During my last visit to Ramallah, I received a very special gift from a dear friend: A box of newly collected white mushrooms, from the first harvest of the new Palestinian mushroom farm, “Amoro”.
In another part of the world, this may be a very normal incident. Not in Palestine! We all gathered around the mushroom, over excitement in the room, everyone started tasting, the excitement grew higher.
It all started on a bbq grill when four friends, Mahmoud Kuhail, Sameer Khraishi, AL-Tayeb Akel and Wadia Nassar, realized the absence of Palestinian mushroom production. None of them had an agriculture background. Al-Tayeb, Sameer and Wadia come from the IT and computer science’s world, and Mahmoud studied Global economy and Business. They are all based in Ramallah.
“Coming from inapt educational and experience-related backgrounds was the most challenging thing for us, yet it was also the most enriching experience in our career. We have educated ourselves through massive readings, conducted a research on market capacity, as well as visited mushroom farms in other locations outside Palestine.” Khraishi told me.
Their dream officially began in May 2013 when the company was registered at line Palestinian ministries and institutions under the name “Amoro Agriculture”, after an exhausting and energy draining bureaucracy. This was a first hand realization of the absent of PA policy to encourage such initiatives, that contribute to self-relying production and reduce dependency on the Israeli occupation, even when it comes to the mere bureaucratic procedures.
According to the “Amoros”, their expected capacity in the short term will cover 100% of Ramallah market and 50% of WestBank and Gaza markets. These markets are currently covered by Israeli farms, the only provider of mushroom in the part of Palestine occupied in 1967.
The next step was even more crucial. The specific mushroom they wanted to plant, called scientifically “Agaricus Bisporus”, requires an advanced control systems, to operate the planting and maintain the proper environment for it’s growth. These technologies do not exist in Palestine, so they had to build everything from scratch.
In June 2014, after finding a proper land in Jericho, and acquiring the licenses, the construction phase started. They built an insulated growing rooms, they designed and installed the machinery and the environment control systems, prepared the rooms for planting.
Since the special compost and spores for white mushroom growing is not available in Palestinian market, and is a niche product, they had to import it from the Netherlands, another exhausting process.
“Words cannot describe the huge efforts that led us to this point, we worked day and night, we went through ups and downs, the dream looked close in some moments and far in others, but our determination and support for each other was the recipe to overcome.” Khraishi recalls.
On October 31st, 2014, the “Amoros” saw their own dream come true. They collected the first harvest; white fresh, hight quality mushrooms. They distributed their first harvest for free to vegetables shops and restaurants, mainly in Ramallah area. “The reactions and feedback they got were all excellent.” Kuhail says, “We are now ready to penetrate the market.”
In mid January 2015, Amoro is expected to start distribution in the West Bank, and they hope in Gaza too, two months later.
Khraishi explains that the issue is not only about producing a national product that allows us to replace the Israeli product. “It’s beyond”, he says, “I always believed in a say we have in Arabic: ‘there is no good in a nation that does not eat from what it plants, and does not wear from what it weaves’.”
He also emphasize that this project is about building an independent economy. “At the time young people invest savings in a house, or marriage, or a car, travel or study, we invested all our savings in “Amoro”. Khraishi explained, “It wasn’t enough of course, so we had to take a loan from the bank in order to cover the purchase of gears and machines to establish the farm. And when you hear the feedbacks, you feel proud: it is by our own hands, no donors’ dictations or NGO’s interventions, we made it.”
Kuhail explains, that currently, Amoro is a source of income for about twenty families, including ourselves, ten women from Jericho women cooperative, and another five workers for mushroom planting. They aim to become a source of inspiration and a role model in the agribusiness sector in Palestine.
When I asked them about their feeling when they collected the first harvest, Kuhail said: “My feelings were indescribable, because there was no time to digest and process the many feelings inside! The dominant feeling was one of responsibility and that our real and hard work will now commence.”
“I couldn’t believe what am looking at! I envy all the producers for holding this beautiful feeling, everything is possible now ! I never thought of sweat as sweet.”, Khraishi added.