Gaza farmers prepare strawberries for export under a Dutch government scheme
Gaza City - Ma'an
Farmers continue to grow produce in the Gaza Strip despite Israel's ban on exports, but productivity has plummeted.
Israel bans all exports from Gaza aside from a few trucks
of berries and flowers each day during winter under an agreement with the Dutch government. Farmers are denied access to lucrative markets in Israel and the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Israel has leveled vast areas of arable land in the coastal enclave over the last decade.
But farmers continue to produce strawberries, carnations, cherry tomatoes and bell peppers to export in limited quantities to Europe, although shipping fees reduce the profit margins.
Mahmoud Ikhlayyil, chairman of the strawberry and carnation association in Gaza, says farmers used to plant 2,500 dunams of strawberries before Israel's siege, but only plant between 900 - 1,000 dunams today.
This year, farmers avoided growing potatoes after a disastrous season in 2010 when no potatoes were exported, Ikhlayyil said.
"Farmers paid storage fees equal to 1.5 shekels ($0.40) per kilo, and in the end they sold it in the local market for 1 shekel per kilo."
In 2010, 25,000 dunams of fields had been planted with potatoes, he added.
In 2009, Gaza flower and berry growers suffered big losses when Israel delayed export permission by two months.
The Palestinian Bureau of Statistics says the enclave's exports in 2005 were worth $41 million.
The figure plummeted to $30,000 in 2006 and $20,000 in 2007 and there was no significant export trade in 2008.