World Soil Day
Protecting Palestinian Soil for Future Generations
“We come from the soil and we go back to the soil. We must safeguard the rights of our children through the soil we are borrowing from them.”
These poignant words come from one of our agronomists in Palestine, Naser Qadous. Naser in the West Bank and his colleague colleague Ibrahim Najjar in Gaza work to promote agricultural practices that protect the environment while helping Palestinian farming families get reliable access to lands and income.
In honor of World Soil Day, we feature here just four of the many ways that Naser and Ibrahim have improved the use and protection of soil.
Terraced agricultural fields on steep hillsides conserve water and protect nutrient-rich soil from erosion. Palestinian farmers like to construct the walls from naturally existing stones, instead of concrete, as it is cheaper and at the same time permeable. The local stones allow water to flow out of the terraces during heavy rainfall to protect crops from flooding. Naser has worked with hundreds of farmers to keep this important tradition alive. Learn more about terracing>>
2. Hydroponic gardening
Hydroponic cultivation can play an important role in meeting food security challenges in Palestine. A small area can produce many fruits and vegetables at a very low cost with little more than PVC pipes and a small pump to circulate nutrients. The technique eliminates the need to use soil, which is particularly significant for Gaza, where much of the soil is polluted with heavy minerals or is so high in salinity that few crops can grow. Plus, hydroponic techniques avoid the need for pesticides. Our agronomist Ibrahim has recently overseen a pilot hydroponic garden in Gaza, which is providing ample produce to the women’s center on whose roof it is located. Learn more about hydroponics in Gaza>>
Recently Ibrahim conducted five days of training on the safe use of pesticides, soil rejuvenation, and planting grafted seeds in Gaza. This is one of many such trainings that our agriculture specialists in Palestine have conducted over the decades. Naser also pioneered a knowledge-sharing program so that Palestinian farmers from Rafah, Gaza to Jenin, West Bank could learn from and mentor each other.
The technique of grafting is environmentally friendly, requiring less fertilizer and pesticide use. This is pivotal for farmers in Gaza since it provides an alternative to unsafe methods of cleansing the soil. Conventional methods kill both harmful and beneficial bacteria in the soil and use excessive amounts of fertilizer. Grafting is a much better method to resist soil diseases. The high salinity of water in Gaza also affects farming. Some crops, like cucumbers, can’t be grown in the soil without irrigation. Grafting allows farmers to conserve water and get higher yields. Ibrahim relies on grafted plants for seedlings that he plants in family greenhouses across Gaza. Learn more about grafting in Gaza>>
Anera’s history with grafting goes back some years, when an insect called phylloxera infested the soil and devastated vineyards in Hebron. In the 1980s and again in the 2000s, with Naser’s oversight, Anera worked with a farming cooperative in Hebron to provide them with grafted disease-resistant grapevines. Learn more about grafting grapevines in Hebron>>
World Soil Day 2019: Restoring the Environment
by Naser Qadous is Anera Palestine’s Agricultural Programs Manager
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.”
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