Monday, May 11, 2015

Marda Permaculture Farm Visit

On March 30 International Service’s PFU volunteers visited the Marda Permaculture Farm, in the village of Marda in the West Bank territory of Palestine. Though Murad Alkhufash’s family have farmed the region for generations, the Marda Permaculture Farm was only founded in 2006.

Volunteers at the farm
From 2001 until 2006, Murad Alkhufash lived and worked in the USA (Murad is one of the few Palestinians that hold a Chilean passport). Whist in Tennessee he visited ‘The Farm’, a global permaculture hub; there, realised that permaculture could hold the answers to many of Palestinian agriculture’s troubles.

The occupation of the West Bank impacts Palestinian agriculture in several ways: physical barriers and movement restrictions can prevent farms from employing specialist workers, constraints are placed on exportation of produce and importation of necessary inputs, land is regularly confiscated for nature reserves or military use, and even water access is restricted. These problems have stunted growth of Palestine’s agricultural sector, allowing Israeli farmers to exploit the internal market. Becoming excessively dependent on imported produce has only served to shrink the sector, a big problem for a country whose economic mainstay is agriculture.

Produce from the farm
Permaculture may offer a number of innovative solutions to Palestinian agriculture’s blights. One of its central tenets is to minimize waste by reinvesting all surpluses back into the system, and this can help to address some of the problems caused by resource restrictions.
One example is mulch. Mulch is used to absorb rainwater and decrease evaporation, thereby conserving water. As it decomposes it releases nutrients; decomposition also attracts microorganisms that “till” the soil and release additional nutrients, lessening the need for fertilisers. Furthermore, mulch can be used to starve weeds of light.

Using mulch saves Murad spending on water, fertiliser and pesticides, and it could for other Palestinian farmers too. Consequently, Murad operates his farm as a permaculture demonstration site, teaching farmers, agricultural engineers and students how permaculture can reduce resource consumption. If less money is spent on agricultural inputs then Palestinian farmers can afford to sell their produce for less, allowing them to compete against imported produce in the market; thus, permaculture may be the key to developing Palestine’s agricultural sector and, ultimately, its economy. 

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