Farmers seek government consolation as weak crop exports see prices fall
The Association of Lebanese Farmers called for the government’s support in facing the slowdown that hit the agricultural sector throughout most of 2011.
The Association criticized the “indifference” with which it said the government, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture, has perceived the crisis the sector is facing.
The president of the South Lebanon Association of Farmers, Hani Safieddine, called on the government to increase the projected subsidy on agricultural exports for the year 2012 from LL50 billion to LL100 billion (around $66 million).
Safieddine said that turmoil has had a double effect on exports as it has forced stagnation in destination markets, along with the obstruction of export activity.
According to the Farmers’ Association, exports of several agricultural products, mainly bananas and citrus fruits, to Arab markets were hit hard by the turmoil in neighboring countries. The price of bananas sank to LL500 per kilogram, while that of citrus fruits dropped to LL300 per kilogram.
“The road for exports into Syria, or through it, is rough but not closed. It depends on the route” said Raphael Debbane, president of the Agricultural Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture of Beirut and Mount Lebanon. Debbane said that though it is still possible to export goods through Syria, transportation costs have hit new heights amid security risks that have arisen with the upheaval in the neighboring country.
According to Debbane, the predicament in Syria is not the only reason behind the agricultural recession. He said that exporting bananas to Jordan has been obstructed by tougher specifications from the Jordanian authorities.
The downturn has also struck the winter season of tomatoes, in addition to the fall seasons of apples and olive oil.
According to the Farmers’ Association, the local tomato market was inundated with huge amounts of imported tomatoes. Imported tomatoes are sold at LL500 per kilogram, lower than the local production cost, the association said.
“Our local tomato produce was out-done by the comparative advantage of imports from Jordan,” said Debbane. He said that Jordan has a warmer climate for growing tomatoes in winter.
The Association of Farmers blamed the Ministry of Agricultural for not doing enough to protect local products from the competition of cheaper imports.
As a way to protect local farmers in light of the free trade agreements, the country submits a request each year to renew an agricultural calendar which was formulated to exempt a few products from the Great Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) agreement.
According to Debbane, the ideal solution for the agricultural sector would be to improve both the quality and quantity of local production. This, he said, could be achieved through training local farmers and introducing them to the modern production methods.
Date Posted: Jan 09, 2012