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Palestinian grape farmers see market collapse amid pandemic

HEBRON, West Bank, Sept 10 (Reuters) – Palestinian grape farmers are boasting a bumper crop this year, helped in part by coronavirus lockdowns that gave many of them more time to till their vines in the occupied West Bank.

But the pandemic’s economic ravages have also slashed sales of the fruit, depressing the hilly breadbasket region of Hebron.

“This year the yield was good, the rain was good, the grapes are all good … but there is no market, because of this disease,” said farmer Mohammad Abdellatif Jallak, folding sheets of “malban”, or fruit leather made from dried grapes.

The pandemic, said Hebron Chamber of Commerce chairman Nour al-Deen Jaradat, “made people look after their lands more, and thus the production amounts increased, and so did the quality. But unfortunately there was a failure in marketing.”

For lack of customers, grapes that previous sold for around $10 box are now being turned into molasses at almost half the value, said Muntaser al-Jaabari, a fruit merchant.

A U.N. agency warned on Tuesday that the pandemic was compounding dire economic conditions in the Palestinian territories, where 2019 unemployment was 33% and GDP per capita is projected to fall by 3% to 4.5% this year.