In a big wide tent on a carnation farm in Rafah, southern Gaza, around 15 women are sitting at a large table piled with purple, dark red and yellow-white flowers; quietly and with concentration, they bundle them into decorative bouquets, wrapped into shiny see-through plastic paper. The women, hired through the UNRWA Job Creation Programme (JCP), work on the farm every day from 6.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. They start by picking flowers from the large flower beds in the early morning hours, and later, when it becomes too hot under the blazing sun, they retreat into the slightly cooler tent to pack the carnations and prepare them for the local Gaza market.
“The chance to work here is life-saving for me. I am truly happy to be able to work on this farm together with other women,” commented 34-year-old Ghada Na’ana’, a mother of eight children, on her new short-term employment. “My husband left me three years ago for another woman; I am the only one who supports my children. We survive because of the food assistance we receive from UNRWA.”
“This is the first time that I can say I leave my house to go to work. I am very pleased to meet other people, and I have made many friends. It is also beautiful to work and be surrounded by flowers,” said 30-year-old Zaher al-Mugheir. “This job allows me to do some maintenance work at home, and I am able to buy new clothes for my children for the Eid holidays,” she added proudly.
The UNRWA JCP support provided for the agricultural sector aims at improving the quality and output of production by increasing manpower to assist with planting, maintenance and harvesting crops while reducing labour costs, which presumably translates into a reduction of market costs for the consumer and ultimately contributes to local food security. At the same time, JCP support for the agricultural sector contributes to addressing the problem of unskilled female unemployment. In the first quarter of 2015, female unemployment in Gaza reached 55.2 per cent, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
The agricultural sector in Gaza has been severely affected by the blockade imposed in 2007. Despite a high potential for trade, current exports remain minimal due to the blockade’s heavy restriction on the movement of goods.
“It is the first time that UNRWA helped my business through providing JCP workers, and I really save a lot of money with that. Before the blockade, we exported many flowers to Europe, but since 2007, business is down and there is no export,” commented Raza Hijazi, the owner of the farm where Ghada and Zaher are working. Before the blockade he employed 20 labourers, but since the closure he is only able to hire three of them. Ibrahim Siham, an owner of a rose farm nearby, agrees. “Over the past years I had to cut down significantly on employees,” he said. “JCP helps me to increase my business; the money I save this way I invest in planting so that my business can hopefully grow.”
Since 2006, the Agency has created 18,385 JCP opportunities in the agricultural sector alone (6,350 for female and 12,035 male), of which 2,571 opportunities were created in the carnation sector. In 2014, a total of 20,545 refugees were employed through the JCP, and UNRWA injected US$ 18.1 million into the Gaza economy. In the first quarter of 2015, the Agency created 12,646 JCP opportunities and injected US$ 7 million into the Gaza economy.