Food and farming in Gaza is facing severe challenges due to a number of factors, primary of which is the continuing blockade that results in a heavy reliance on expensive imported inputs from Israel, significant population pressure (2 million people living on only 362 sq km), limited access to natural resources, and resulting seawater intrusion that causes salination of aquifer water and the disposal of raw solid and liquid wastes that, due to the systematic destruction of sanitation infrastructure, further heightens pollution threats to land and sea.
Despite the Palestinian Authority retaining an outmoded rural agriculture policy, farming in Gaza today is characterised by urban and peri-urban agriculture, comprising micro, small and medium family farming units providing a livelihood source for 25.8%, of which 76% are women (PCBS, 2020). On one hand, access to fertile farmland along the border in the ‘access restricted areas’ becomes an increasingly dangerous no-go area; while on the other, productive land is being swallowed up by urban expansion. Yet in the urban and peri-urban spaces that remain, 10-15% of Gazan women manage home gardens for market, household consumption and barter, producing nutrient-dense, saline and drought tolerant, and culturally important foods.
[ Urban expansion and land fragmentation – as peri-urban land becomes urban and rural land comes under threat ]
In what remains of the rural farming environment, the current policy promotes the technology- and fossil fuel-intensive farming of uniform vegetable varieties resulting in degraded soils, declining groundwater levels, nitrate leaching into water supplies, and the gradual loss of nutritionally and culturally important foods. High levels of dependence on imported synthetic inputs increases the cost of production for Gazan farmers. As Israel’s third largest export market, imports of intensively produced food undercuts local producers, forcing them to sell at below the cost of production.
Despite being most severely impacted by climate change and food pricing, and disproportionately exposed to pesticide poisoning (FAO, 2022) women are rarely engaged in agricultural extension nor heard in related policy spaces. Key areas that comprise womens’ rights exist within the agricultural sector, land ownership and the domestic sphere – all of which are deprioritised due to the humanitarian crisis that focuses resources on food aid and reconstruction efforts. The mutually reinforcing conditions of occupation and patriarchy deprive women of their general rights, as well as access to land and productive resources. Shortages of food, fuel, energy and clean water differentially compromise advances in women’s political, civil, social and economic participation, which exacerbates their vulnerability to multiple shocks. Despite their prominent role in the food and farming sector, less than 5% of women own agricultural land, constraining decision-making over land-use and investments. With their contribution largely unrecognised, women remain in the shadow economy and their precarity is further heightened by COVID-19.
[ UWAF beekeeper Samar Al-Baa ]
The opportunity to work that once provided what protection many women enjoyed – of leaving their homes, of social interaction, and of being able to contribute to stressed households – has been severely compromised by COVID restrictions on movement. 95% of women-owned businesses are now under threat of closure due to a combination of reduced spending power, and the burden of child care (WFP, 2020) including a growing number of young people with permanent violently-acquired disabilities (OCHA, 2021). Exposed to persistent stress, polluted water, industrial chemicals, toxins from munitions, poor diet due to lack of nutrient-dense food, and imported industrially grown and ultra-foods, Gaza has a high chronic disease burden – increasing risks of COVID-19.