BEIRUT

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Climbing broad beans flourish in south Lebanon

SHAWALIQ, Lebanon: With September and October comes the arrival of Lebanon’s bean harvest, covering the hills in the district of Jezzine with green-covered lattices. Beans are climbing plants, growing vertically and horizontally in the hills surrounding Jezzine and across Lebanon’s southern coastline.

The crop’s cycle begins with its planting in April, ending with a harvest that starts in September and sometimes continues through to January.

Beans require a lot of water and thrive in cold mountainous weather.

Unfortunately, the hot summer Lebanon experienced this year has proved devastating for farmers, ruining most of the crops along the southern coast: Only a few of their bean crops have survived for the harvest.

Fortunately for the hilltop village of Shawaliq in the district of Jezzine, the weather has been more cooperative, with farmers preparing to welcome their bounty.

Someone approaching Shawaliq will see what appear to be vast grassy hills, but which are in fact thousands of bean plants growing on wooden lattices.

Ali Mohammad is a farmer in Shawaliq who has covered more than four dunums of his land with broad bean plants.

“I chose the profession of agriculture and left my job in iron manufacturing by coincidence. But now I like planting climbing plants like beans, grapes and fiber,” Mohammad says.

He adds that broad beans are a generous crop. When you plant one seed, you get hundreds of pods.

“Beans provide so much and should be well taken care of. All the family must work together.”

Mohammad describes the process of growing the crop, beginning with sowing dried bean seeds at the beginning of April.

There must be 3 meters of space between each seed, and each one capable of producing a plant that yields up to 3 kilograms of beans by the time harvest begins.

The lands of Mohammad, a successful cultivator, produce 4 tons of broad beans every year.

“We plant the seeds one by one. Every seed, which weighs only a few grams, gives us 3 kilograms of beans if we take good care of the crops. Sixty days after planting, the crop appears and starts to climb vertically and horizontally,” Mohammad says.

His success has largely depended on the water provided by the Litani irrigation project, launched in the beginning of 2012 to benefit farmers in south Lebanon.

“It’s well known that beans need a lot of water and God has given us the Litani project so that we can irrigate our crops,” Mohammad says.

During harvest season, members of Mohammad’s family gather under the lattices every day and race to pick the green pods. Their weekly production is over 300 kilograms of broad beans.

Mohammad boasts that his production for this year will exceed the expected four tons. After the harvest, which comes once a year, he will start preparing for the next season.

Cultivating the beans has become a way of life for Mohammad’s family. His daughter Salam, who helps with the harvest, is fond of beans and says that planting them has become a family tradition.

“Once you see the green pods giving you all of these crops you forget the hard work [of planting and harvesting],” she says.

The family sells their crop at the wholesale vegetable market for LL6,000 per kilogram. In the retail market, each kilogram of broad beans usually costs LL7,000.

“From our profits we cover the expenses and we live from the rest. I can even say that we’re saving money,” Salam adds.

Broad beans can be stored in the refrigerator and used throughout the year for popular dishes – including the breakfast dish foul medames – and in main courses with rice and meat.

It is traditional for the residents of the mountains to rely on their stores of beans to consume through the winter.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 12, 2012, on page 2.

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