Impacts of Climate Change on Palestine’s Trees of Eternity

Community Member Submission
By: Rayna Al-Salaam

Olive trees are known as “trees of eternity” for their capacity to regenerate. They are a universal symbol of life, hope, peace, and victory and an important part of Palestinian culture, heritage, and identity. Dating back 4,000 years ago, they are cherished for not just their historical presence, but their symbolism and economic significance. The olive sector, which includes olive oil, table olives, and soap, supports 80,000 families and is worth $160- $190 million (USD). However, due to the global threat of climate change, these “trees of eternity” may not be as eternal as they once were.

In addition to the threats from Israeli settlements and restrictions to water and access to land, climate change has immensely harmed Palestinian olive harvests. The Palestinan Authority National Adaptation Plan characterizes olive production as among the most vulnerable sectors to climate change; rising temperatures and sea levels, humidity, and increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns have decimated this harvest season. Drought, limited rain and excessive heat has led to an annual decline in production. The rising temperatures and irregular rainfall have been linked to agricultural diseases such as Spilocaea oleagina, which causes leaf damage or defoliation, as well as the olive knot disease that affects fruit development. Moreover, pest infestations, such as from the olive fruit fly, have also been tied to climate change, and in turn, results in substantial production losses.

In 2018, it was projected that the year’s olive harvest was half of what it was the year before. For one farmer in particular, Saad Omar Ahmen, olive harvest in 2019 decreased by 70% in the past 3–5 years due to disease and lack of rain, both of which are effects of climate change. For another olive farmer, Mohammed Sadiq Yaseen, his land in 2018 only produced less than 1 barrel of olive oil, whereas previously, he was able to produce 13 barrels. According to smallholder olive and grape farmers (over 70% of Gaza’s farmers are smallholders), the main climate risks, are, in order of importance: “(1) water and soil salinity; (2) rising temperatures; (3) heat waves; (4) declining rainfall and drought; and (5) violent winds. Other important risks include the shifting of seasons and precipitation patterns (including delayed winter); extreme weather events; and weather variability or rising humidity.”

Looking forward, climate change trends are likely to continue to significantly impact olive production. By 2055, it is estimated that temperatures will increase by 2.5℃, and the overall rainfall will decrease by 15%. This increases drought risks, and for the rare wettest days, it increases flood risks. The Palestinians’ capacity to recover from climate impacts is low. Lack of funding and the Israeli occupation pose obstacles to developing the region. Nonetheless, Palestinians continue to persevere and are working to adapt and mitigate against climate change. Farmers are advocating for training for better agricultural practices and seeking alternative methods that require less rain water, integrated pest management, and better mechanical measures (i.e. tilling, propagation from cuttings, etc.). Increased effort to scale these actions is critical.

“‘Generations before us planted the olive tree knowing they wouldn’t see the fruit of their labor, but that the generations that followed would reap the harvest of the trees they planted before ,” said a Palestinian farmer quoted by Kamila Gerasin. Climate change exacerbates the crisis faced by Palestinians causing additional stressors and uncertainty for the people who are already trying to survive in extremely difficult circumstances. The legacy of the olive tree and its ability to be passed down to many more generations is dependent on the work and efforts needed to promote and maintain sustainable agriculture.

For information on how you can support this effort and grow olive trees in Palestine, please click on the below links:

The Land of Canaan Foundation

Pennyappeal usa

Muslim Hands

GlobalGiving

For Sustainable Purchasing of Palestinian Olive Products:

Pali Roots Soap: Olive Oil Soap

Zatoun Fair Trade Olive Oil

Middle East Children Alliance Olive Oil and other goods

Equal Exchange Fairly Traded Palestinian Organi Olive Oil

Canaan Fair Trade Organic EV Olive Oil

The views expressed in this post are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect AMP-MN’s views.

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