Workers cultivate fields of hashish in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
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Habshi is a member of the Coteaux d'Heliopolis Cooperative and, like many of the 207 farmers in the Bekaa Valley collective, before becoming a viticulturist he used to grow hashish, or marijuana.The collective started in the 1999 when Chawki al-Fakhri – the cooperative's president – and three other farmers came together to try and help the residents of Deir al-Ahmar leave the illicit trade.The visit of a French PHD student, who was there to assess the suitability of the Bekaa's climate for grape production, persuaded the farmers to try their luck in the wine business. The Lebanese wine industry has boomed since the '90s, going from only five wineries to 40 in 2016 and producing more than 7 million bottles per year.However, growing grapes for wine takes time to become profitable and initiatives like Coteaux d'Heliopolis are indispensable for farmers who do not have the possibility to wait three to four years for their new business so eventually become self-sustainable. One of the founding fathers of the cooperative – who wished to remain anonymous – was himself on the verge of leaving the Bekaa after he was sentenced to six months in jail for growing hashish.
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