Gaza flower exports stop as funding withers

Growing and exporting flowers used to be a blooming business in Gaza. But not anymore.

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Growing and exporting flowers used to be a blooming business in Gaza. But not anymore.

The industry has long been withering since Israel tightened its blockade in 2007 after Islamist group Hamas took control of Gaza.

But this year flower exports are on the brink of collapse, Gaza's agriculture ministry says.

“Before 2007, 50 million flowers used to be sold for seven or eight million (U.S.) dollars. Last season, 2.5 million flower were sold for 0.5 million dollars only. This year, exports are zero. That is affecting the Palestinian farmer and the Palestinian economy because the exports stopped,” said Tahsin al-Sakka, the general director of marketing and crossings in the Gaza ministry of agriculture.

“The Dutch government had been supporting Gaza's flower exports since 2010, but Sakka said this year the funding has been stopped, as the sector has not developed.

“The industry of planting and exporting flowers are not useful anymore for the Palestinian farmer, because planting a dunum (0.247 acres) of flowers costs around 10,000 (U.S.) dollars. In the past, the Dutch government used to fund with 60% of the cost for each dunum, which is around 5,000 dollars as a support for the farmer. Last year, the donations were 700 dollars only for each farmer regardless of the amount of dunums that he is planting,” Sakka said.

Palestinian farmers, with the help of foreign donations mostly from the Netherlands, have been producing and exporting fresh herbs and other plants.

The European Union spends millions to support the private sector in Gaza via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the Palestinian Authority. But ultimately, the EU says, Gaza must export in order to achieve greater economic independence.

Flower growers say they have seen their fortunes decline in the face of the blockade.

“Gaza used to plant 1200 - 1300 dunums (296.5 acres) of flowers. Year after year, (planting) decreased until last year, it came down to 300 dunum (74 acres). This year, no acres. Some are planting one dunum only. But this season now, flowers industry disappeared from Gaza strip,” said flower grower Ziyad Hijazi.

Farmer Jameel Hijazi his debts have accumulated, and he now faces the prospect of being jailed.

“My loss is over 60,000 dollars -- this is what is left to pay. My land has gone, all my property has gone. I sold everything. I was forced to sell everything. Today I received a court order, an imprisonment order. My house will be confiscated,” he said.

Gaza's problems are not limited to restrictions on import and export. Power shortage forces residents to live with up to eight hours of blackout a day and industries have to spend exuberant amounts every month on fuel for generators.

Joblessness reached 38.5 percent at the end of last year, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, and many factories and businesses in Gaza have stopped working, while others have lowered their output or laid off workers.

Last year, neighboring Egypt caved in many of the underground smuggling tunnels -- once a lifeline to Gaza's population -- that used to run between Gaza and Egypt, taking the economy down with them.

Gaza is wedged between Israel and Egypt on a 40-km (25-mile) stretch of the Mediterranean coast.

Israel tightened a blockade when Hamas, sworn to its destruction, seized control of the strip in a brief 2007 civil war, ousting the forces of the Western-backed Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

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