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16 Initiatives Redefining Food and Agriculture Across the Middle East

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The Middle East—home to the Fertile Crescent—introduced domesticated agriculture 12,000 years ago. Today, news from the region features conflict, urbanization, food and nutrition insecurity, natural resource scarcity, and climate change—challenges that have made the region into the world’s largest importer of food. 

But many organizations across the Middle East are working to confront these challenges and come up with solutions that are environmentally and economically sustainable—as well as socially just. Food Tank is highlighting 16 organizations redefining how the Middle East eats, grows, and disposes of its food. These projects not only redefine the future of food and agriculture, but are preserving regional diets, farming traditions, and ancestral knowledge that originated modern agriculture in the Middle East.

1. Ark of Taste, Israel

The Ark of Taste collects products worldwide that risk disappearing within the next few generations including fruits, vegetables, animal breeds, cheeses, bread, and more. In Israel, the Ark of Taste focuses on the traditional products that belong to Israeli communities—like matzo. While the flour to make the bread features grain never exposed to rain, some communities also request that the grains be handpicked in traditional ways. Due to costs and hardships getting this flour, bakeries are disappearing; but the Ark of Taste works to protect matzo in the face of these challenges.

2. al Hima, Jordan

al Hima aims for a food secure future by supporting Jordanian farmers in sourcing and planting local, organic seeds; advocating for fair-trade agriculture; facilitating farmer exchanges; and partnering with the National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension of Jordan. The organization raises awareness around the cultural and culinary value of heirloom foods by connecting restaurants to local producers. Through one of its projects working toward sustainable food initiatives, al Hima is one of the founders of the Slow Food Jordan movement.

3. Be’ah, Oman

Established by Royal Decree in 2009, Be’ah—or Oman’s Holding Company for Environment Services—oversees solid waste management across the country. Be’ah is now working with Ahmed al-Busaidi of the Sultan Qaboos University to study the feasibility of collecting post-consumer food waste to produce biogas. This program would redirect food waste away from landfills into a renewable resource.

4. Caesar Cider, Lebanon

The combination of closed agricultural trade routes through Syria and climate change effects crashed the apple market in Lebanon. Caesar Cider, a start-up company producing the first alcoholic cider in Lebanon, supports the country’s 85,000 small apple producers. Because apples are a long term investment—trees mature over the course of five years—farmers struggled without an export or local market. The cider company offers a new way for rural apple farmers and agricultural cooperatives to make a profit. Cider and juice making uses blemished apples reducing apple waste.

5. CEWAS Middle East, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine 

CEWAS is a Swiss non-profit organization that works across the Middle East to improve innovative business practices in water and sanitation. Through training, awareness-raising, and facilitating innovative start-ups, CEWAS works to develop ecological business ideas. Their start-up program focuses on sustainability, resource management and reuse, and waste. Recent startups include Disco Soup, which collects discarded produce and turns it into free meals, and Compost Baladi which provides compost and recycling products and services for houses and businesses. CEWAS recently hosted the first environmental hackathon in Kurdistan in late July.

6. Food Heritage Foundation, Lebanon 

Started through the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit of the American University of Beirut, The Food Heritage Foundation preserves Lebanon’s culinary traditions with projects featuring food tourism, community kitchens, farmers’ markets, traditional recipes, and livelihood initiatives for small, rural food producers—primarily women. The organization aims to protect the “collective memory and indigenous knowledge” of food and agriculture central to the Lebanese identity through rural-urban agricultural linkages. 

7. Food Not Bombs, Israel

Food Not Bombs (FNB) is a global movement protesting the money spent on weapons in the face of global hunger and malnutrition. FNB combines free vegetarian meals with events, protests, and literature —advocating against hunger, homelessness, poverty, and the military-industrial sector—to reverse hunger trends. FNB frequently collects potentially wasted food from supermarkets and local distributors using food as a medium to inspire societal change.

8. La Vie Cafe and Mashjar Juthour, Palestine

La Vie Cafe created an edible urban garden in the middle of downtown Ramallah. The cafe’s garden provides fresh, organically grown foods while its interior exhibits local art and fair trade handicrafts—and the proceeds fund tree plantings. La Vie’s owners offer regular facebook videos in Arabic and English on organic agricultural topics, sharing knowledge with neighbors interested in replicating their urban garden. The owners also founded Mashjar Juthour, an arboretum and eco-park just outside of Ramallah that hosts short courses on organic agriculture and sustainable lifestyles.

9. My Arabian Almanakh, United Arab Emirates 

An urban gardening journal, My Arabian Almanakh seeks to bring people closer to the natural world—even in urban environments like Dubai. Originally started as a Facebook page that disseminated recreational and food urban gardening tips, My Arabian Almanakh grew, even publishing a guidebook for beginner and experienced urban gardeners. Founder Laura Allais-Maré notes that Dubai offers an exceptional opportunity for the readers of the journal, with balconies that can host gardens all around the city. 

