BEIRUT: Lebanese farmers are exporting their products to countries that previously were markets for war-wrecked Syria, but that windfall will fade once the security situation in the country improves, warned Ramiz Osseiran, head of the Farmers’ Association in the south.
“We cannot rely on this factor forever,” Osseiran told The Daily Star Friday.
The official said Lebanon must be able to compete with neighboring Arab countries under normal security circumstances and without having to take advantage of crises that take place in nearby states.
Lebanese agricultural exports from the Bekaa Valley in 2013 increased by 54 percent compared to 2012, according to a report issued by the Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture in the Bekaa Valley.
The two products that have seen an improvement in terms of exports are potatoes and grapes.
“But once the Syrian crisis calms down, the export of these two products will go back to its previous trend,” Osseiran said.
He argues that the Agriculture and Economy ministries should strive to encourage farmers by assisting them in finding new markets for their products.
“These two ministries should support the sector in Lebanon by signing new trade agreements, which would contribute to increasing farmers’ exports and finding new markets for their products,” he said.
Another way of supporting the sector is to decrease the cost of shipping agricultural products by air, thus enabling merchants to reach distant markets, Osseiran added.
“Currently, low- and medium-priced products cannot be shipped in a profitable way by air,” he said.
“It is the responsibility of the government to secure well-equipped chartered planes that would provide profitable and secure transportation for agricultural produce,” Osseiran added.
Another way to help farmers, according to the industry representative, would be to draft a five-year strategy that would specify the quantity of agricultural products that need to be produced for local and foreign markets.
“Farmers would then be able to produce based on accurate data,” Osseiran said, adding that farmers today harvest their crops in a chaotic manner due to the absence of accurate statistics.
Furthermore, while some agricultural products have benefitted from the Syrian crisis, others such as bananas and citrus suffered a drop in exports of over 50 percent.
“More than 50 percent of our banana production used to be exported to Syria and Iraq, but the low Syrian consumption in this difficult time and the inability to reach the Iraqi market in the midst of the deteriorating security situation led to a decrease in the export of this fruit,” Osseiran said.
The most recent biannual report issued by the Farmers Association said agricultural exports in the past three years had declined by 14.3 percent, registering 192,000 tons in the first half of 2013 compared to 224,000 tons in the first half of 2010.
While the export of citrus products and bananas declined by 37.5 percent and 33.5 respectively, the report highlighted that potato exports increased by some 27.7 percent in the first half of 2013 compared to the same period in 2010, while apple exports increased by some 31 percent.