Honoring Ancestral Land Through Regenerative Agriculture: How One Palestinian Business Protects the Sacred Olive Tree

Submitted by Anya Crittenton on
Canaan Palestine

For Nasser Abufarha (above, left), endeavoring to make Canaan Palestine [GBN] a green business was always about more than the sustainability practices he believed in. It is, first and foremost, a way to honor his ancestral land and the thousands of years of history it held, including the olive trees, standing strong and representing a sacred way of life. 

The company, which sells local and natural Palestinian staples like olive oil and almond products, is what Nasser describes as the “marketing arm.” 

It all began, however, as Nasser explains, “to help save the community, save the relationship with the land, save the trees, save the crop.” 

The foundational systems of Canaan Palestine, including fair wages and regenerative agriculture, are natural outcomes of the roots of Nasser’s goals. Like the widespread roots of the olive tree, these systems could not exist without the richness of Palestinian soil and the Indigenous peoples who came before, teaching reverence for the land. 

Nasser offers an illuminating perspective on what being a green business means, beyond numbers and science. 

Honoring the Land

The land of Canaan was one of the earliest inhabited by humans, with Indigenous peoples forming societies as early as the Neolithic period. Many different societies appeared across this land, with olive trees as important fixtures in all these societies since the beginning. 

If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears.

Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet

Some olive trees in Palestine are over 5,000 years old, Nasser explains in earnest. Trees that, for more than a millennium, have sustained, fed, and nurtured life through resilience and strength. 

“This is something to protect,” says Nasser. “These ecosystems are something to learn from, to teach us about sustainability, and to make sure they remain for future generations.” 

It was this realization that began taking Canaan Palestine into a new direction, beyond its commitment to tried and true methods like fair trade and wages. 

What Is Regenerative Agriculture?

Abufarha wanted to forge new paths and began looking at ways to make Canaan Palestine sustainable at the root—literally.  

Regenerative agriculture has become a core tenant of the business, leading the business to work with farmers not only to avoid exploitative practices born from political occupation, but with adopting more sustainable farming techniques. This style of farming adopts a holistic approach that considers all living things within an ecosystem and the health of the land, rather than the industrialized way of farming in the Western world, which leads to excessive soil erosion and the destruction of biodiversity. 

 A beautiful, massive olive tree in Palestine, centered in the frame with more olive trees behind it. The grass beneath the trees is a bright green.
A beautiful, massive olive tree in Palestine.

One way Nasser is encouraging regenerative agriculture among the farmers and villages Canaan Palestine works with is through intercropping. Decades ago, in the 70s and 80s, Nasser explains, Palestinian farmers also worked with grapes. The traditional way of farming was harvesting olive trees with other vegetation and crops.  

“The diversity of plants amongst the olive trees makes a more stable regenerative environment,” Fatin Zahra, Business Market Manager of Canaan Palestine, explains. “Grapes in particular function well amongst the olives and are alive and green during the summer months when most of the grasses have dried out.  This creates more shade and cools the area down, which helps with water retention.  Additionally, their roots provide nutrients to the soil which the olive trees can benefit from.” 

However, without a market for them, the farmers uprooted these crops. 

“We’re bringing this back—almost every month, there is a crop,” Nasser says proudly. Canaan Palestine is broadening this work to include more crops again farmers means to make a livable wage and have work year-round, rather than during one season. “We are encouraging farmers to go back to agroforestry. We are giving farmers multiple seedlings to integrate back into their farms: almonds, grapes, figs, carobs, walnuts, and more based on what best suits their plots.” 

Another technique the company is adopting and teaching to farmers is minimum tillage. Nasser says that farmers, from the 70s on, were taught to till the soil twice or three times, but that is no longer the most sustainable way to care for the land and its crops. 

Putting Palestinian Farmers First

"For the last 60 years, farmers have been given instructions by formal agricultural extensions to move away from their traditional practices to adopt new ‘modern’ methods of agriculture,” Nasser says. “Canaan is fostering gaining back sound traditions that sustained these olive trees for thousands of years.” 

Five Local Palestinian farmers, who work with Canaan Palestine, ranging in age, driving and riding on a small tractor.
Local Palestinian farmers who work with Canaan Palestine.

He continues: “We encourage them not to plow as much. But to them, plowing is weed control. We have to teach them new habits and new ways of seeing things. It’s less about the farms being clean of vegetation and more about farms being clean from pollution.” 

It takes time, practice, demonstration, and small steps. 

As Fatin details, Canaan Palestine is committed to supporting these farmers and setting them up for success. 

“We've done weekly workshops with farmers, led by the employees of Canaan and the Palestine Fair Trade Association,” she says. “They visit each village and educate the farmers on regenerative agriculture and the many benefits it can have on their lands and health of their soil.” 

As Nasser says, the nature of regenerative agriculture is “tailored to the farm,” meaning it’s not a one-size-fits-all system. It is, however, the only path forward. 

“For Palestine to have a future, for people to hold onto their lands, we have to apply these practices,” Fatin concludes. 

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