10. Ramadan Sharing Fridges Campaign, United Arab Emirates 

The Ramadan Sharing Fridges campaign operates annually during the month of Ramadan, offering those in need free food. In 2016 one family in Dubai offered free food in an outdoor refrigerator to community workers and laborers in their neighborhood during Ramadan. The initiative quickly spread, the 2019 initiative reporting 200 fridges across the city. The Ramadan Sharing Fridges posts the locations of fridges in multiple languages on posters around the city to help anyone facing hunger or food insecurity access the food during Ramadan.

11. Re:Food, Kuwait 

Acknowledging the negative externalities of agricultural and post-consumer waste on the environment, Re:Food connects potentially wasted, but still safe, food with people in need. They collect food from local suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors before packing foods into nutritionally balanced grocery baskets for distribution to those facing hunger. Re:Food is a youth-founded initiative that won the Kuwait Youth Award for Excellence & Creativity of 2018 and founder, Maryam Aleisa, has been recognized as one of the 30 Arab Hope Makers of 2017.

12. SEKEM, Egypt 

SEKEM produces organic and biodynamic products, marketing them locally and across the Arab region. With over 800 associated farms across the region, SEKEM works with partners including the Egyptian BioDynamic Association and the Centre for Organic Agriculture in Egypt. The revenue from its agro-businesses funds a number of other social and cultural development initiatives including educational facilities for children, vocational trainings, and a medical clinic. SEKEM was awarded the Right Livelihood “Alternative Nobel Prize” in 2003.

13. The Arab Group for the Protection Of Nature, Jordan

The Arab Group for the Protection of Nature (APN) works to protect the environment from hazards inflicted by climate change, population growth, and conflict. The group hosts tree plantings across Jordan promoting environmental awareness among school children and in Palestine. In addition to hosting tree plantings, APN also advocates for sustainable solutions to hunger and food insecurity. APN is the official coordinator of the Global Working Group on Protracted Crises of the Civil Society Mechanism of the Food and Agricultural Organizations’ Committee on World Food Security.

14. The Iraqi Seed Project, Iraq

The Iraqi Seed Project uses multiple mediums to share the realities of modern agriculture in the Fertile Crescent—the home of domesticated agriculture. What started as a collection of local recipes soon turned into documentation of the impacts of war, conflict, and related foreign aid on local agriculture and farmers. In response, domestic production and farming livelihoods have sharply declined during the past 30 years. The Project highlights the voices of small farmers and the agricultural heritage of the region through film and educational resources.

15. The Palestinian Heirloom Seed Library, Palestine

In 2014 Vivien Sansour founded the Palestinian Heirloom Seed Library to collect and preserve ancient seeds and farming methods of her native Palestine. Under military occupation, traditional culinary and medicinal plants face extinction, uprooting, and their harvest can expose farmers to physical or legal punishment despite flourishing in Palestine’s challenging climatic conditions for thousands of years. In this living library, people celebrate seeds as tools of resistance to occupation and to globally homogenized food and diet.

16. The Urinal Project, Iraq/Middle East

The Urinal Project produces and distributes unisex urinals to refugees and displaced populations who otherwise have little access to adequate sanitation. The equipment recycles the urine and extracts its nutrients to be used as fertilizer in forestry and agriculture. This replaces the standard system that adds to environmental pollution and excessive water consumption.

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Social Justice

Consumer Group Wins First Round in Lawsuit Against Ben & Jerry’s

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A federal judge has ruled against Ben & Jerry’s and allowed a lawsuit alleging that the company doesn’t live up to its environmentally friendly messaging to move forward.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) filed suit in Washington in July arguing that the Vermont-based ice cream maker misled consumers to think its product is more environmental friendly than it really is, in violation of consumer protection laws. On Monday, Judge Neal Kravitz foiled Ben & Jerry’s efforts to get the case dismissed.

The OCA argued that while Ben & Jerry’s frames itself as an environmental leader, in reality, the company’s products include ingredients sourced from inhumane dairy farms and include traces of glyphosate, a herbicide.

Ben & Jerry’s, which is owned by Unilever, had argued that no reasonable customer would conclude that the company’s advertising about “happy cows” meant that none of the cows lived on ordinary farms.

Kravitz found that the allegations raised by the association were “sufficient to advance a plausible claim that consumers would be misled by Ben & Jerry’s labeling and marketing regarding the sourcing of its ingredients.”

“A reasonable consumer could plausibly interpret Ben & Jerry’s labeling and marketing as affirmatively (and inaccurately) communicating that the company’s ice cream products are sourced exclusively from Caring Dairies and/or other humane source,” he wrote.

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‘Everyday People Like It When We Fight for Everyday People’

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“I inherently reject the paternalistic idea that some subjects are too complex for everyday people to engage. If we present compelling, solid info plus commonsense arguments, we can win,” the New York congresswoman wrote on Twitter

“I inherently reject the paternalistic idea that some subjects are too complex for everyday people to engage. If we present compelling, solid info plus commonsense arguments, we can win,” the New York congresswoman wrote on Twitter

Bolstering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) recent remark that “everyday people like it when we fight for everyday people,” a new analysis of social media data published on Sunday found that the freshman congresswoman received more Twitter engagement over the past month than any other Democrat in Congress—and it wasn’t even close.

