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> The fig and grape seasons (mawasim al tazib):
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By Eng. Fuad Issa AKRA
The Palestinian food industry, one of the oldest industries in Palestine, has been recognized and operational for a number of decades. The history of the industry goes back to the early years of the 20th century with the establishment of a number of factories and food processing shops. The food industry has been one of the important and most rapidly developing sectors in Palestine. Food industry development and growth have been obvious in the last decade with total market sales of approximately $350 million per year.
The Palestinian Food Industries Association (PFIA) was established in 1995 as the first industrial union in Palestine. Its mission is to develop and promote Palestinian food products as well as to create a competitive food industry that fulfils the national, social, health, and safety requirements. As the coordinating and representative organization for the food industries, the PFIA encompasses ten sub sectors: confections, dairy, cold cuts, soft beverages, snack foods, grain products, vegetable- and fruit-pickling and canning, oils and ghee, traditional foods (halawa, tahini, etc.), and animal feed). With 132 voluntary members in the West Bank and Gaza, the PFIA aims to improve the competitiveness of Palestinian processed food products through assisting the agro-industry sector to improve its production systems and to comply with international standards, in general, and food safety guidelines, in particular. The PFIA is committed not only to creating a high-quality food industry that will have a positive impact on the Palestinian economy but also to overseeing the flow of expertise training and technical assistance to its members.
A 1996 PFIA market study found that Palestinian food products made up only 20 percent of the total market. For this reason, the PFIA launched a campaign to encourage the purchase of local products and developed an annual food-products exhibition entitled: Khali Zadek men Khair Bladak (Use Quality Local Products to Prepare Your Meals). The local market share increased from 20 percent in 1996 to 45 percent in 2003. At present, it is approximately 54 percent. This increase is an indicator of the development and growth of the industry. Given that the average Palestinian family spends 36-40 percent of its income on food, the local industry must remain competitive in its ability to provide high-quality food products at reasonable prices. The total investment in the industry, which employs approximately 10,000 workers, is more than $430 million.
As a result of the PFIA’s efforts to improve the quality of Palestinian food products, many products have been internationally certified (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points [HACCP] and the International Organization for Standardization [ISO22000]). Last year, three Palestinian meat factories were awarded ISO22000 certification, and one of them was rated number two in the world among those who receive this certification. This Palestinian success story is one of the reasons that Palestinian meat products are now found in abundance on the shelves of various supermarkets in the Gulf region - in particular, Saudi Arabia.
In 2004, when Palestinian olive oil prices were dangerously low and the industry was in crisis, the PFIA implemented a program to improve the quality of olive oil. The program was designed to reach all levels of the production cycle and included training sessions and new equipment for farmers, rehabilitation of olive presses, and new procedures to improve storage conditions and increase storage capacity. As a result of this pilot project, the industry was able to produce premium extra virgin olive oil, which is now exported to France and provides good returns for farmers.
This year, the PFIA is implementing a project that will lead to the international certification (ISO22000) of five olive oil bottling companies. This will not only ensure the industry’s compliance with local and international regulations but also serve to maintain high-quality oil production. The certification will also be a means to introduce Palestinian olive oil into the European Union market.
Fuad Issa AKRA is an engineer and executive director of the Palestinian Food Industries Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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