Lebanon’s grape-picking tradition powers on

MAGHDOUSHEH, Lebanon: In the hillside village of Maghdousheh, southeast of Sidon, farmers are busy picking grapes. The village is known for its grape season, and the picking tradition goes back generations.

“Fathers and grandfathers have been working in this business for decades, and now their children are continuing this tradition,” farmer Elias Constantin says.

“Maghdousheh is the No. 1 village in the south growing grapes of good quality, and we, the residents, cultivate these grapevines despite the urban development in the village, which is replacing its golden grapes,” he adds.

“Grape fields planted in Maghdousheh were originally bought from the city of Haifa in Palestine, and are therefore referred to as Haifian grapes,” farmer Adel Qozhaya says. “At the time they were brought here, Palestine was considered to be the basket of Arab foods, due to the abundance of fruits in its land.”

Farmers in the village begin picking grapes on July 25, and the produce is consumed in Lebanon and abroad. Some of the grapes will find their way to Arab states such as Kuwait and Iraq.

Yellow grapes glow in the August sun as farmers toil, motivated by their love of the land.

But growing grapes requires year-round care in order to ensure the production of good quality fruit.

The work starts in January when farmers begin pruning the trees. Once spring arrives laborers cut back the leaves on the vines so the sun can reach the crops. The crops are also sprayed with pesticides, although farmers in Maghdousheh insist they do not use the most harmful chemicals.

In the past, there were many more grapevines in the village, and additional workers to pick the fruit. But many laborers found they could not make a decent living in an industry left to fend for itself without state subsidies and moved to cities in search of greater job opportunities.

This has prompted many residents of Maghdousheh to sell their grape fields, which are in demand thanks to the country’s real estate boom.

The lump sum the villagers can get by selling their land is far more than the revenue they get from the grape picking business.

Despite the shrinking grape fields, there is still a considerable amount of land where the fruit is planted, and now this agricultural activity is spreading to surrounding villages.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 08, 2012, on page 2.




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