According to numbers from CrowdTangle compiled by Axios, Ocasio-Cortez, who was sworn in less than two weeks ago, had 11.8 million total interactions on Twitter—retweets plus likes—between Dec. 11 and Jan. 11. The congressional Democrat with the second most Twitter interactions was Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), with 4.6 million.

“I inherently reject the paternalistic idea that some subjects are too complex for everyday people to engage,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Monday, explaining her messaging approach that has, in just a few months, driven previously obscure or marginalized solutions like the Green New Deal and a 70 percent top marginal tax rate into mainstream political discourse.

“When I meet everyday people, they are eager to learn more, ask great questions, and embrace nuance,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “If we present compelling, solid info plus commonsense arguments, we can win.”

Based on CrowdTangle’s figures, below is a Twitter engagement ranking among the congressional Democrats included in the new analysis, as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former President Barack Obama, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas). For Harris, Sanders, and Warren, the figure is the combined number of interactions on their personal and official accounts.

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.): 11.8 million
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.): 4.6 million
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): 2.6 million
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): 2.6 million
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.): 2.4 million
  • Beto O’Rourke: 1.8 million
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.): 1.4 million 

In addition to far surpassing her Democratic colleagues in Twitter engagement, Ocasio-Cortez is also receiving dramatically more social media interaction than America’s largest corporate media outlets.

As Neal Rothschild of Axios put it, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is absolutely dominating the national conversation on Twitter, generating more interactions than the five biggest news organizations combined over the last 30 days.”

Bolstering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) recent remark that “everyday people like it when we fight for everyday people,” a new analysis of social media data published on Sunday found that the freshman congresswoman received more Twitter engagement over the past month than any other Democrat in Congress—and it wasn’t even close.

According to numbers from CrowdTangle compiled by Axios, Ocasio-Cortez, who was sworn in less than two weeks ago, had 11.8 million total interactions on Twitter—retweets plus likes—between Dec. 11 and Jan. 11. The congressional Democrat with the second most Twitter interactions was Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), with 4.6 million.

“I inherently reject the paternalistic idea that some subjects are too complex for everyday people to engage,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Monday, explaining her messaging approach that has, in just a few months, driven previously obscure or marginalized solutions like the Green New Deal and a 70 percent top marginal tax rate into mainstream political discourse.

“When I meet everyday people, they are eager to learn more, ask great questions, and embrace nuance,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “If we present compelling, solid info plus commonsense arguments, we can win.

Since Ocasio-Cortez burst onto the political scene last year with her astonishing primary upset of powerful Wall Street-friendly Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) last June, much analysis has been devoted to discovering why she has garnered such widespread appeal in such a short period of time.

While corporate Democrats have expressed confusion—and, in some cases, alarm—about the freshman congresswoman’s popularity, Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs argued on Monday that Ocasio-Cortez’s appeal lies in her straightforward and unabashed presentation of bold solutions that the public craves.

“She bluntly sticks up for progressive values, rather than timidly using conservative premises. She’s not always perfectly polished, but I feel as if she’s on my side and won’t back down, which is something millennial leftists really need right now,” Robinson wrote.

Lamenting the frequency with which politicians campaign on bold promises only to quickly backpedal once they take office, Robinson noted that Ocasio-Cortez “has been an inspiring exception to this. She made it clear that her loyalties weren’t with the Democratic leadership but with the protesters occupying the offices of the Democratic leadership.”

“My desperate, pleading hope is that instead of succumbing to the inevitable pressure from Congressional peers—moderate your rhetoric, ‘get serious,’ don’t criticize the party—she doubles down and keeps kicking ass,” Robinson concluded. “She’s already showing how we can successfully change the conversation: The Green New Deal, like Medicare for All, has gone from marginal to mainstream within a matter of months.”


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We Can’t Tackle the Migrant Crisis Without Fighting Climate Change

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Many Americans have rightfully been outraged at the inhumane conditions of migrant families detained at the border. Refugees have been packed tight into cages that don’t leave them room to lie down, denied basic amenities like showers and toothbrushes, and separated from their children.

Meanwhile, there was a record heatwave that gripped most of the United States. At face value, these issues may seem entirely unrelated. The reality is the crisis at the border is deeply connected to the climate crisis.

What the world’s scientists warned us about 30 years ago is emerging before our eyes. In Central America, prolonged and escalating droughts have choked the water supply and turned crops to dust. Famine, thirst, poverty and crime is creating a generation of climate refugees who uproot from their homes and loved ones. These refugees come to the United States, seeking refuge, stability and dignity.

Instead, they face guns, dogs and jails at our border. Make no mistake, this is what American climate policy looks like in the age of President Trump.

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