Lebanese cultivate long-neglected lands to face economic crisis

Several initiatives were launched in Lebanon to alleviate the country’s economic crisis by reviving the agricultural sector to ensure food security and self-sufficiency.

These initiatives came as a result of Lebanon’s almost total dependence on imports of different commodities, which are expected to end monopolization by some companies that exploit the crisis by threatening to constantly raise their prices.

One of these initiatives was launched by Chadi Hamze, a civil society activist in Mount Lebanon, who gathered a group of people to help citizens living in mountainous areas to cultivate their lands for free.

“We used some of our money and attracted donations from capable people to buy tractors, diesel and seedlings and offer them to farmers and regular citizens who own lands but haven’t been using them,” Hamze told Xinhua.

He explained that this initiative will help people grow their own vegetables and fruit, meet their basic needs and sell the rest or exchange them for other products from people who are cultivating their lands.

Makram Fayad, an agricultural engineer, told Xinhua that employees or business owners who have lost their work after the outbreak of COVID-19 have gone back to work in their lands.

“There are a big number of lands that were previously ignored but are being cultivated now,” Fayad said.

Fayad explained that the agricultural sector has been neglected for too long in Lebanon while farmers have been facing several challenges.

The Lebanese agricultural sector has in the past years faced multiple challenges due to competition by neighboring countries and the war in neighboring Syria which prevented farmers from sending their produce through land to Syria and the rest of the Arab countries.

The cold and stormy weather also destroyed a big volume of farmers’ crops.

Moreover, the agriculture sector did not constitute one of the priorities of the Lebanese government in the past and the cabinet did not compensate farmers for any of the losses incurred over the past years.

“We ask the government for more attention for this sector because food security is very essential today,” Fayad said.

Amin Ammar, a farmer in Chouf, Mount Lebanon, said he hasn’t worked in his land for the past 30 years.

But now, he is putting all his efforts into agriculture given the financial deterioration in the country which led to the bankruptcy of thousands of companies.

“The latest events in Lebanon encouraged us to think of good alternatives. Returning to one’s roots is very important,” he said.

Another initiative was launched by Riad Fadlallah, head of the municipality of Ainata, a Lebanese village in northern Lebanon.

He decided to revive the agricultural heritage after witnessing long queues of citizens waiting in front of bakeries to secure bread for their families.

“When I saw this scene, I decided to start an initiative aimed at securing some cereals, legumes and vegetables that are consumed on a daily basis by citizens,” he said.

Fadlallah added that he cultivated around 12 acres of lands offered to the municipality by using 50 million Lebanese pounds (33,000 U.S. dollars) from the municipality with the support of the ministry of agriculture which sent its engineers to supervise the whole process.

Also, the Ministry of Agriculture distributed 250 tons of soft wheat seeds for free to about 963 farmers as an aid to encourage wheat cultivation in the country.

Lebanese Agriculture Minister Abbas Mourtada has been very supportive for these initiatives while he encouraged, on several occasions, people to use their lands and activate this sector which provides numerous job opportunities for the Lebanese.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture constitutes 5 percent of Lebanon’s GDP.

However, in the poorest regions, such as the northern and southern Bekaa, agriculture-related activities account for up to 80 percent of local GDP.