Lebanon News

Egyptian workers help make date harvest happen

Dates picking in Sidon, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

TYRE, Lebanon: In Tyre, dozens of farm workers from Egypt find jobs in Lebanon’s date harvest, which requires them to climb meters high and carry down heavy bundles of the fruit, a skill that remains almost exclusive to the group.

With no hydraulic jacks at their disposal, farmers in south Lebanon have to climb up palm trees to harvest the fruit. At a Zahrani field, hundreds of palm trees are grown close together, the crowns of some standing at over 6 meters high.

Because of the speed and agility required in climbing, palm tree farm workers are predominantly from Egypt, the world’s top date producer, where many of them are trained early on in life.

Lebanese farming expert Hikmat Jaradi is among a few investors in palm trees in south Lebanon. Despite being in his mid-70s, Jaradi still likes to ascend to the tree tops, to be rewarded with the sweet fruit.

Jaradi said he has been working in the field for over 50 years. “Egyptian farm workers are trained to climb up trees and cut off the dates,” a specialized skill he said was lacking in their Syrian counterparts.

“Since we were kids, we learned how to climb palm trees; it’s a pleasure,” said Mohammad al-Sayyed, a worker who came from Egypt’s Mansoura. Sayyed works with the Tyre Municipality to harvest dates from the trees.

Since 2000, the municipality has planted over a hundred palm trees in several locations, including along city’s entrance, the corniche and around the public beach. The trees require annual care and maintenance to produce a good quality harvest.

According to Sayyed, each tree has three bunches of dates, each weighing around 20 kilograms. The dates ripen from September to the end of October, while harvest goes on until the end of November.

A municipality source told The Daily Star that the harvested dates are distributed to residents. “We never sell them,” the source added.

Another Egyptian farm worker, Hasnin Mohammad, said he often moves quickly from one palm tree to the other, but not without regard to important safety measures. “It’s crucial for the safety rope to remain wrapped around your waist when you’re climbing,” Mohammad said, adding that he was trained in the skill in Egypt by his father.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 02, 2018, on page 3.

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