Producer: Abd el-Hadi Family, Almond Growers
Location: Iksal (near Nazareth)
The Abd el-Hadi family lives in the Arab village of Iksal, not far from Nazareth. Sindyanna of Galilee has been buying their almonds since 2009. With 15,000 inhabitants, Iksal is famous for its delicious almonds. The area is optimally suited for this crop, with 3,000 dunams (750 acres) of almond trees providing livelihoods for approximately 100 families.
Nizar Abd el-Hadi, 28, is a graduate of the Faculty of Agriculture in Tel-Hay Academic College. He was born in Iksal to a family of farmers. His passion for the land started in early childhood, when he would help his family with cultivating and harvesting the almond groves. His father, Ali, and his Uncle Dr. Fathi Abd el-Hadi, were the founders of The Irrigation Cooperative Society in Iksal, which was established in 1992. This pioneering cooperative enabled Iksal farmers to plant modern almond groves on their lands, and turn their village into the most important almond source among Arab communities in Israel.
Today, Nizar works as an expert in Almonds and Olives in the Agriculture Ministry office of the Iksal area, meeting with hundreds of local famers on a regular basis. He explains the difficulties faced by today’s farmers: “The main problem is the need to invest in modern methods and machines to meet the changing challenges of the market. You do not need many people to maintain an almond grove, but you need large plots. It is almost impossible to turn small plots of 20 dunams into a sustainable almond grove. For example, every 20 years or so, you have to uproot and replant almond trees in order to maintain their level of production. No farmer will do this unless he has profitable groves. This is why small farmers tend to lease their land to bigger farmers to make sure they are properly maintained.”
With these principles in mind, the Abd el-Hadi family collectively cultivates lands belonging to 10 households of the larger family – about 500 dunams (320 dunams of almonds, and 180 dunams of olives). Their annual production is more than 50 tons of almond (peeled), making them the leading growers of almonds in the village.
Nizar dreams of making his village, Iksal, the most successful almond region, and developing an agro tourism area where visitors from around the country, both Jewish and Arab, come to learn about the almond, and how this beautiful tree (especially during the winter when it blossoms) has contributed to the development of the village and its people.
Sindyanna, Talas and Abd el-Hadi Collaboration
Sindyanna of Galilee has been buying Iksal Almonds from the Abd el-Hadi family since 2009. The family’s crops are sold to Tallas Industries where they are peeled and processed for marketing. Nizar says that it is thanks to Wael Tallas, the founder of the company, that the almond grove in Iksal has turned into a successful business: “Wael helps us and we help him. It is a collaboration that benefits both sides.”
Iksal almond plantations in Jezreel Valley are also home to some dozens of beehives, which belong to the Kilani family who produce Sindyanna’s Fair Trade Happier Honey.
The History of the Iksal Irrigation Cooperative
In 1992, Dr. Fathi Abd el-Hadi, together with other local farmers, established the Irrigation Cooperative Society in Iksal, with the goal of obtaining water quotas for the agricultural lands of the village. Currently, the cooperative has 125 members, which collectively own about 617 acres. In 2001, thanks to the Cooperative’s dedication and perseverance, the Israel Water Authority approved a water quota for irrigating 600,000 cubic meters of recycled water, and a pipeline was installed. Today, the main crops grown in the irrigated fields are almonds (60%) alongside olives.
The almonds grown by the Abd el-Hadi family are of the special Um al-Fahem strain, named after the farmer from Um al-Fahem village that discovered it about thirty years ago. The Um al-Fahem strain is distinguished by its unique taste and its extra soft shell. Following its discovery, many Arab farmers in the area opted to replace their old trees with the newly discovered strain. Thus, new groves have been planted through and through, and almonds have become an essential source of livelihood for the local farmers. The almonds are harvested and peeled in Iksal, and then they are sent to the warehouse of Sindyanna of Galilee for packaging.