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November 2, 2010

Tackling Unemployment in a Palestinian Village

PhotoWomen employees at daily work

The haunting landscape has produced bountiful harvests of olives, almonds, figs and grapes from well before biblical times.

Hardscrabble Palestinian farm villages cling to the slopes of nearby rocky outcrops overlooking the trees and crops and goats and sheep nibble knots of grass.

But behind the seemingly idyllic landscape, daily reality is harsh. In Beita, for instance, a village of some 10,000 people in the West Bank of Palestine, youth unemployment is around 25%. There is little work or anything else to do. And the presence of nearby Israeli settlements underscores the fragility of a region which has been a political, economic and social tinderbox for 60 years.

Japan and its major development agency, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), have been involved in the region for many years, launching both major and more modest projects.

At the macro level an initiative known as the Corridor of Peace is helping to improve agriculture in the strategic Jordan Valley and at the same time promoting closer working relationships between Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

At the micro level, individual projects are helping local communities and individual families to improve their daily lives. In Gaza, for instance, one program has trained dozens of unskilled workers in various technical skills desperately needed in the strip.

And in Beita village the unemployment situation has been eased by the recent opening of a processing center for dairy products. JICA helped to train more than 40 villagers in various skills needed to run the factory and also provided financial support to establish the plant.

The idea originated with Mrs. Safa Bsais, the director of the rural development department in the Palestine Ministry of Agriculture who had herself earlier attended a training course in Japan on dairy production methods.

After a careful vetting process of potential sites, Beita was chosen for the center which has helped create an economic ripple effect in the area. Local farmers have benefited by selling their milk to the center which produces local cheeses, regular yogurt and a very popular local yogurt delicacy known as labaneh. These have found a ready market in local restaurants and other outlets.

In addition to the center’s employees, other work has been generated for local material suppliers and maintenance shops.

“My salary helps to cover my personal needs and helps to support my family,” says Nour Mnaour who recently began work at the center. “It has helped change my life and I have developed a positive attitude,” – an encouraging sign in a region where high unemployment and despair about the future is more the norm.

The unit is already making a small profit in addition to outgoing expenses and salaries and the staff is hoping to expand production by finding additional milk supplies, expanding capacity and improving delivery to more outlets in a larger regional area.


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