Palestinian shepherds’ livelihoods in jeopardy

DHAHARIYA, WEST BANK, 2 December (IRIN) - Palestinian herders in the southern part of the West Bank are facing increased poverty due to rising costs of fodder and water, as well as limitations on their access to grazing land, the herders and UN officials said.

“Due to global droughts and the rising demand internationally for corn and barley bio-fuels, the prices of corn and barley fodder products have risen dramatically,” said Santiago Ripoll, a food security analyst with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization working in the Hebron area in the southern West Bank.

While some shepherds are facing large debts and financial ruin others are trying to sell off their livestock, despite falling sheep prices. Due to the decreasing health of the animals and the excess of sheep on the market as more farmers sell their animals, the price of a sheep has dropped to $91 this year from a high of $169 last year, according to OCHA figures.

According to Ripoll, farmers are in danger of losing all of their assets, primarily their animals.

Osama Jarrar, from the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Ministry of Agriculture in the Hebron Directorate, estimated that in his district some 3,000 farmers are the main providers for approximately 30,000 dependents. He estimated that already a third of the farmers have gone out of business.

Restricted access to grazing land

Furthermore, increased restrictions by the Israeli authorities, residents say, in part due to the construction of Israel’s barrier, mean severely limited access to grazing land. The remaining areas are eventually overgrazed, which, along with recent insufficient rainfall, has led to land degradation.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the PA’s agriculture ministry, water prices in the region have also increased recently, partly due to drought but also due to Israeli restrictions on movement which raise the costs of water delivery.

The lack of free grazing has forced the shepherds to import 80 percent of their fodder from Israel and abroad, according to experts.

“Before last year’s drought and before increased land expropriation for the wall in the last few years, the animals would graze outside for eight to nine months and only required fodder for a few months,” said Tareq Talahma from OCHA in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Shafiz Sliman Atal, 70, a father of nine and grandfather of 26, from Zanouta in the Dhariya District of Hebron, has a flock of hundreds. He was one of the area’s shepherds recently handed an eviction order from Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank.

“I don’t know where I can go or how my family will now be able to survive. I am over US$20,000 in debt to the fodder merchants,” he said, adding that normally he would only owe about 10 percent of that amount.

However, a spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Shlomo Dror, told IRIN that recent eviction orders against the farmers were issued due to the illegal structures they had built on land administered by Israel. He said the military would not prevent grazing in open land.

An Israeli military spokesman, who refused to be named, said that should the shepherds be able to prove land ownership, they would be able to return to live there.

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