You reap what they sow: Understanding the issues linked to the agricultural sector in Lebanon

You reap what they sow: Understanding the issues linked to the agricultural sector in Lebanon

December 05, 2017 by Cécile Jeanmougin
Heirich Boell Foundation - Middle East Office
pdf
Place of Publication: Beirut
Date of Publication: December 2017
Number of Pages: 23
License: CC-BY-NC-SA
Language of Publication: English

Agriculture suffers generally from a quite degraded and old fashioned image in most countries of the world while farmers are often perceived as backward people who missed the train of modernity in the collective imagination of urban populations. Nowadays, supermarkets spread out over the landscapes, which help disseminate a fake representation of the link between food and agriculture, making us forget about the process of food production, hiding this obvious link from the eyes of the consumers with the help of advertisement, packaging and other asepticized artefacts. Nonetheless, agriculture played and will always play a crucial role in every society as its main function is to fulfill a basic need; namely to feed the population. Lebanon, a small country from the Middle East, has a specific link to food and agriculture. Beyond the pride of Lebanese people for their cuisine and their worldwide renowned ‘hummus’, the country of the Cedars enjoys an especially favorable climate for agriculture. Indeed, located within a mostly arid region made up of deserts, Lebanon is an absolute agricultural Eldorado enjoying astonishing climatic conditions allowing for a diverse agricultural production as well as generous water availability (2.2 billion m3 /year1) and thus profiting from a high productivity potential. Located within the Mediterranean Fertile Crescent, the country can be divided into five main agricultural areas. Both Lebanese mountains; namely Mount-Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, at high altitude and enjoying a substantial amount of precipitation, are adequate for the production of apples and some other vegetables. The slopes are adapted to the cultivation of olive and almond trees, as well as grapes. The Bekaa Valley is located between the mountains and is a vast fertile plateau, ideal for the production of vegetables, fruits, grapes but also cereals. In the Northern part of the country, potatoes and cereals are being produced while in the South, a less irrigated zone, potatoes and tobacco are the main cultivated crops. Finally, despite the narrowness of the coastal strip, the latter is especially productive for the cultivation of citrus fruits and bananas (Figure 1). This privileged link to agriculture should enable the country to excel in this sector.

However, the state of agriculture in Lebanon is far from glamourous. Indeed, food security (i.e. ensuring food availability, access and utilization, and the stability of these three conditions over time) remains a challenge and the country is dependent on cereal imports as 83% of consumed cereals comes from abroad. Agriculture is dramatically neglected in the economy in favor of the tertiary sector, supporting mainly finance and real estate. In this neoliberal environment, conventional agriculture, characterized by monoculture, mechanization and the use of phytosanitary products is supported in order to increase yields and to compete on the world market. Within the Lebanese context, other issues are often claimed to be more important as the country is suffering from the lack of basic infrastructure such as electricity and water supply or waste.

management. However, agriculture can be considered as a major public concern as it has a strong impact on the environment, it involves social concerns and at the same time represents an important economic lever.

Indeed, aside from its ecological significance, the sector requires a substantial labor force, creating employment. Furthermore, it creates social links and enables the upholding of active lives outside of cities, giving rural populations the opportunity to acquire autonomy at a time when urbanization is advancing at a staggering rate in the absence of legal regulations. Given all the issues linked to agriculture, it is of interest to take a closer look at the agricultural sector in Lebanon. What is the state of agriculture in the country? How come? What about alternative agriculture? Can alternative food systems improve the situation?

After having examined the current state of agriculture in Lebanon, this article will investigate the implications of the Lebanese food production system and will try to identify the reasons underlying this situation. Finally, the article will shed light on the emergence of a form of ‘alternative agriculture’ and will try to understand whether or not it can be a sustainable solution to assure food security in the country in the face of rapidly advancing climate change.

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