World Soil Day

Naser Qadous is Anera Palestine’s Agricultural Programs Manager

Healthy soil in Jenin, Palestine.

Restoring the Environment

To feed the world we need healthy soil.

Agriculture is almost totally dependent on water and soil. Aside from hydroponics, which is small scale, soil is essential for farming and much else. For me, soil is life itself.

For the West Bank and Gaza, there are big challenges facing soil and water resources. The biggest challenge is simple “access.” We Palestinians have a lot of land that we can’t access because of restrictions imposed by the occupation.

Soil Health in Palestine

Planting alfalfa seeds in Jenin, Palestine.

Soil is also suffering from farmers’ overuse. The available land accessible to farmers is very limited in Palestine so they tend to practice intensive farming, which means you are working the soil all the time and need to add lots of additional water, fertilizer and pesticides.

Farmers often don’t use best practices like crop rotation. For instance, this would mean that if you plant legumes this year, next year you should plant tomatoes and then wheat or barley the following year. This promotes good soil health.

For environmentalists — and I consider myself one — soil is a living organism. It needs care and it must be managed with this in mind. If farmers don’t care for their soil, it becomes degraded.

Ahmad’s son, Udai, admires the newly sprouted alfalfa he received from Anera. He’s planted 16 acres of the fodder crop.
Ahmad’s son, Udai, admires the newly sprouted alfalfa he received from Anera. He’s planted 16 acres of the fodder crop.

Soil Erosion in Palestine

Soil erosion is another issue in Palestine, and a problem worldwide. In our country, it isn’t heavy rains that cause it but rather a lack of vegetation and infrastructure to prevent it.

Overgrazing is also a problem. Sheep and goats visit the same land every day because of limited options. They eat all the plant growth and the resulting lack of vegetation worsens erosion.

Increasing salinity in scarce water resources is another challenge. In the West Bank, the Jordan Valley in particular has a problem with water salinity. In some areas here, the soil can only support a few crops because of it. Gaza, too, has a big problem with this. This is one reason tomatoes are so popular with our greenhouse farmers — it is one of the few crops that can tolerate high salinity.

The new wastewater treatment and reuse project will help farmers to fill individual reservoirs like this one for crop irrigation.
Wastewater treatment and reuse in Jenin, Palestine helps farmers fill individual reservoirs like this one for crop irrigation. Anera helped implement this program and associated infrastructure in 2017.

Protecting Palestinian Soil for the Future

How do we solve these problems? We must promote good farming practices and help farmers build more terraces. They also need alternative grazing areas for their livestock. For instance, years ago Anera planted forage crops in to help restore grazing area and save the soil in some hard-hit areas. Tree planting is also important.

Planting tree saplings in the West Bank, Palestine.

Farmers also need training on best agricultural practices on things like minimum tillage, composting, natural soil covers and mulching. Climate smart agriculture is something we need to do more to promote in our country.

There also needs to be more scientific research to classify the soils and lands to enhance academic understanding of the environment here and inform environmental interventions.

As humans, we come from the soil and we go back to the soil. We must safeguard the rights of our children through their soil “we are borrowing from them.”

A farmer in Beit-Lahia, in northern Gaza, weeds strawberries after an Anera Plastic Mulch Project cleared the 2.5 acre farm of plastic used for insulating seedlings. Through the project, the piles of plastic waste were sent to a local factory for recycling into piping for water and electricity.
Building a terrace for a park in Ramallah. Terracing in Palestine allows for more effective farming since it decreases both erosion and surface runoff.
The quintessential West Bank scene – terraced hills and olive trees.
Palestinian farmer Amjad, checks the soil of a healthy sapling on his land.
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