Uncovering the Future

09.05.11 – 19:56| PNN – Palestine News Network

ANERA – PNN – In the early morning, the spring sun warms the fertile fields of Gaza. It’s time for planting but first it’s time for cleaning. Wearing hats against the hot sun, workers spread out across the green fields to collect the plastic sheets covering last season’s strawberry plants. This planting season offers a glimmer of hope for farmers who were allowed to export a limited amount of strawberries, after inspection, to European markets.

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Ziyad Ghaben shows some of his crops

The shipments passed through the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza. “Politics influences every aspect of our lives here in Gaza, even our strawberries. We weren’t able to export them for four years,” said Ziyad Ghaben, who has worked in farming for 15 years.

Thanks to ANERA’s (American Near East Refugee Aid) plastic mulch program, some 70 workers have been hired from March to July to remove the plastic sheeting and clean the land for planting. In 2011, the project aims to clean an area of 509 acres (2,061,000 square meters). The expected amount of plastic to be removed is 115 tons and 233 farmers will benefit.

Farmers used to bury or burn the plastic before the plastic clean-up project. ANERA trained workers on how plastic can be used and how it can be recycled. “We learned how to reuse it through recycling and benefit from it instead of harming the environment,” said Ziyad.

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Imad Hamdouna shows plastic being removed from his fields

In the past, Ziyad and other farmers were financially strapped at the start of the planting season. “I used to hire workers to remove the plastic but it cost 2000 NIS [more than $580]. Thanks to ANERA’s project, we can save that money and invest it in seedlings or fertilizers,” he said. Ziyad is growing corn and expects his produce to flourish because the soil is now suitable for cultivation.

As the day brightens, 16 workers appear on the horizon, moving across the fields, lifting the plastic and collecting it in piles.  Another worker fills up a truck with the material to send it off to a local factory for recycling into irrigation pipes.

Imad Hamdouna is a father of five: “Through this opportunity offered by ANERA, I can provide for my family even for a few months.”  Imad has been working in the fields since 1990. “I was born and raised here in Beit-Lahia, close to the fields,” he added. Like many workers in the project, Imad is very attached to the land. “I spend my happiest moments in the fields. It means much more to me than just a source of income.”

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