Lebanese wheat farmers struggle to sustain livelihoods amid spiralling inflation

Beirut: Crop harvesters are busy reaping the sprawling wheat fields in eastern and southern Lebanon, marking the start of this year’s harvest season amid a food crisis in Lebanon compounded by global supply shortages.

However, a bumper harvest cannot exempt Lebanese farmers from the concerns about heavy financial losses, as the domestic wheat purchase price is 980,000 Lebanese pounds (about 35 U.S. dollars) per ton, whereas the international prices can be up to 500 dollars, according to the monthly Food and Agriculture Organization Food Price Index.

Working in some 50 acres of field in Lebanon’s eastern plain of al-Marj, Jamil Chamoun said selling wheat in local currency is not profitable, considering the Lebanese pound has devalued by more than 90 percent.

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Jamal Zitouni, a 60-year-old farmer in Lebanon’s southern city of Nabatieh, said some farmers are selling more to wholesalers who can pay in greenbacks.

Charbel Eid, another farmer in the southern town of Marjeyoun, said since weak crop prices hurt farmers, without sufficient grain subsidies, farmers are more inclined to “cultivate other (types of) crops for better financial returns.”

With around 300,000 dunams (about 30,000 hectares) of land in Lebanon planted with wheat, domestic supply sometimes only covers about 10 percent of the country’s needs, according to Abdallah Zeaiter, head of the Syndicate of Wheat Growers in Eastern Lebanon.

Lebanon imported a big chunk of the rest from Ukraine and Russia and has suffered from a severe wheat crisis since the conflicts between the two neighboring countries, according to Lebanon’s Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam.

Moreover, major wheat silos guaranteeing six months of wheat supply were destroyed in Beirut port explosions in August 2020, leaving Lebanon with only one month of storage capability nationwide.

Director general of the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute Michel Afram told Xinhua that the government plans to support wheat production and the institute last year gave some 1,000 tons of soft and hard wheat seeds to farmers at low prices to secure the production of wheat.

The institute has also submitted a project to the agricultural ministry on soft and hard wheat cultivation in northern, eastern, and southern Lebanon to meet a quarter (250,000 tons) of Lebanon’s wheat needs by 2025.

The Lebanese agricultural ministry told Xinhua that there are 5,500 wheat farmers in Lebanon, with 1 million dunams of land that can be planted with wheat and barley in the coming years, adding it will work on supporting farmers and helping them secure seeds and pesticides and is looking into the possibility of keeping state wheat purchase prices close to those in the global market. 

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