Mervat Ouf reports in Al-Monitor:
About a year and a half ago, Abdallah Abu Halimeh established a hydroponic farm near the town of Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip. The farm stretches over an area of 2,000 square meters (21,500 square feet, or half an acre) and includes 41 production units. Abu Halimeh, 34, who holds a degree in geographical information systems, said that before it was destroyed, the operation was a “tourist attraction” because people wanted to see his innovative operation.
But the damaged irrigation system, containers, pumps and lights at the farm have yet to be repaired more than two months after the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.
Abu Halimeh, who estimated losses at $120,000 (about half the investment came from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization), said he believes the attack on his project on the last full day of the Israeli-Hamas war was “deliberate.” He told Al-Monitor, “The shells that hit every greenhouse, the control system, the solar energy system and the cooling room at the farm indicate that the occupation deliberately targeted the farm.”
At a time when agriculture is the most important economic activity in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza estimated the losses to the agricultural sector from the recent hostilities at $204 million, including damage to agricultural facilities, feed mills, wells, main and subsidiary transportation lines, farm ponds, power plants, fish farms, fodder, agricultural equipment, pesticide warehouses and bee farms.
Abu Halimeh has worked in agriculture since he was 12. He grew up in a family mainly working in this sector and has been hearing about farmers’ problems since he was a little boy. He said he “opened the farm in a bid to overcome the problems facing farmers in Gaza. The land was exhausted from farming. At the same time I wanted to have a job and I now work at the farm with eight other people.”
He said the off-season production of crops and the higher yield per unit area makes the farm unique. Abu Halimeh said his farm produces five times greater yields more than conventional farms and relies on the rational use of water and fertilizers.
The variety of crops — including beans, lettuce, scallions, broccoli, spinach, strawberries and chard — grown per unit area is greater than would be find in a normal greenhouse. This is because hydroponics is based on vertical instead of horizontal farming, which allows a better exploitation of a property’s square footage.
But after the farm was targeted, despair took hold of Abu Halimeh, who is now thinking of leaving the country. He complained that the Ministry of Agriculture limited its role to damage control and did not compensate farmers the same the owners of damaged urban facilities were.