By Motasem Dalloul
GAZA CITY – While much of the media focus is justifiably on the lack of electricity, food stuff and medical supplies, Gaza farmers and their dying business continue to be a silent victim of the never-ending Israeli siege.
"I can export only a small portion of the potatoes crop I have planted with painstaking efforts to make sure it meets the high-standard quality needed for exporting," Nafeth abu-Shiekh, a 47-year-old farmer, told IslamOnline.net near the eastern Gaza border line.
"They promised to solve the problem of the siege but unfortunately nothing happened and I am sometimes forced to damage my fruits with my own hands," he added with anger and despair shaping his face features.
"I won’t be able to get even the expenses of seeds, pesticides and fertilizers as well as the minimum wages of laborers," Nafeth said.
Israel has been closing the Gaza Strip’s exits to the outside world since Hamas took control of the territory last June after routing rival Fatah.
It has completely locked down the coastal area since January.
"Things are far worse for Gaza this time," said agronomist Younis Zaytoonya, censorship director in the Agriculture Ministry.
"It seems that there is nothing to do with agriculture products except damaging them," he regretted.
"Potatoes used to be a money-making crop with more than 7,000 tons exported and hundreds of tons stored to be sold yearlong but today it has become a disastrous crop because of its huge losses."
Dr. Mohammed al-Agha, the minister of agriculture in the Gaza government, put the daily losses of the sector at more than $150,000 as a result of the Israeli siege.
"This figure will exceeds $125 million at the end of this year if nothing changed."
He stressed that this aggravates the situation for Gazans, the majority of whom have already been living under the poverty line for years.
Agrarian year consists of three seasons for the farmers in Gaza.
"The seasonal income for 45,000 vegetable farmers in Gaza is $ 90 million per season," al-Agha said.
"This is completely lost. The same thing goes for 15,000 fruit farmers too."
Ramadan Salah, a husband of two and father of 9, is not better off.
"I go to the farm every day and look at my land but can’t do any thing," he said.
"I only plant some vegetables for the house consumption and some extra that I hope to sell in order to get some money for my children," he added.
Jamal al-Khodari, the chairman of the Popular Committee against the Siege, said the Israeli siege has also forced many farmers to plant the old way.
"The Israelis don’t allow any rude or productive material for farming and industry including modified seeds, pesticides and chemical fertilizers used in farming," he said.
"The high prices and shortage of fuel affects farmers as they can’t use tractors to cultivate their lands," he added.
This has forced most farmers to return to the traditional methods of planting.
"Beside non-profitable returns, the old methods of farming exhaust farmers and do not yield high standard products," said Zaytoonya, the agronomist.
Even if the siege is lifted in the near future, which remains highly unlikely, the sufferings of the Gaza farmers would not end.
"Modified seeds, pesticides and fertilizers are running out and I may not find them the next season," said abu-Shiekh.
"So after dismissing all the six workers who used to help me in my farm, I only plant for home consumption."
Tawfeeq Salama, a 41-year-old farmer from Beit Laheya, isn’t planning to plant his farm for the coming season as a result of the losses of the current one.
"It’s clear that we will lose if we planted any crop."
He said they had only planted this seasons after Israeli promises to facilitate vegetables and fruits exports and imports.
Salama regrets that he believed the Israelis and planted his favorite strawberry corp.
"I only got to export a bit of my crop and sell some in the local markets before I had to damage the rest.
"I’ve paid $9,000 for 9 donums of strawberry but only made $3,000," he said.
"So I won’t be able to plant any new crop even if the siege was lifted in the near future because of my huge comedown."
(IslamOnline.net and agencies)