RAFAH: Flower cultivation in Gaza is on the verge of extinction, due to the six-year long Israeli blockade and ban on exports, which has prompted dozens of farmers to switch to more popular corps.
Ghazi Hijazi, 62, is the owner of the largest flower farm in Gaza, and is one of the few farmers still clinging to flower cultivation since he started in 1991.
Despite his adherence to this agriculture, Hijazi was forced to reduce the area of the land he cultivates from 40 dunums to 10. He faces many obstacles in order to sell his product in the local market, including reducing his workforce from 40 to three along with his four sons to manage costs.
“Because of the restrictions imposed by Israel on exports from Gaza, marketing is limited to the local, which is not comparable to what was achieved by exports to the Netherlands and the European market,” he told Arab News.
Hijazi recalled the years of prosperity and openness before the imposition of the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip following the victory of Hamas in the second legislative elections in early 2006.
Flowers of Gaza were second only to the Dutch in terms of quality, according to Hijazi, who said: “Israel has lost our flowers its international reputation.”
He stressed that Gaza’s flowers maintained a position on the international stock exchange in the Netherlands from 1998 to 2013. But after Israel tightened its restrictions imposed on commercial crossings, this status declined, and international traders turned to other farms in the region.
Ministry of Agriculture data indicates that Gaza farmers were exporting some 60 million flowers annually to Europe, but they only exported 5 million flowers in 2012, before exporting stopped completely after the third Israeli war on Gaza in 2014.
Hijazi explained that exports completely stopped for six years, but before that the farmers faced great obstacles, which affected their commitment to the delivery dates to the Stock Exchange in the Netherlands due to complex Israeli inspections.
According to the ministry, the area currently cultivated with flowers is estimated at only 22 dunums, the majority of which is owned by Hijazi and his siblings in Rafah, on the Palestinian-Egyptian border, in the south of Gaza. Cultivation of flowers began in Gaza in 1991.
The farmers received training courses and Dutch financial support, which led to the expansion of the farm area to 1,200 dunums by 1998.
Hijazi said that dozens of farmers, who have great experience, could not tolerate the bitter reality resulting from the conditions of the blockade, and had to bulldoze their farms, and switch to cultivating other crops.
Flowers planting requires extensive care and high costs.
Hijazi said that these costs cannot be compensated due to local sales being limited to only three seasons: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day, which are not enough to sustain a business.
Flowers are not a priority for 2 million Palestinians suffering from a suffocating siege and collapse in economic conditions. About 80 percent of them depend on humanitarian relief.
Hijazi compared domestic and foreign marketing with a rose, which is sold locally for about one shekel, while it can be exported abroad for 7 shekels.
He does not rule out the complete extinction of flower cultivation in Gaza if the current situation continues.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza, Adham Al-Bassiouni, agreed with Hijazi that the cultivation of flowers is subject to a total collapse.
Bassiouni told Arab News that Gaza farmers were interested in cultivating 10 varieties of flowers, which were among the most important export crops, while some of them are struggling to continue.
Bassiouni said the main issues facing farmers are the blockade, marketing problems, a lack of export guarantee and the high costs of cultivation.