BEIRUT: Farmers are facing losses after hailstorms earlier this year wreaked havoc on summer fruit seasons, but the reopening of land export routes to Syria are keeping the sector afloat, the head of the Farmers Association said. “Lebanon’s pear, peach and apricot produce have been heavily damaged by several hailstorms a few months ago, and we are facing a very poor season,” Antoine Howayek said.
Farmers in mountainous areas across the country depend on the season for their living as fruits usually command higher prices and are in demand across traditional markets in the Gulf Cooperation Council, Howayek added.
“The catastrophe is that produce will be very low and whatever quantities left are disfigured and therefore unsuitable for exports and will be sold at lower prices in the local market,” he said.
Nevertheless, Howayek said the sector saw some improvement with demand for produce picking up during Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr when margins improved for vegetable and fruit farmers compared to earlier this year.
But prices for many products remain much lower than in the past few years. Peaches, according to Howayek, were selling at up to 40 percent lower earlier in the summer.
The higher demand coincided with measures taken by the Syrian government banning the export of Syrian agricultural products to Lebanon and other countries in a bid to keep prices stable as the Syrian pound depreciated, Howayek said.
“Of course, we still face some smuggling. ... But it is much better than a few months ago when the biggest problem facing the sector was dumping of Syrian produce at prices even lower than production costs,” he said.
The ban of Syrian exports to Lebanon was also coupled with the resumption of Lebanese agricultural exports to Syria that helped farmers, however, they nevertheless had to deal with much higher costs.
Insurance premiums for exports through Syria were up 500 percent compared to the pre-conflict period, the Association of Insurance Companies in Lebanon said last week.
Exports via recently enacted ferry routes are not proving a successful alternative, Howayek added.
“Twenty or 30 containers, for instance, are being delivered to the destination on one ship and it becomes hard to sell all this quantity at once,” he said.
Lebanon has been looking into ways to bypass Syria and launched truck ferry routes to Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia after the Syrian route came to a complete halt due to deteriorating security conditions earlier this year.
The last figures show agricultural exports increased 4.5 percent in the first quarter of 2012 to around $58 million.