October brings the olive harvest season in Palestine. Gathered olives are used to make olive oil, pickles and silky handmade soap. Beyond that, the olive tree is an ancient Palestinian symbol, rooted to the land and famously resilient – many are thousands of years old. In villages nestled among ancient, terraced hills all over the West Bank, whole extended families will pick olives for most of the day, starting in the cool early morning hours. Soon the air in the groves fills with the rich scent of olives and the sound of olives falling like fat raindrops onto the mats, where they are sorted and bagged. The harvesting is done by hand, and trees are pruned as they are harvested.
By continuing the centuries old ancestral practice of olive farming, Palestinian communities are supporting themselves financially and at the same time protecting their land from illegal Israeli settlement. Around 100,000 Palestinian families rely on the olive harvest for their livelihoods to some extent.
Zaytoun is a Community Interest Company, a social enterprise founded to support Palestinian farmers through fair trade. 100% of their profits are reinvested into furthering this mission. Like Embrace, the Zaytoun team are based in the UK but make regular visits to Palestine. The key to Zaytoun’s success is their partnership with Fairtrade co-operatives throughout Palestine – as more and more farmers and olive product creators are connected with co-operatives, producers and suppliers are paid a fair price for their valuable produce and more resources and funding are available to boost the harvest year on year and increase the olive trade throughout Palestine.
Fairtrade, companies like Zaytoun, charities like Embrace and customers like you are ensuring that olive farming and the manufacture of olive products continues for generations to come – ensuring a bright and sustainable future for Palestinian communities.
Here is what some of Zaytoun’s producers have to say:
‘Before the Fairtrade co-operative I would give my olive oil to traders to sell in Israel, but they would disappear without paying me. This bad experience made me unsure about Fairtrade at first, but when I took my first small batch of olives to the press house there was a supervisor who monitored the process, bought the oil from us, and paid there and then with a cheque. I sold one tonne for 15,000 shekels – it was an incredible start! I used to work 6 months in Israel to make this amount.’
Khader, Palestinian farmer in Nus Ijbeil.
‘When I first started work at Nakheel 8 years ago it was very hard. People would say to me, ‘Women shouldn’t be out under the sun, how can you help me? How can you carry this box?’ but now I am pleased to have reached a position where I am respected, everyone says, ‘Please you must come and help us with this, you must advise me how to deal with this issue.’ So many Palestinian women are stepping up and joining the Fairtrade co-operatives. I hope they will feel empowered just as I have.’ Ruba, Quality Manager at Nakheel, a Medjoul date producer in Jordan Valley.
‘You the consumers are our partners out there, you know us and know our products, you hear our voices and support us by buying our product. The more you buy, the more we can keep growing our work. This improves our economic situation and raises morale.’ Board member of Palestinian Fair Trade Association.
You can taste the delectable range of Middle Eastern foods that Zaytoun produces when you buy from the selection on our webshop. Choose from olive oil, za’atar, dates and almonds – Buy food now.
With all their years of knowledge and experience working with producers in Palestine and sampling quality Middle Eastern foods, Zaytoun are also experts in creating delicious recipes. See what Middle Eastern feasts you can cook up, visit: zaytoun.uk/recipes
At Embrace we’re ensuring that Palestinian olive farming can continue for many generations to come with The Olive Tree Project. You can pay for an olive sapling to be planted in Palestine and be part of planting hope for the future. You can even get more hands-on experience by joining one of our annual olive planting (February) or olive picking (October) trips.