Solar Dryers in Palestine

Decentralized and Organic Food Technology in the Westbank

To have peace in Israel-Palestine, the mentality of scarcity needs to be replaced with an awareness of abundance, because the conflict is based on the fear that there is not enough for everyone: not enough land, not enough water, not enough energy. In the frame of the Global Campus, in the process of founding GEN Palestine, Aida Shibli made another step in food sovereignty in organising seminars to create abundance on a farm of the Westbank. Frederick Weihe reports.

If we want to support the emergence of Ecovillages and Peace Research Centers in the Middle East, we have to start simply. In 2013, one of my tasks as a visiting expert to an ongoing peacework project in Israel-Palestine (http://www.tamera.org/project-groups/articles-project-groups/global-camp...), was to build a solar food-dryer with a group of Palestinian university students, on a West Bank farm making the transition to organic and sustainable practices. (more:http://gen.ecovillage.org/en/content/palestine-between-mona-and-my-grand...)
A “Solar Dryer” is a simple thing, and that's as it should be: the ongoing situation in Palestine promises challenges and complexity enough for anyone. Through this outwardly simple technology project, we shared many deep insights into the difficulties faced in the Holy Land. We could also begin to feel how close and possible the solutions really are.
The entire design and construction process was a collaboration with a group of local university students; our experience is described here: http://physicsforpeaceworkers.org/2013/12/06/the-solar-dryer/. The Solar Dryer is indeed straightforward: a 6m2 table-top greenhouse, with ventilation provided by fans driven by a small solar panel. It is based on dryers we have built and used ourselves in Europe (http://www.tamera.org/project-groups/autonomy-technology/solar-dryer/), which in turn are based on the book Sechoirs Solaires by Claudia Lorenz-Ladener (http://www.amazon.co.uk/séchoirs-solaires-construction-claudia-lorenz-ladener/dp/2842212509). With the students, we were able to start with basic principles of required temperatures and air-flow, and design and build a system almost entirely from up-cycled, locally recovered materials.
A common reaction of Palestinians to the Solar Dryer was the memory that, in their grandparents' time, sun-drying food had still been part of the culture. Despite the slight technical improvements, the Solar Dryer was familiar. 'Why did we stop doing this?' was often the question asked, because it was immediately clear why one would want to turn a surplus of in-season fruits and vegetables into an abundant store of value-added, new products.
In occupied Palestine, there are virtually no agricultural subsidies. The prices that farmers receive are low and volatile; in season, the local markets are flooded with subsidized Israeli produce. Food-preservation can support resilience and autonomy.
As a result of this education time, at least three more solar dryers are being planned or built elsewhere in Israel-Palestine, on organic farms or as part of Permaculture design projects: a good sign that the technical and political information was relevant and accessible to the participants.
Another outcome was that we, the visitors, learned more about the practical problems faced by forward-looking farmers: An organic farmer in Palestine, producing heirloom tomatoes or sun-dried strawberries, will generally have no obvious place to sell them, while consumers are not in the habit of asking for regional or natural products, and markets do not make them visible.
On the other hand, this spring we were on a farm with the family and a new group of students, while the loquats were coming in and mostly dropping unharvested from the trees. We filled the dryer with them; they're delicious dried, and, unexpectedly, many international visitors who visit the farm because of the family's political work, wanted to buy them. So the “problem” of new, local, natural products, is also an opportunity to build connections and spread information.
As this cooperation continues, we will give more energy to the economic and cultural context of food production in Palestine. We have already met area activists aware of these challenges and working towards solutions, for example, trying to create CSA programs in the West Bank (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/community-supported_agriculture), and raise consciousness generally.
We know that there is no technological solution for a crisis area like Israel-Palestine, or for the world; a peaceful and sustainable future will be based on connection and community, and on new kinds of awareness.
Working with technology, as a peaceworker, means understanding where the technology fits: What kind of thinking it emerges from, and what kind of consciousness it creates. In Israel-Palestine, the mentality of scarcity needs to be replaced with an awareness of abundance, because the conflict is based on the fear that there is not enough for everyone: not enough land, not enough water, and not enough energy.
The Solar Dryer is already becoming a useful part of the farm, but that's just the start. Like the other projects—Permaculture raised beds, a biogas digester, composting toilets, and more—these techniques are what we like to call, “carriers of information.” They create an awareness of abundance and of nature's generosity; they encourage a conversation, and stimulate thinking about the connections among people, and between people and the natural world.
Already, a network of cooperation partners, students, internationals, and neighbors, is forming around this work in Palestine. This network has its own intelligence and, supported by the helping forces of nature, will lead to great and unexpected things. It is not the material things we do - however “green” or clever they might be - that will improve the situation in Palestine, or in the world. Healing can happen because of an arising community of awareness and compassion, that can take shape around these simple tools and the intentions behind them.

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11.06.2014