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Palestinians Resort to Local Wheat Production, as Supplies From Russia and Ukraine Run Thin

CC0 / / Wheat
Wheat - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.04.2022
Before Moscow's military operation in Ukraine, the Palestinian Authority received some 75,000 tonnes from the two East European countries per annum. The outbreak of the hostilities have decreased these supplies, pushing the price of bread and wheat-related products up.
The crisis in Ukraine might be over a thousand miles away from the West Bank, but the Palestinians who live there are nevertheless feeling its impact.

Relying on Russia and Ukraine

The price of bread and wheat related products has spiked since 24 February, when Russia launched its special military operation in Ukraine; both countries are among the world's top grain exporters. Sameh Jarrar, a director of the Plant Genetic Resources Department at the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture's Seed Bank, says the rising costs were triggered by the disruption of the supply routes and the high dependency of the PA on provisions from Eastern Europe.

"Before the events in Ukraine, the annual wheat imports of the Palestinian Authority stood at some 35,000 and 40,000 tonnes from Russia and Ukraine respectively. These quantities catered to the demands of the Palestinian population. Similar amounts were also required for animals' consumption".

Now, with the hostilities still raging, that wheat supply is running thin. According to Jarrar's estimates, the PA has about 15,000 tonnes of wheat stored -- an amount, he admits, can last for "a few months only".

Are Palestinians Self Sufficient?

To tackle the problem, the Palestinian Authority has been trying hard to find alternative solutions. One of these was the decision to produce wheat locally, and Palestinian farmers have been granted tonnes of wheat seeds from the Ministry’s Seed Bank.
That bank was created in the 1980s and the idea was that it would store and stock wild and semi-wild seeds in order to use them in times of crises or emergencies.
© AP Photo / Adel Hana / Palestinians shop for traditional Ramadan lanterns for the month of Ramadan, at the main market in Gaza City, Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Palestinians shop for traditional Ramadan lanterns for the month of Ramadan, at the main market in Gaza City, Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.04.2022
Palestinians shop for traditional Ramadan lanterns for the month of Ramadan, at the main market in Gaza City, Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Right now, the bank has some 2,000 sorts of seeds. Some of the wheat grains were collected internally, while others came from abroad but they do have one thing in common. They were all improved so that they could withstand climate change in the region.
But here is that catch: the amount the bank would be able to produce would only provide the PA with ten to fifteen percent of the total demand.
Part of the reason for the low numbers is the absence of a significant amount of wheat seed. Another is the actions of the Israeli authorities, who at times prevent Palestinian farmers from accessing land located in disputed territories.

"We realise that local production will not cater to all our demands. And this is why we have approached a number of countries outside of Europe, asking them for their assistance," said Jarrar.

One such country was Egypt, the world's leading wheat importer. Recently, it was reported that its purchases of Russian grain have gone up despite Moscow's military operation in Ukraine, and the PA approached Cairo in the hopes of securing a slice of its provisions.
Authorities in Ramallah have also approached Canada and Australia, but the problem is that the transportation of grain from those countries requires longer periods of time and more funding, the two resources the Palestinians currently lack.
"The absence of sufficient resources will not stop us from buying wheat to cater to the needs of our population," said Jarrar.

"Some of those grains will be paid by our own money. Some will be purchased with the help of regional and international donations. But we will make sure that the supply of wheat continues", he added.

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