Gaza beekeepers say they are enjoying their best harvest in more than a decade in a region where conflict and poverty has seen honey production slashed by more than half in recent years.
A scarcity in plants and crops necessary for bees to source pollen and nectar in Gaza forced beekeepers to place their hives near the city's borders with Egypt in the hope their bees would seek out honey-producing pollen in Israel or Egypt, crossing borders many Gazans cannot.
“The bees cross to the Egyptian side and bring the nectar because there are citrus farms and other big farms there. The bees can travel three to four kilometers and bring back the pollen,” said Raed Zuroub, whose hives are located in Rafah.
Prior to an outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence in 2000, honey production in Gaza topped around 750 tonnes per year, according to honey farmers in Gaza. at the time, there was an abundance of citrus farms and and other flowering trees for bees to feed on.
But as fighting raged on and off for over a decade, many trees and crops that provided a source of pollen and nectar for honey-harvesting bees were razed. Honey production dropped to approximately 250 tonnes per year since then, they said.
The border between Gaza and Israel has been repeatedly cleared by Israeli army bulldozers, destroying all trees and farms in order to make visibility better for the soldiers manning the border. Palestinian farmers who have got close to the border fence said they have been fired upon by Israeli troops in the past.
Honey producer Ahmad Zuroub, who is deputy head of Gaza's beekeepers' association, said production for this year has shown a significant increase, with approximately 320 tonnes being harvested throughout Gaza.
“It was an excellent season. There was a long period to harvest the honey so we had good production, keeping in mind that we faced many problems, such as diseases that we faced at the beginning of the season,” he said.
“Each hive box used to give an average of about eight to ten kilograms per year. This year, thank God, it increased to twelve to fourteen kilograms for each hive in Rafah,” Zuroub added.
A jar of honey in Gaza costs between 60-75 shekels (15-20 U.S. Dollars) for a kilogram (2.2 pounds).
In Gaza, around 300 beekeepers maintain 20,000 hives supplying around 60 percent of local demand, according to Gaza's Ministry of Agriculture.
Gross honey production for 2013 was 280 tonnes, officials at the ministry said.
Honey production has also been affected by growing urban sprawl, increasing salinity in Gaza's ground water and cultivation of olive trees which do not produce nectar suitable for honey production, according to the Middle East news website al-Monitor.SHOW MORE