Leader of the fair trade movement in Palestine to speak in Santa Cruz
Nasser Abufarha, a native-born Palestinian, encountered a fair trade product for the first time in 2002 at a coffee shop in Madison, Wis. Nine years later, he’s at the helm of a business and a nonprofit organization that bring fair trade, certified organic products to the United States and Europe, while also bringing the prospect of sustainable living to struggling farmers in Palestine.
Santa Cruz residents are invited to hear Abufarha’s story—one of fair trade, organic olives, and hope amidst the war-torn Israel/Palestine conflict—on Jan. 17 at the Live Oak Grange.
Abufarha is the founder and driving force behind the nonprofit organization Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA). In connection with his organic delicacies business, Canaan Fair Trade, PFTA works to provide sustainable living to struggling family farmers in the Palestinian West Bank region. Abufarha and the PFTA maintain a longstanding relationship with the Resource Center for Non-Violence (RCNV) in Santa Cruz, which organized the upcoming event.
“I sometimes joke that Nasser is like a home run in Santa Cruz terms,” says Scott Kennedy, founder of RCNV. “It’s certified organic, certified fair trade, sustainable community agriculture, and it’s part of a Palestinian human and national rights campaign—these are all good things.”
According to Abufarha, “the Center for Non-Violence in Santa Cruz has been the most important organization to us in the U.S.A.” Each year, Kennedy works in tandem with the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Interfaith Peace-Builders to bring delegations of 20 to 30 visitors from Santa Cruz and across the United States to visit the Israel/Palestine region and stay in the homes of farmers. He has brought delegations to visit Abufarha’s Jenin-based production company each year since its very early stages.
“They come to us every year, and they spend a couple of days [here],” says Abufarha. “Most come back and become advocates for the program. That has meant a lot to us, and the farmers who host them in their homes. That has been the connection that brings the life of this global community of fair trade and organic supporters to the homes of the Palestinian farmers.” As of this January, the RCNV had raised upward of $50,000 dollars in gifted donations and loans for the PFTA.
Aside from endorsing fair trade for farmers, PFTA organizes several humanitarian spin-off programs, including support for women’s micro-business collectives, scholarship funds for the higher education of Palestinian students and community events.
PFTA began when Abufarha, a Palestinian who now lives in Wisconsin, was studying for his doctorate in anthropology and international affairs at the University of Wisconsin. He returned to Palestine to complete his field research in 2003, three years into the intifada, and was struck by the economic conditions of the region. For poor Palestinian farmers, approximately 100,000 of which are olive growers, accessibility of land was challenging and the market was made challenging or denied access by authorities. Prices of olive oil, which is the region’s primary agricultural product, were plummeting down to $2 per kilo (about 2.2 pounds), which was far below the sustainable level. Farmers struggled to break even and many began to abandon their farms to desolation.
“I encountered the idea of fair trade as a way for market access for marginalized small producers in the global South … I thought that it would be a great idea to bring to Palestine,” says Abufarha.
He researched fair trade techniques, speaking with existing organizations in the United States and Germany. He then began talking to farmers in Palestine about the prospect of fair trade, gained a following, and began to train them in fair trade practices and requirements, developing literature on the topic in Arabic. Because these were small family farmers, little adjustment was required to become organically and fair trade certifiable. The business began to gain some speed and qualify for loans. Canaan Fair Trade is currently funded by four banks, including the Bank of Palestine and three sustainable trust funds in the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. PFTA is funded by donations and by a premium taken off of the top of each kilo of product sold by Canaan Fair Trade.
At the Jan. 17 event, Abufarha will speak in front of a slide show of images depicting past delegations visiting the Jenin olive harvests. He will illustrate the struggles and successes of his fair trade business, Canaan Olive Oil, its branch-off work through PFTA, and the greater effects of providing sustainability to family farmers.
“The modern world has, in the past, excluded and isolated [Palestinian farmers] in many ways,” says Abufarha. “Here we are creating mediums for positive engagement, beyond the economics of anything coming from the olive oil. And the farmers feel that and are excited about that and energized by that … that this is their product, their presentation on American shelves and in European markets. It speaks a lot to them.”
Nasser Abufarha will speak at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17 at the Live Oak Grange, 1900 – 17th Ave., Santa Cruz. There is a suggested donation of $5-$20. More information on PFTA can be found online at palestinefairtrade.org, and more on Canaan Fair Trade at canaanfairtrade.com.