By Naser Qadous
Water is a critical yet diminishing resource in the Middle East, and that poses serious challenges for the region’s farming community. I knew that ANERA’s latest project to recycle run-off from Jenin’s wastewater treatment facility would be vital for some 200 farming families in need of better irrigation methods for their land. The wasterwater treatment project will also introduce new, much-needed fodder crops and other produce the farmers currently must import at high costs. This means families can improve crop yield and increase their income.
But, I wondered if the farmers in the program would manage the treated water efficiently and equitably. Could they introduce new crops to the area? Were they motivated to make the necessary changes to their farming methods?
From past experience with knowledge-sharing programs, I was confident the answer would be ‘yes’ to all the questions. In 2013, ANERA organized the first-ever knowledge-sharing program in Palestine that allowed farmers from different parts of the West Bank and Gaza to share their experiences, both positive and negative, through discussions, videos and internet exchanges. I traveled to Morocco for practical experience and I knew that taking Jenin farmers on a similar trip would reap many benefits.
West Bank farmers visit Jordan
So, the ANERA team reached out to neighboring Jordan’s Ministry of Agriculture and coordinated a visit with the National Center for Agriculture Research and Extension (NCARE). Once we had the go-ahead, we organized a four-day trip to Jordan for 15 farmers, a municipal official from Jenin, and six engineers from the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture.
First stop was the Jordanian town of Wadi Musa, near Petra, where farmers showed us their cash-crop of alfalfa, which can be harvested 10 to 12 times a year. We realized that this could be a successful venture in Jenin, with a few technical alterations to suit our local climate and soil conditions. I could see and hear excitement percolating in our group as the possibilities for better crop planning took shape.
On the second day, we visited Al –Zarqa , northeast of Amman, to inspect the treated wastewater management system for irrigating fodder crops. There are 27 treatment facilities in Jordan that produce billions of gallons of wastewater a year. The biggest station, located in Zarqa, produces an average of 66 million gallons a day, which irrigates Jordan’s much-needed fodder crops.
A trip to several cooperatives nearby in Al-Mafraq governorate offered more useful information about fodder crops and different irrigation techniques.
Innovation & Inspiration in Palestine
We wrapped up the visit with a lecture by two experienced NCARE agronomists who responded knowledgeably and patiently to all our questions—general and technical. The trip reinforced the benefits of sharing knowledge and experience within our own communities and beyond our borders. The information we absorbed will not be forgotten: we were careful to document the entire trip in three videos that will be shared with other West Bank farmers who could not join us in Jordan. And, our new friendships with Jordanian farmers will continue to build and benefit us all.
But, I realized the real benefit of the trip beyond the information-sharing has been the change in the farmers’ attitudes toward experimenting with different crops and irrigation methods. The farmers have returned to Jenin more highly motivated and eager to share their experience.
One of the first steps has been the formation of a new farm cooperative—the first-ever to focus on wastewater irrigation. The 21 founding members have already added 28 farmers to their ranks and expect to reach 200 in the near future.