World Soil Day
Naser Qadous is Anera Palestine’s Agricultural Programs Manager
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Anera has built greenhouses for 66 families across Rafah and Khan Younis in Gaza. Now families grow their own tomatoes, cucumber and eggplants.
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