The Media Line: Israeli Farms Face Dire Straits Since Oct. 7, See 80% Drop in Produce Output

 

Israeli Farms Face Dire Straits Since Oct. 7, See 80% Drop in Produce Output 

In the wake of the October 7 Hamas attacks, Ogen and Leket Israel collaborated to provide immediate and long-term financial relief to farmers, mobilizing millions to support the struggling agricultural sector 

By Veronica Neifakh / The Media Line 

The October 7 Hamas attack and the following war have devastated Israel’s agricultural sector in both the southern and northern regions where many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables are grown. As a result, farmers face urgent financial needs while the country suffers shortages and price increases in essential produce. 

The Media Line spoke to the leaders of Leket and Ogen organizations, as well as farmers affected by the war, to provide insight into the impact and recovery efforts. 

“Since October 7, agriculture in Israel has faced the largest workforce crisis it has known since the establishment of the state. This is due to many workers being called up for reserve service or not reporting to work out of fear, foreign workers requesting to return to their home countries, workers from Palestinian Authority areas under lockdown, and the evacuation of many residents from their homes,” shared Dafna Yurista, spokeswoman of the Ministry of Agriculture.  

According to ministry data, before the “Iron Swords” war, there were 29,900 foreign workers in agriculture, most of whom were from Thailand. At the start of the fighting, about 9,948 workers returned to their home country, along with approximately 12,000-10,000 workers from Palestinian Authority areas. Thus, Israeli agriculture faced a shortage of about 20,000 workers. 

Joseph Gitler, founder and chairman of Leket Israel – the National Food Bank, described work with farmers as a special initiative of the organization. “Thousands of farmers have been impacted. Farmers in the North are at a total loss. It’s too dangerous for them to go and work in their fields,” he said. 

According to Gitler, the production of fruits and vegetables dropped by 80% in the months after the war. As a result, “A lot of farmers have been severely damaged economically by the aftereffects of October 7. We’ve been helping them in many different ways, from picking for them to sending volunteers to giving them grants. We also realized that one thing missing was providing loans to farmers.” 

Yishayahu Shaked, a 72-year-old farmer from Netiv Ha’asara, has been growing tomatoes for 45 years. He told The Media Line that the Hamas attack of October 7 happened right after his business had required a lot of spending. 

“Harvest of the tomatoes was just before the 7th of October. Normally, we put a lot of money into the process, and after the harvest, we get the money back. All of our finances were in the greenhouses just before the attacks happened,” he said. 

After the attack, Shaked was forced to leave Netiv Ha’asara. Due to the military situation, he did not have any access to the greenhouses. 

“All of the produce was left for months to rot, and there was no way to get to it. Everything was gone. But more than that, all the plants were ruined,” he explained. 

A month after October 7, farmers were allowed to return to their farms for just two hours at a time, accompanied by the army. Another month after that, they were allowed to be there from 7 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon. 

Eventually, Shaked had to restart the whole process in all his greenhouses. 

“That is a huge financial burden. I lost all of my financing. More than that, rockets keep being fired from Gaza. Some of them hit and destroyed my greenhouses,” he shared with The Media Line. 

In response to the struggles of the agricultural sector, Ogen, a social lending enterprise, has launched a comprehensive revitalization program. As part of its Swords of Iron Emergency Relief Fund, Ogen is introducing two lending tracks: the Farmers’ Immediate Relief Track and the Long-Term Agricultural Relief Track. The Immediate Relief Track, in collaboration with Leket Israel, supports small-scale farmers facing cash-flow issues, while the Long-Term Track targets those needing substantial capital investment. 

Ogen has already mobilized $55 million and aims to raise $100 million to assist over a quarter of a million individuals. Since its inception, the fund has disbursed over $21 million in loans, primarily supporting vulnerable communities, including farmers and reserve soldiers. 

Shaked said that the 300,000-shekel loan at a fixed rate of 3% loan had helped him and his farm tremendously. 

“It allowed me to put money back into the farm and into the greenhouses. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to continue,” he added. 

Gitler emphasized that such opportunities are now available for many farmers across the country. 

“Our job is to get the word out and let farmers know about the possibility. Then, once they’ve filled out the paperwork, the experts at Ogen take over. That includes approving the loan, servicing it, and offering business advice for farmers who need it,” he said. 

“A lot of these farmers had good, healthy businesses, and they’ve just been temporarily damaged. They need cash flow now to get them through this stretch,” Gitler added. 

Ogen’s vice president of development and partnerships, Eldan Kaye, explained to The Media Line that Israel’s food security is a major strategic issue for the country. 

“Regardless of where this war is going, we need to be there to support these farmers and to rebuild Israel’s food security because we cannot rely on external resources for our own food. That’s our opinion and the opinion of many other experts,” he said. 

Kaye explained that the organization was a part of the government guarantee scheme. The team hoped that the government would cover the costs of the loans. However, that did not happen. 

“Unfortunately, the government decided to close that down because that’s not an emergency. That means that we’re relying on philanthropy. A lot comes from North America, but also from within Israel,” he told The Media Line. 

Kaye observed that many farmers were exhausted. 

“They think: Why am I doing this? I’m going to give it up. But we are here to help. The last thing we want is for a farmer who’s been working the land and has experience of 30 years to stop doing this suddenly. That would make a significant dent in Israel’s economy,” he said. 

Shaked said that he hadn’t received any support from the government so far, although he was promised funds. 

“I feel that it’s very important for the region that the farmers continue working. It strengthens the country. But now I feel like we farmers are not only fighting Hamas but also the bureaucracy in Israel. I hope we will win on two fronts,” he said. 

“The longer the war goes, the issues of food security are going to become harder and harder. It is very important to the State of Israel that farmers continue to grow food. We need to know that we have our own food security in case the world turns on us,” added Gitler. 

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