Jordan, a country which used to suffer from chronic food insecurity, has successfully improved 5,000 ha of unproductive plots in the past few years by using land reclamation and water harvesting techniques, according to the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA).
Farmers across the kingdom have reclaimed their hilly land by growing olive trees, a plant suited to the climatic conditions in a country classified as semi-arid, where lack of water is one of the main limitation factors.
“The country, which was a net importer of olive oil in the 1960s and ‘70s, now has a huge surplus for export,” Marwan Kokash, representative and country director of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Jordan, told IRIN in the capital Amman.
In recent years, major efforts have been made to restore agricultural productivity to the country. A land reclamation initiative was launched in 1997 by the government with WFP support, in an attempt to increase land productivity for the poorest farmers and herders in the poorest governorates in the country.
TARGETING THE POOR
Munther Kherraz, head of the agricultural directorate of Mafrag, a city in the northern governorate, close to the Syrian border, told IRIN that they were targeting the poorest of the poor, in particular those who had unproductive hilly plots, while trying to build income-earning capacity among vulnerable groups.
Saleh Abdulhamid, a 40-year-old farmer and father of seven, lives in the small village of Dajania in the governorate of Mafrag. It is one of the three poorest in Jordan, together with Ma’an and the Tafila regions.
Abdulhamid´s family is one of more than 630 beneficiaries in the Mafrag governorate participating in the land reclamation initiative.
He owns a small piece of land in a rocky, arid and hilly area, which used to be unproductive years ago. Given that the agricultural activities that he was undertaking weren’t enough to feed his family and cover their basic needs, he switched to growing olive trees on his fields, a plant that Muslims associate with the Holy Land.
“This is the second year I am harvesting something. The production was average because there wasn’t so much rain this year, now I am getting a lot of benefit from this land,” he told IRIN at his farm, noting that he was better off financially since making the move into olive production.
“I have five children of school age, so it really makes a difference. Now, I am able to afford the school fees,” he said.
MAKING LAND PRODUCTIVE
Once farmers started reclaiming land, WFP provided them with food rations through the agricultural directorate. The provision of food rations increased household food supplies and allowed participants time to develop adequate labour-intensive land readiness and activities which would improve land productivity.
“Farmers get food aid while they are carrying out soil conservation techniques, building water reservoirs, constructing fences, etc.,” Kherraz explained.
Each family ration, with some five individual portions, consisted of 2.5 kg of wheat, 150 grams of oil and 150 grams of pulses and was distributed weekly by the agricultural directorate until farmers started harvesting the first crop, then the food aid was reduced.
Meanwhile, the construction of water reservoirs and the adoption of soil conservation techniques are crucial in this land, where rainfall is roughly 250 millimetres per year, according to statistics from Mafrag agricultural directorate.
“Every drop of rain water is stored and used to practice supplementary irrigation which increases the olive productivity,” Kherraz asserted, explaining that storage facilities currently had a total capacity of approximately 10,000 cu metres.
From an environmental point of view, this technique also had a positive impact. The fact that water harvesting techniques were based on storing the rain water in the soil profile for irrigation was increasing green areas and making some changes in the climate of the area.
PRODUCTION NOTIBLY INCREASED
“The productivity of this area before the project started was roughly zero. With the project this area became productive, and now we have around 600 ha being used for agricultural purposes,” the official said, noting that the main crops were olive trees.
In addition, the project is also increasing employment in Mafrag governorate. “Before, I had to buy olive oil to feed my family. Now, I am producing and selling olive oil as well. So I am also saving some money because I don’t have to buy it anymore,” Abujudes Essa, a 54-year-old farmer, told IRIN at his farm in Mafrag.
“The harvest is during the winter, which is a hard season. When you have money out of the sale of your production it helps you a lot in the expenses for fuel. We use the residue of the olive for heating after being pressed as well, which saves money too,” Essa explained, adding that his land was giving him an income of roughly US $1,500 per year.
However, Miriam, a female farmer, noted that the price of olive fruit had decreased in the market. “The price is very low now, only $35.5 per gallon [one gallon equals 16 kg of oil], which is really low,” she said.
According to WFP sources, in 2000 farmers sold their olive oil for up to $78 per gallon.
PRODUCTION OF OTHER CROPS ENCOURAGED
In order to support sustainable livelihoods for farmers in poor areas, the government has adopted a national agricultural strategy due to run until 2010 and divided into several sectors according to the needs of different communities countrywide. It recommends that farmers diversify their harvests and grow different crops.
According to the MoA, although Jordan was now producing some agricultural products which were necessary for human consumption, the country was still facing shortages of other crops, like cereals.
“The percentage of production is more than our self-consumption in some fruit, trees and vegetables. But, for instance, we still have a shortage of cereals,” Jehad Abu Mushref, external advisor to the MoA, told IRIN in Amman.
MoA statistics reveal that Jordan´s production of wheat does not exceed more than 10 to 15 percent of domestic consumption annually. For meat, the percentage is about 50 percent and milk is around 55 percent annually. With these figures, the new strategy is focused on increasing the products in demand.
Mushref added that Jordan was not suffering from chronic food insecurity anymore, as it used to in the 1960s and 70s. However, the country still had some food shortages, particularly in poor agricultural areas.
“The strategy really focuses on how to increase our production of goods in short supply for our needs and move one step forward to guaranteeing food security in this country,” he added.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions