HALBA, Lebanon: The striking level of poverty among farmers of the northern agricultural region of Akkar has prompted international action in the form of improved greenhouses installed across six villages affected by the July 2006 war and the clashes in Nahr al-Bared one year later.
The level of poverty in Akkar is painstakingly obvious, and residents of its villages mainly depend on farming and agriculture as a means of living.
Rima Obeid is a wife and mother of four living in Akkar’s capital of Halba, and has been farming since her husband retired from the Lebanese Army. Like many others in the region, she leads a simple life but does not complain, heartily welcoming visitors to her home.
“The bad economy forced me to go into farming,” Obeid said, adding that she wasn’t always a farmer, but her husband’s retirement pension was not enough to support the family.
A project largely funded by the Spanish government was carried out this year to alleviate this situation. It focused on installing more modern greenhouses to increase crop production, better protect plants, and secure a better quality of living for the most deprived residents.
The United Nations Development Program, in cooperation with the Lebanon Recovery Fund, and the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization took part in managing the program.
Installation was carried out between January and August this year, and 102 greenhouses were given to recipients from the villages of Wadi al-Jamous, Bibnine, Muhammara, Bhannine, Minyeh and Halba who had access to less than 20 wooden greenhouses, or less than five galvanized greenhouses.
Wednesday marked the closing ceremony of the project at the Halba municipality, attended by UNDP country director Luca Renda, Deputy Head of Mission at the Spanish Embassy in Lebanon Manuel Duran, mayors of the concerned towns, and dozens of farmers.
Renda promised to remain committed to the project “despite security threats and technical complications,” and said the agency would be providing the farmers with even further support.
Obeid owns three greenhouses and had the fourth handed over to her by the UNDP in light of her desperate need for it. Her children attend private schools and universities, and though she is not always able to pay the tuition on time, colleges have been patient with her as they are familiar with the region’s plight.
“[The new greenhouse] is much bigger, and I am waiting to see how the crops turn out,” she said.
Obeid plants tomatoes and cucumbers and sells them in Halba, working throughout the year except for two months in the summer.
Mohammad Rashid Hamad, known as “Abu Rashid,” is a 57-year-old man with kind eyes who supports his eight children and blind elderly father. His home lies down a long narrow road not far from Obeid’s, and he and his wife Fatima are eager to greet visitors.
“I had so much debt, we were broke,” Abu Rashid said, but following the installment of the new greenhouse, things have begun to look up.
For 27-year-old Adnan Mahmoud Ali from the town of Wadi al-Jamous, a livelihood based on farming has run in his family for generations. In April, Ali tried to plant cucumbers in the new greenhouse, and saw good results.
“I would say there has been an 80 percent improvement [in crop production],” he said.
“There’s a huge difference [between the old and new greenhouses] in terms of ventilation and size.”
But this was just a trial run. For many farmers, the greenhouse has not been with them long enough to make use of, and actual results have yet to manifest.
Omar Taha has been farming for 20 years, and has been relying on basic wooden greenhouses for a long time, which force farmers to crawl inside due to their small size.
According to Taha, the Nahr al-Bared clashes in 2007 had been another major hindrance.
Four hundred people were killed, including 160 military personnel, in the clashes between the Lebanese Army and militants from the extremist group Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Tripoli in 2007.
The Taha family suffered for three months. “We could no longer access our lands because of all the bullets and shells,” he said. “An entire season went to waste, and nobody made up for it ... There is no protection for farmers in Lebanon.”