GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Ever since she was a kid, Haneen Ahmed Ghanem has been fond of collecting cactus plants. What started as a hobby led her to establish this year the first cactus nursery in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.
Ghanem, 23, is an agricultural engineer who graduated from the Plant Production and Protection Department at Al-Quds Open University in the West Bank. She started growing cactus and succulent plants on the balcony of her room in the Jenin camp and then published photos of her minuscule garden.
“I’ve always loved collecting cactus, and my major encouraged me to continue doing so. In time, I acquired sufficient experience in the field to start a cactus business,” Ghanem told Al-Monitor.
After graduation, Ghanem contemplated establishing the first cactus nursery in Jenin so that her hobby could become a business. She submitted her project to the Agricultural Development Association (PARC) and got the necessary funding and support to proceed. Today, her rooftop is a huge cactus nursery.
Asked why she picked cactus, she said, “I chose it because it is a new niche for Jenin. The cactus plant is also easy to cultivate, and it lasts a long time."
She said the nursery includes more than 100 cactus species and various types of succulent plants, most of which are used for decoration.
Cactus and succulents are among the plants with the highest level of medically useful compounds, she said, adding that the type known as prickly pear cactus was used for both medical purposes and for beauty products. "Aloe vera [which is not a cactus but grows under similar conditions] is also used for hair oils and creams, as well as treatment of burns," she explained.
Ghanem said that in a process called vegetative propagation, cactus is reproduced by making cuttings from the native plant. The cuttings, often kept without water for a week, are placed in soil composed of sand and organic fertilizers in independent basins in a well-shaded place that can stimulate root growth and avoid mold.
Ghanem grows rare species that are not found in the Palestinian territories and markets them through social media, delivering them to clients who use the cacti for home and office decoration.
The cactus nursery is Ghanem's source of livelihood — and she hopes her business will keep growing. She aims to complete her master’s in prevention and plant protection and wants to establish a factory dedicated to the extraction of cactus oils for beauty and health products.
Agricultural engineer Javad Zakarneh at the Ministry of Agriculture praised Ghanem’s project and told Al-Monitor that she had come up with a successful project in deciding to produce cactus. “Ghanem has distinguished herself from other cultivators by choosing a specific and rare plant,” he added.
He said the cactus nursery enhances the environmental and biological diversity of the Jenin camp, and he praised Ghanem's efforts in marketing cactus in innovative ways such as Facebook. He said Ghanem’s nursery proves to graduates the importance of searching for and developing a project.