Up to 2,000 tonnes of strawberries will be left to rot in Gaza Strip this winter, jeopardising the livelihoods of hundreds of growers as the deteriorating security situation brings exports to a virtual standstill.
It is the first time in their 16-year trading relationship that Palestinian growers have been unable to sell their crop to Israel's state-backed fruit and vegetable exporter Agrexco.
UK general manager Amos Orr said it had made every effort to find a way to get the product out, and there was great concern for growers' livelihoods.
"Even in the worse days of the intifada, Agrexco and Gaza growers continued with their marketing relationship, finding ways to get the product through the borders when they were in effect closed," he said. "With Hamas in power and its daily missile attacks on Israel, Agrexco has tried continually over the past few months to find a way through for the coming season - but efforts have been to no avail and our 'gate to Gaza' is now closed."
Agrexco said it was concerned for all involved. The close co-operation required to get the Gaza Strip strawberry business up and running meant the growers had become "like family". "It will have a major effect on hundreds of growers and thousands of workers will lose their livelihoods."
The strawberries would usually be exported to western Europe for sale under the Coral brand, with some 500 tonnes sold on Britain's wholesale and foodservice markets. They fill the short winter window when other supplies are not available in sufficient volumes to meet demand. Agrexco has predicted a shortage over Christmas and soaring prices as a result.
"With the huge demand of the festive season approaching, both Israel and Egypt combined will not be able to meet the shortfall created by the lack of Coral," Orr said.
"It will have a major effect on the UK with strawberries in short supply and higher costs."