In 2021 I covered the winners of the Lush Spring Prize, a venture between Ethical Consumer and Lush Cosmetics celebrating the importance of holistic, regenerative approaches to ecology. Today I wanted to take some time to highlight one of their winners, GUPAP, which does great work in the Gaza Strip.
The Gaza Strip has a population of approximately 2.1 million people, including 1.4 million Palestinian refugees. In 2007 Israel imposed a blockade on land, air and sea, which has had a devastating effect on the movement of people and goods to and from the area, as well as severely restricting access to markets. The UN Secretary-General stated that the blockade and related restrictions contravene international humanitarian law, as they target and impose hardship on the civilian population.
Over 80% of Gaza’s population is aid-dependent, and the blockade has created conditions of poverty and de-development of a highly skilled and well-educated society.
In 2020, the average unemployment rate stood at 49 per cent – one of the highest in the world. The number of Palestine refugees relying on UNRWA for food assistance has increased from fewer than 80,000 in 2000 to more than a million today. Access to clean water and electricity remains at crisis level and impacts nearly every aspect of life. Clean water is unavailable for 95 per cent of the population. Availability of electricity improved only recently, increasing from 4-5 hours per day in the past months to up to an average of 14 hours per day as of April 2021. However, ongoing power shortage has severely impacted the availability of essential services, particularly health, water and sanitation services, and continues to undermine Gaza’s fragile economy, particularly the manufacturing and agriculture sectors. Eight recognized Palestine refugee camps span the Gaza Strip and have some of the highest population densities in the world.
Gazans have limited access to essentials such as medical care, safe water, electricity, and few educational or economic opportunities. COVID-19 restrictions have further impacted living conditions, but organisations like GUPAP are working to create a better future for all in Gaza.
Who are GUPAP
GUPAP stands for The Gaza Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture Platform. Launched in 2013, it’s an interactive and participatory forum, bringing together 50 member organisations – including government, private sector, civil society, universities and agricultural funding institutions – to develop a resilient Palestinian agricultural sector in the Gaza Strip. In March 2018 GUPAP was legally registered as an independent Palestinian NGO, and in 2019 managed to open its own legal and independent bank account.
The project aims to increase income for people engaged in small-scale urban and peri-urban agriculture in the Gaza Strip. As economic opportunities are very limited in Gaza, GUPAP’s work focuses on promoting local approaches: making the best use of what is locally available and supplying the local market, rather than focusing on imports and exports, which are severely restricted by the blockade. The goal is also to move away from an ’emergency aid’ model, aiming for long-term, more sustainable models, improving food security and enhancing livelihoods. It aims to make the agricultural sector in Gaza more resilient overall. This ensures all Gazans are more food secure and less vulnerable, with more access to sustainable jobs and income, improved livelihoods and a safer environment. Farmers provide residents with nutritious, locally grown food, substantially contributing to the food systems & resilience of Palestine’s population.
This is achieved through:
- Increasing local production and the competitiveness of local products for a local market.
- Reducing dependency on external imports and energy, and promoting and strengthening Gaza-based service supply and agricultural training and extension.
- Creating a more favourable institutional and policy environment for agricultural value chains to operate and be sustained.
In Gaza, food security is much more about restricted economic access to food due to Israeli-imposed conditions, rather than lack of food availability. GUPAP’s work aims to make Gaza more self-reliant and locally focused in a sustainable, long term way.
Supporting female farmers
Approximately 1000 women-led agricultural enterprises are located within the Gaza Strip, cultivating a large cross-section of the country’s food system. These women-led farms & agri-enterprises maintain seed banks of local crops and produce a wide variety of food including fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs, fish, poultry, eggs, mushrooms, cheeses, olive oil, honey and traditional ingredients such as ajweh (date paste), maftool (hand-rolled couscous), stevia sweeter, jam and pickles. All these items are sold to local markets, strengthening Palestine’s local food systems and ensuring regular access to nutritious food for a population that has experienced mass conflict and socio-economic distress as a result of Israeli aggression.
GUPAP also established a forum to specifically support women agripreneurs called Urban Women Agripreneurs Forum (UWAF), an interactive space connecting women agripreneurs from the different agricultural fields and enabling them to exchange experiences and expertise through the implemented activities by GUPAP. These include the teaching of technical and managerial skills, strategic framework development, marketing, and advocacy so that these female entrepreneurs can advocate their rights and develop their own community-led initiatives. GUPAP has also provided direct in-kind support for existing enterprises to remain resilient despite crisis conditions.
Beyond their vital contributions to self-sustainable enterprises and food sovereignty, these farmers are committed to giving back to their community and are developing a food basket program that will provide relief to families in hardship.
Agriculture in Gaza
Operating under occupation is a challenge for GUPAP due to continuous aggression, as well as all the difficulties of transferring money to Gaza. In May 2021, an 11-day escalation in hostilities killed more than 200 Palestinians in Gaza, including over 60 children. These hostilities also severely impacted farmers, as many lost their income due to direct attacks on their lands. Following the bombings, $50 million of vegetables, field crops and fruit trees were destroyed. Another $9 million of greenhouses and crops were lost, alongside over $11 million worth of livestock farming.
According to GUPAP/UWAF’s initial assessment, these devastating losses inflicted partial to severe damage on over 50% of the micro-enterprises led by women in Gaza. Their shops, home gardens, and products were partially or totally damaged, rendering them unable to continue production and support their families.
These losses worsened already existing vulnerabilities and the marginalisation of female agripreneurs in Gaza by diminishing economic gains made over decades. It also impacted the wider residents of the Gaza Strip, who rely on this produce.
In Gaza, female agripreneurs are particularly affected by insecurity, vulnerability and marginalisation, making it difficult to deal with the impacts of both the pandemic, the latest aggressions, and the resulting economic setbacks. After the aggressions of May 2021, GUPAP implemented multiple projects to support the resilience of women agripreneurs through in-kind support, capacity sharing, and covering the communication costs of UWAF members to facilitate the marketing of their products.
GUPAP also works to enhance community resilience through:
- Working towards resilience through strategies initiated by the local community and voices of local vulnerable groups, rather than trying to take the lead.
- Exchange of expertise and knowledge and creating participatory spaces for learning.
- Strengthening the voice and role of the community, focusing on the rights and dignity of Gazans as people rather than simply viewing them as recipients of aid.
- Understanding the local community’s pre-existing knowledge, experience, capacities, resources and initiatives.
The future of GUPAP
While they have several long term aims, GUPAP’s most important and immediate goal is food sovereignty. To accomplish this goal, GUPAP has to influence policies, advocate rights, strengthen agripreneurs voices, and enhance their resilience.
GUPAP plan to establish the Urban Family Farming & Agroecology Resource Centre (UFFARC). The centre will play an important part in the wider learning process, as it will help those working in agroecology understand the context of their work, follow new approaches, undertake new responsibilities, and improve their work. UFFARC will provide different types of resources such as printed/e-books, research papers, fact sheets, newsletters and policy reviews.
As winners of the Lush Spring Prize, there are also two ways this will benefit GUPAP. Materially, the prize gives out money, allowing GUPAP to continue their work, cover some costs, and build the institutional capabilities of the platform. The second is to spread the word about GUPAP’s work, helping them expand their network with local and international institutions.
How to support GUPAP
GUPAP is currently in cooperation with international groups including Sustain, Global Gardens of Peace, Just Food Collective, and EcoCARE Pacific Trust. They launched a crowdfunding campaign to support female agripreneurs with grants tailored to individual needs. While it has technically closed, this fundraiser can still be donated to here. You can also find out more about GUPAP and follow their work here.