Lebanon's Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb announced Monday a decision that would block companies from importing certain produce without prior approval, in an apparent response to demands by local farmers struggling to sell their products.
According to the ministry’s decree, importers of frozen apples, pears and potatoes will now be required to obtain a license from the Agriculture Ministry, according to a ministry statement carried by the state-run National News Agency.
Earlier in the day, apple farmers in the coastal city of Jbeil held a brief demonstration to demand the government take action over what they said were barriers to selling their products. The NNA said the farmers briefly cut off the highway from Jbeil toward Beirut and dumped their apples on the street.
The protest took place near Jbeil’s Notre Dame Maritime Hospital and was attended by several local officials, including the Aqoura Mayor Mansour Wehbi. Aqoura is a major apple producer.
“The noose around the farmers’ necks is tightening by the day. Five million boxes will be wasted because they are not going to be sold,” state media quoted Wehbi as saying.
The farmers later opened the highway after receiving assurances that they would meet with Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Chehayeb, according to Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5).
Chehayeb had said in an interview with OTV earlier Monday that he was working with Salam to find a way to help farmers refrigerate their apples to improve the market price of the produce.
He added that he is trying to secure a deal with Russia to export Lebanese apples, blaming the farmers’ lack of access to external markets on the Syrian crisis, the closure of land borders as well as the fluctuation of the Egyptian currency.
Apple growers in the Batroun district town of Tannourine had also held a similar protest Sunday. The farmers complain that losses often exceed revenues, because of the recession in Lebanon and because they do not have access to external markets.
Lebanon’s agricultural sector has in part been impacted by the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria.
Last week, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil suggested international organizations assist Lebanon in finding a market for the country’s produce. “I had previously spoken with several countries and international organizations and did so again while at the United Nations. My conviction has grown that the outlet for apples is obliging refugee organizations to buy them,” Bassil said in a tweet on Sept. 22.
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