May 252016

Editor’s Note – Learn about how one town in Palestine is trying to regain control of its food security, by becoming an agroecological Ecovillage. Certainly more ambitious than a yardfarm–but ultimately the same goal!

This article was originally posted on FUTUREPERFECT and written by Aisha Mansour.

The first Palestinian eco-village is coming to life in Farkha. Here, the agronomist Saad Dagher has found a community to make a shared dream come true: to live autonomously and in harmony with nature.

© Photo: Saad Dagher

During the practical training on water retention landscaping © Photo: Saad Dagher

A zero-waste, food-producing, nature-harmonizing way of life in Palestine’s villages has been the subject of Saad Dagher’s dreams for over 15 years. In 2012, the agronomist, environmentalist and seasoned yoga instructor finally identified the community that is to become Palestine’s first eco-village: Farkha. In eco-villages, the inhabitants live in harmony with nature, maintaining social and cultural structures that are supportive of individuals as well as of the community.

Farkha is located in the Salfit Governorate in the West Bank and is a home to 1500 residents, 3500 sheep and goats, and 30 cows. At the outset of Farkha’s transformation into an eco-village, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the village council and the Arab Agronomists Association, where Saad served as director, to develop an environmental teaching garden. And in 2014, preparations began to develop an eco-village proper.

Through a partnership with the Global Ecovillage Network and Tamera Village’s Global Campus training program in Palestine, the first Eco-village Design Education (EDE) was launched in November 2015. The EDE course was the first such training in an Arab country taught in the Arabic language. 35 students participated, including a third from the Farkha village, and the remaining mostly from the West Bank, with a few internationals and one from Gaza. Saad hopes that Farkha will be an official eco-village within the next five years.

Palestinian agricultural heritage

EDE workshop participants in Farkha in November 2015 © Photo: Saad Dagher

EDE workshop participants in Farkha in November 2015 © Photo: Saad Dagher

50 years old today, Saad’s interest in environmentally-friendly agriculture was sparked in 1996 when he served as director of the Ramallah branch of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC). Initially, Saad focused on a return to Palestinian agricultural heritage. Historically, Palestinian villages were known for their produce. For example, the villages of Albireh and Ramallah Governorates were famous for fresh figs as well as for the dried ones known as qutein. Sinjil, a village outside of Ramallah, was known for its grapes. And Jifna, another village outside of Ramallah, was known for its heritage apricots, mistikawi. Saad clarifies that the famous Hebron grapes are relatively new in the Palestinian agricultural landscape.

Experiments in agro-ecology

In 1997, Saad began experimenting with raised beds on his family’s land in order to ensure high-yield food production. As he was a novice, food production remained low. The agronomist admits today that he did not know what he was doing. However, after a learning phase, in 2003 Saad went on to develop high-producing raised bed gardens at multiple schools and homes in Palestine.

Inspired by the success of his raised bed food production systems, Saad aspired to further expand the concept of agro-ecology in Palestine. According to his definition, agro-ecology is agriculture that operates in harmony with nature, to produce good food for people and animals while protecting the available natural resources.

An Eco-Village in Palestine

His experiments with agro-ecology in 2014, which were supported by the Swiss Olive Oil Campaign and French Terre Humanisme, gave Saad the courage to venture further towards the holistic concept of an eco-village. Initially, he searched for villages with a natural water source. However, when all the options fell through, Saad began to consider that a water source might not have to be a requirement for an eco-village. Finally, Farkha was selected due to the community’s history of activism and mobilization. Focusing on cultural aspects in addition to environmental ones was in harmony with the Global Ecovillage Network’s definition, according to which an eco-village consists in “an intentional or traditional community using local participatory processes to holistically integrate ecological, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of sustainability in order to regenerate social and natural environments.”

Ecological gardens in Farkha with guests and the agroecology coordinator © Photo: Saad Dagher

Ecological gardens in Farkha with guests and the agroecology coordinator © Photo: Saad Dagher

Only a year after the initial agreement with the village council, there have been multiple interventions to turn Farkha into an eco-village. An educational ecological garden of 1.5 hectares is being created, as are home gardens to support 15 families. The community has also begun to renovate selected historic buildings to serve as cultural and community centres as well as to host visitors, and they have launched experiments to reduce waste leaving the village.

A Food Freedom Belt

Saad explains that the community is moreover developing a ‘food freedom belt’, where the entire village periphery will be a site of food production. The belt will be initiated with the help of seed balls, i.e. various perennial and annual seeds rolled in soil and dirt and thrown in the periphery of the village. The seeds will grow to nourish the community and into new seeds for the next year and the one after that to continue to feed the residents of Farkha.

Further, preparations are underway to develop a biogas system that shall use kitchen waste. A type of renewable energy, biogas is produced from organic waste decomposition in the absence of oxygen. Home composting, too, has begun in January with the distribution of containers to homes in Farkha.

Over the course of this year, the organizers will begin to experiment with solar energy and water retention mechanisms. Initially, solar energy systems will be developed to serve specified areas of the village with the ultimate goal of transforming the entire village into a solar-powered entity. Farkha will also serve as an experimental site to learn more about water retention landscaping. Today, over half of the rainfall in Palestine is wasted as runoff. However, Saad explains that proper water retention landscaping can save 80 percent of rainfall. Techniques include mulching with straw, paper, leaves or rock, building terraces, and digging swales.

An eco-village model, Saad elaborates, is critical to guarantee Palestinian sovereignty: “The eco-village model will ensure our freedom and autonomy over our food sourcing.” Once the Farkha model is established, Saad plans to expand the eco-village model to surrounding villages in Palestine. Once the villages attain the type of independence shown in Farkha, the environmentalist argues, then Palestinians will also gain freedom from the other systems that attempt to control them.

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