- With farms in the Galilee and Golan under fire, produce cannot be harvested.
Over two weeks have passed since the outbreak of the war, and agriculture in the northern Israel is now taking a hit after the severe damage to farms and agriculture in the Gaza border area. Many fields, groves and plantations in the north have been closed by order of the army, and entry to them is still prohibited today.
Masses of foreign workers, who have been working in Israeli agriculture for years, have fled for their lives, while the entry of Palestinian workers, who have also been working with Israeli farmers for years, has been banned. There is no orderly plan for the rehabilitation of farming.
There is good will, but it is not sure that it will be enough.
Farming under fire
- Over the weekend, the chicken coop in Moshav Margaliot on the Lebanese border was hit directly by a missile. The Meshek Davidi farm is a main supplier of eggs to the IDF, and also a supplier of eggs to retail chains.
“We have huge damage there,” says Eitan Davidi, the owner of the farm and chairman of Moshav Margaliot, who can’t yet estimate the extent of the damage or the length of time it would take to recover.
- “These are very difficult days, we are not able to take care of the chickens. At the moment, we can’t even go up to Margaliot because it endangers our lives,” he adds.
Davidi says the retail chains will be hit as the rate of egg supply slows down because of the situation. The Ministry of Agriculture insists there will be no egg shortages, and says there is a quota to import 50 million eggs that has not been used so far.
Ministry of Agriculture deputy director general Yuval Lipkin says,
- “If we see there is a shortage, importers will start importing more aggressively, but right now we are not there,”
- He adds that every month the Israeli public consumes 200 million eggs.
- According to the Ministry of Agriculture, about 70% of laying hens are in the Galilee and Golan, and they produce about 73% of total national produce.
- In farms up to five kilometers from the Lebanese border, about 50% of the total national produce is produced.
- Not only eggs are effected. This week, an avocado orchard in Misgav was hit by IDF flares, and like many other farms in the region, its damage still cannot be assessed.
- “I can’t enter my land, it’s a closed military zone. Even the fire department is afraid to go in there for fear of sniper fire,” says Ofer Moskovich, the owner of the farm.
Farms have also been abandoned in Metula.
- “I received an emergency order to join the reserves, and I will not be able to pick apples and kiwis,” adds Dovi Amitai, chairman of the business sector and president of the farmers’ association, who is also the owner of a farm in Metula. I am fourth generation in Metula. I told my 90-year-old father about the farm. He was crying.”
The Ministry of Agriculture says about 40% of the deciduous and subtropical fruit crops in Israel (avocado, grapes, mangoes, peaches, bananas and citrus fruits) are in the north. Other significant crops in the north are wheat, apples, pears, and corn.
As a result of the fighting and the dangers of working on the land in Israel, agriculture throughout the country is facing a severe shortage of workers.
- According to the Ministry of Agriculture, 2,000 workers from Thailand have returned home since the fighting began. Palestinians, who also have the required professional knowledge, are currently not allowed to work in farming in Israel.
There are certain industries in the Israeli economy that are excluded from the ban and allow their entry, but not farming.
- In an attempt to solve the situation, diplomatic contacts are currently underway to bring in agricultural workers.
- Last Friday, Minister of Agriculture Avi Dichter met with the Vietnamese ambassador in Israel. Other talks are also underway.
The aim is to form a contingency plan for the day after the war. It is clear that as long as the shooting continues, it will be very difficult to bring foreign workers here, therefore, in the meantime, visas for existing workers are being extended.
- In an attempt to convince the workers – Israelis and foreigners – to stay in the industry, the Ministry of Agriculture provides grants worth NIS 2,000 per month, as well as support to civil society organizations that recruit volunteers.
There are also many Israeli volunteer organizations who are interested in helping – Brothers for Agriculture, Hashomer Hahadash, the Labor Party and many more.
“The fact that the Israelis pick here next to foreign workers and continue to pick with them, even under fire gives strength,” says Yoav Erez from Brothers for Agriculture, who together with Hashomer Hahadash, are now helping about 25 farms in the south. But according to the farmers, who are very grateful for the help, it is not enough.
The physical work is very difficult, they explain, it requires experience and endurance, and all this is often done under fire.
- “Groups of volunteers ask ‘Do you have protection in the field?’ And we say, ‘We don’t have any,'” says Rani Bar-Ness, a farmer who grows vegetables and fruits in Moshav Bitzaron in the Beer Tuvia regional council and serves as the chairman of the fruit branch in the plant department. The Ministry of Agriculture has budgeted for 430 small shelters for agricultural areas.
Who is raising prices?
In addition to the direct damage suffered by the agriculture sector, and first and foremost by the farming community, farmers also raise another issue concerning the marketing chains. According to many of them, since the fighting began, the chains have rejected agricultural goods, so far mainly from the Gaza border area, but there is a fear that this will also apply to the goods from the north.
- “I want to call out to all the wholesalers: you rejected the goods of some farmers and preferred imports. Enough, stop it,” says Amitai.
- “First of all, before you touch the imports, take trucks, and show solidarity with the farmers.”