High plowing cost stops olive farmers in southern Lebanon from cultivating lands

Hisham Hamad, a Lebanese farmer in his 60s, stands confused in the middle of an olive grove inherited from his father in Wadi al-Hasbani in southern Lebanon looking at the wild herbs covering his land and jeopardizing productivity of his trees.

While Hamad was cutting dry branches from his trees with a small saw, he told Xinhua that he regrets the situation of olive farmers in light of the high cost of plowing and elevated prices of fertilizers.

Hamad said that olive groves may vanish with time as farmers are unable to pay for the cost of plowing which has increased from 35,000 Lebanese pounds (nearly 23 U.S. dollars) per hour to 150,000 pounds.

“This is the first time for 30 years that my grove will not be plowed while we used to cultivate it twice a year,” Hamad said.

For his part, farmer Jamil Amer told Xinhua that his 7,000-square-meter olive grove in Majidiyeh in southern Lebanon is not as productive as the cost paid for its maintenance.

“We incur losses as we sell olive oil in Lebanese pounds, but we pay for our land’s maintenance in U.S. dollars which is more expensive,” he said.

The olive season in southern Lebanon is considered one of the most important agricultural seasons and it ranks first in terms of revenues.

Around 49,000 families live off more than one 1.5 million olive trees, including 700 perennial Roman trees.

However, Lebanon’s financial crisis, caused by an unprecedented shortage in U.S. dollar and the collapse of the local currency, left different sectors in the lurch.

Mansour Maddah, who owns a tractor and has been plowing lands for over 13 years, expressed his regrets for the deterioration of the local currency, which weighed heavily on owners of agricultural tractors and farmers.

Maddah noted that a big number of workers who plow agricultural lands prefer not to use their tractors this season due to the high prices of diesel, motor oils, and spare parts.

“We pay in U.S. dollars for spare parts of tractors, while we get paid in Lebanese pounds for our plowing work; the cost of maintaining tractors is way higher than the money earned from plowing,” he explained.

Maddah added that only 10 percent of tractors’ owners have resumed their plowing work this season, at a rate of 12 dollars per hour, a sum that many farmers are unable to pay.

Rachid Zouwayhed, head of the Agricultural Cooperative Society for Olive Tree Care in southern Lebanon, told Xinhua that most farmers have resorted this season to spraying their weeds with pesticides which are 50 percent less expensive than plowing.

“Spraying pesticides harms trees’ productivity and the groundwater, but it remains an available option for farmers to take care of their trees,” he said.