Palestinian lands and the water resources makes it difficult for the people to access and farm their lands. Families are often denied access to their land by the military and are prevented from collecting their harvests.
”Zaytoun has played a major role in supporting the farmers and helping them to find opportunities to sell their oil.”
To help forge links between the UK consumer and Palestinian producer, Zaytoun runs tours to Palestine at olive harvest time, visiting farming and producer communities.
Its products are currently available through a network of volunteer distributors as well as independent retailers. Full details at: www.zaytoun.org.