Palestinian farmers face serious obstacles, but one company has been working for ten years to create a stable market for their crops.
It’s far easier to eat olive oil, dates and almonds than it is to talk about major conflicts. So when Cathi Pawson wants to start a conversation about Palestine she cracks open a bottle and passes round the snacks.
“It’s a great way to begin,” says Pawson, 43, who is joint founder with Heather Masoud, of Zaytoun, the company which introduced the UK market to fair trade organic olive oil from Palestine. “People in Britain do care about Palestine but it’s not an easy situation to start speaking about. The olive oil is a way to tell the story of the agriculture, the landscape and the lives of people out there.”
This Christmas marked the tenth for Zaytoun, the community interest company which over the past decade has helped 2,000 farmers, bought £3.5 million worth in products from Palestinian producers and planted 8,000 new olive trees. Customers of the organic olive oil include Ottolenghi, Diana Henry, River Cottage and Daylesford organics.
Although Pawson had long had an interest in Palestine – she has a degree in Arabic and Islamic studies from Exeter University – she didn’t visit there until 2004, when she was in her thirties. “I knew, once I went, I’d get really involved,” she says. “When I saw what people were going through, I wanted to find a way to help.”