In the summer of 2019 Anna Clayton and Dionysios Touliatos went on a learning journey across the Mediteranean basin. They visited and stayed with several projects that are seeking to regenerate degraded lands or fractured communities. During this trip they met up with Mohammed Ruzzi from Palestinian Fair Trade Association (PFTA), to learn more about the Trees For Life programme.
Anna: Tell us about the Trees For Life programme and what motivated it?
Mohammed: Trees For Life started in 2006. The motivation? To increase the cultivated area of olives of a specific variety – its the most important thing.
Many of the farmers are registered with the PFTA (whose olive oil is exported via Canaan Fairtrade and sold under the Zaytoun brand) Part of their production- a small part of course- comes from trees that were distributed by us.
Anna: why is it so important to increase the number of olives being cultivated?
Mohammed: We Palestinians consider olive trees to be our identity [and] the story of Palestine links us with the land. Our conflict is about the land [and our work connects us to the land]. Simply, this small quantity of olive oil for us is a powerful weapon to bring our story worldwide. It’s a kind of… non violent resistance.
When you as a European customer enter the market and you discover there is an olive oil labelled as Palestinian olive oil. Maybe you do not know anything about Palestine, but you will start searching about and start reading about our story.
So yes, everything here in Palestine is linked to politics. Everything, even fair trade.
Anna: What sort of farms receive your tree saplings?
Mohammed: Targeted beneficiaries are farmers that are poor; farmers who have land located near settlements and farmers who have had their land taken after the building of the separation wall. So in order to link them to their land, we give them trees.
Planting trees links you to your land because when you plant trees you need to visit your land always. So these lands which are located inside the separation wall, these need a special permit from the Israeli authorities. When you plant the trees, you will always go to the Israeli Authorities to ask for a permit because you have land and you have to work to serve this land, Sometimes these trees are destroyed or uprooted by the Israelis. We know. We give [the farmers more trees] the next year… In the end they will stop uprooting these trees.
We also target young couples, starter farmers, single women and women who are interested in working in the agriculture sector.