Leket Beet February 2024

The monthly update for our most dedicated supporters from Gidi Kroch

Supporting Leket's Farmer Partners During Their Time of Need

After the devastation of October 7th, 2023, Leket regrouped quickly to understand the real and changing needs of at-risk people nationwide. Information was provided by our on-site staff who maintain continuous contact with Leket’s 296 nonprofit partners. Initially, we focused on providing aid to people displaced from the south which included the purchase of diapers, baby formula, dried food packages, and distribution of credit cards for basic provisions; this assistance expanded and adapted over the past four months to include those populations displaced from towns on the Lebanese border.

A key element of Leket’s assistance was support for a sector crucial to Israel’s security, and important partners of Leket’s, the agricultural community. This included the purchase of fresh produce, an activity that meets the 20% increase in demand on Leket’s services for the now. 330,000 recipients receiving food each week, and supplements for produce which cannot be rescued while providing a source of income to Israeli farmers.

There were several challenges that we immediately faced when starting out on this initiative. In the first few weeks of the war, farmlands were taken over by the military, many farmers were displaced, primarily relocated to Eilat, or called up to the reserves. A few were killed. One of Leket’s own employees, Amir, a Field Manager from the South was one of the thousands who was evacuated to Eilat. When we reached out to him to check on him and his family, we asked if he would be able to resume his duties and reach out to the farmers by phone. He told us that he didn’t need to pick up the phone, that they were sitting next to him at the hotel, having coffee.

The attack on farms and the subsequent damage to machinery and land, as well as displaced farmers’ absence from the fields and hence being unable to monitor irrigation, fertilization, and pest control, led to significant harm to two growing cycles in the south. This problem is compounded in the north as Hezbollah continues to fire rockets at any farmer (primarily growers of apples, peaches and apricots) in its line of sight (up to 10km from the border). These factors have led to a decrease in farmer yield and the subsequent decrease in surplus produce, currently and future, available for rescue.

A key challenge for farmers not operating in border regions is the absence of working hands as a result of border closures to Palestinian workers and the airlifting home of 25,000 Thai farm labourers, by order of the King. This led to a significant increase in production costs making it that much more difficult for farmers to compete with cheap imports flooding the market. Leket continues to address this problem in two ways (a) through the recruitment of over 25,000 volunteers to assist farmers with their harvest and (b) through the purchase of produce. Volunteers proved a lifesaver for some farmers but for others were a disappointment, due to their inability to pick at the quality levels required for retail.  

The Challenges of Produce Purchase

Providing a source of income to farmers and ensuring a consistent supply of healthy produce to a growing number of Israelis at risk, Leket has purchased to date over 6,000 metric tons of more than 30 different produce types; however, this has not been without its challenges. Firstly, many farmers had committed their limited yield to large retailers as part of their prior contractual agreements. Secondly, prices have fluctuated from $0.25 per lb. to $2.00 per lb. depending on the crop, challenging Leket’s ability to acquire staple vegetable types such as tomatoes and cucumbers. Thirdly, as the price of labor has more than doubled for a day’s work (positions primarily filled by Bedouin laborers), purchasing produce at a reasonable price while ensuring farmers receive some return on their investment has become extremely challenging.

2024 remains uncertain for Israel’s farming community. Northern border farmers expect a significantly lower yield of fruit in summer due to the inability to tend to their orchards and prune trees. Farmers in the south will need to rehabilitate their land and replace equipment, this process also affecting output this year. All this, coupled with the uncertainty of war, will continue to affect supply, in turn exposing the farming sector to increased competition from overseas imports, specifically from Jordan and Turkey, not Israel’s greatest allies at this time.

As an organization with deeply rooted connections with the farming community, Leket will do all in its power to support this sector, which will include the continuation of the volunteering and produce purchase programs, a low-interest loan initiative, collaboration with Strauss to help farmers purchase equipment, continued lobbying of the Ministry of Agriculture to introduce a surplus compensation law for farmers, and a PR campaign promoting the purchase of Israeli produce.

Questions, comments or feedback? Please contact [email protected]

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