The West Bank’s Gold

October 20, 2009 By Howard Schneider

Palestinian farmer Mur’eb Kaileh, 70, with bags of olives that will eventually be processed for oil at a facility on the outskirts of Ramallah. (Muhammed Muheisen/associated Press)

The Palestine Fair Trade Association now has 1,200 farmers and 20 olive press owners who take advantage of a guaranteed “fair trade” price from Canaan Fair Trade, an affiliated company set up to market Palestinian-made products abroad. The arrangement means higher prices for the farmers and, perhaps as important, a way to turn the year’s crop into a lump sum of cash, rather than the trickle of money many received by selling oil or olives through the year. ad_icon Developed by a U.S.-trained anthropologist, the venture sent 350 tons of olive oil to the United States and Europe in 2008, about $4 million worth, with projections that the amount could triple in a couple of years. Canaan Fair Trade has become the chief olive oil supplier to the Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap company and is breaking into boutique food stores with its own gourmet olive oil brand. There are smaller sales to major grocers like Whole Foods and Sainsbury’s. “The value is in exports and long-term relationships” with overseas buyers, said Nasser Abufarha, who returned to the region of his childhood with a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin and an aim to “give a space in modern society” for olive-harvesting families.

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