Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said that Lebanon’s agriculture sector should be organized to compete in outside markets amid complaints by farmers that they have fallen victim to smuggling and high export tariffs.
Hariri spoke during a workshop titled “Transforming Lebanon’s Agriculture: Challenges and Opportunities” that was held at the Grand Serail in Beirut on Friday.
“The sectors linked to agricultural policies should be developed,” said Hariri. “We need a unified agenda for a roadmap on developing the sector.”
“Agriculture accounts for only four percent of GDP,” he told the conference, saying the sector’s success brings back farmers to their villages.
Agriculture comes in third place after the services and industry sectors in Lebanon. But its budget forms only eight percent of the state budget.
Around 200,000 families work in agriculture, which means 20 to 30 percent of the labor force.
However, the chief of the Bekaa Farmers Association, Ibrahim Tarshishi, told Asharq Al-Awsat that smuggling has severely affected the sector.
“Whenever a farmer has a good crop season, he sees his same produce at lesser cost,” said Tarshishi. The sector faces other severe constraints such as increasing water scarcity and loss of arable land.
In addition, there isn’t enough subsidies. The Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL) gives farmers 100 Lebanese pounds for every kilogram of exported apples, and 65 pounds for every kilogram of potato.
“The subsidies were at first acceptable, but they no longer meet the current challenges,” said Tarshishi.
Subsidies to farmers are meaningless when there are high export costs, he told the newspaper. There are tariffs of around 4,000 dollars for each truck that passes through al-Boukamal crossing on the Syrian-Iraqi border.
As for the Nasib border crossing between Jordan and Syria, there is a cost of 1,000 dollars for each lorry, he added.