A total of LL40 billion in subsidies is needed to shore up Lebanon’s ailing apple production, the Farmers Association said Monday as north Lebanon growers voiced fears that the current season could crumble despite high produce. “We condemn the ways [the Lebanese government] has been dealing with the apple marketing crisis. Even the solutions being put forward would benefit traders and not farmers,” head of the association Antoine Howayek said in a statement.
Howayek warned wholesale prices of apples have plummeted below production costs. He said prices of packaged apples have dropped to between LL500 and LL650 per kilogram.
“These prices are nowhere near the production costs and amount to an economic and social disaster for farmers in mountainous areas across Lebanon, where apple plantations are a main source of income,” he said.
Farmers across the north, which includes Lebanon’s major apple producing areas, voiced deep fears about this season despite what they said was an exceptional year both in terms of quantity and quality of apples.
According to local agricultural associations, north Lebanon’s apple produce this year is estimated at around 12 million boxes, a volume unmatched since 1966. But faced with soaring costs there is little to be cheerful about, farmers complain.
“Production costs have increased by LL4,000 a box on average after the prices of pesticides, fertilizers and fuel oil soared. Labor costs increased from LL20,000 last year to LL30,000,” Anwar Fakhry, head of a farmers association in Bsharri, told The Daily Star.
Fakhry said traders have been hesitant to purchase produce after traditional markets were hit by political turmoil across the region. He urged the government to secure new markets before the situation worsens.
Howayek also blasted the Agriculture Ministry for failing to create an agriculture development bank.
“Such a bank would help provide loans to apple farmers allowing them to preserve produce in refrigerators and save them from having to sell it at despicable prices,” he said.
Local officials echoed Howayek’s concerns about the lack of apple refrigerators. For instance local refrigerated storehouses in Bsharri can only accommodate 700,000 boxes of apples – far below this year’s produce of over 1.7 million, said refrigerator storehouse owner Hikmat Tawq.
In north Lebanon’s Zgharta and Ehden the situation is not any better, farmers said, voicing fears their profits would plummet despite a 30-percent increase in produce.
“Up until now we did not receive bids from traders. It is true that there is still time, but we are deeply worried, particularly after [major losses] during this year’s pears season,” said Hana Aboud, a local farmer.
Howayek also slammed the Agriculture Ministry’s lack of transparency and unevenness.
“The ministry completely ignored the vole epidemic which had led to a disaster for apple farmers last winter,” he added.
He said the ministry is launching programs that target agricultural sectors in areas affiliated politically to Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan and that ignore farmers in other areas.
Many farmers contacted by The Daily Star said they believe diversification from apples is important to their livelihoods. “We cannot remain dependent on apples, pears and cherries for our living and suffer when the season goes bad. We only need help introducing seedlings for new kinds of trees and we will do the rest ourselves,” a local Bsharri farmer said.