2013 Leadership award winner for Citizenship

Nasser Abufara

Canaan Fair Trade, Camas, Wash

This company challenges the social, political and economic isolation Palestinians face by creating an organization that empowers citizens and helps them thrive and connect with the outside world and in all facets of their lives.

By Denise Shoukas


When Nasser Abufarha, a native Palestinian who had been in the U.S. attending college, returned home to finish his doctoral research in cultural anthropology in 2003, he became preoccupied with the plight of Palestinian olive oil farmers. Oil prices had plummeted below costs and livelihoods were being hurt from lack of market opportunities. He founded the Palestine Fair Trade Association in 2004, working to empower small farmers through education and training. He also launched Canaan Fair Trade, a producing and exporting company that gives the farmers a direct link to the international market.

Abufarha developed the first internationally recognized standard for fair trade olive oil in the region with the belief that it would empower marginalized Palestinian rural communities caught in conflict. “Canaan assesses its accomplishments based on how much we are moving producing communities from the position of vulnerability to that of economic security,” Abufarha explains. “To that end, beyond price, we are invested in increasing crop yields for farmers, increasing quality so we grow the value return of the products they produce [and] the sustainability of the soil they produce from, and helping them navigate some of the social or political issues that may be limiting their potentials.”

Today the organization works with 1,700 farmers and 200 female producers, selling their products in 17 countries worldwide. Since Canaan’s launch, the average price of Palestinian olive oil has more than doubled, and in 2008 Canaan broke ground on a new 32,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art olive-processing facility that employs 40 Palestinians and can commercialize the products of 3,000 to 5,000 farmers.


In addition to supporting farmers from production to social and economic empowerment, Abufarha has created programs such as self-managed women’s co-ops focusing on products traditionally processed by women, like sun-dried tomatoes, za’atar spices, couscous, capers and soap. Participation has increased to 200 women since 2007.

“These opportunities bring new avenues for women to enter the workforce and give them the skills to be income generators and engaged and participating citizens at the same time,” he observes. Abufarha has also created Canaan Scholarships, which provide an average of $60,000 per year for 10 full university scholarships to farmers’ children, as well as a microloan program that has formed 10 women-owned cooperatives to date. Factory workers at the plant reap the benefits as well. After 10 years of employment, staff is eligible to apply for a loan to start their own socially responsible business to solve a social problem.

Going Forward

Canaan is currently working with women’s groups on a new line of herbs and expanding the soap-making offerings. Abufarha notes that the award is particularly appreciated for “the visibility it will bring to the great farmers I work with, the wonderful food products they produce, and the love and care they give to the land from which they produce.”

Learn more about the Leadership Awards and the other winners, honorable mentions and nominees at specialtyfood.com/leadershipawards.