Lebanese farmers in crisis after month of war

Published: 31 August 2006

Donors meeting in Stockholm should respond to humanitarian need but not at the expense of other crises

Recent bombing in Lebanon has resulted in up to 85 per cent of the country's 195,000 farmers losing all or some of their harvest at a cost of between US$135m and US$185m, according to initial estimates from the Lebanon government and the Lebanese Farmers Association, international aid agency Oxfam revealed today.

July and early August are harvest time in Lebanon but the bombing made it too dangerous for many farmers to tend their fields. Crops including potatoes, tobacco, melons and citrus fruits had to be left to wither or rot. Government initial estimates put livestock loss at one million poultry, 25,000 goats and sheep, and 4,000 cattle.

The announcement comes at the start of the international donor conference in Stockholm today (31 August 2006) to discuss aid for Lebanon's rehabilitation.

"The destruction of Lebanon's roads, bridges and buildings is evident but beyond the piles of bricks and mortar lies the less visible tragedy of acres of ruined farmland and rotting crops. Donors meeting in Stockholm must respond with new money to help this battered nation get back on its feet. However, international support must not be at the expense of other largely forgotten emergencies, especially in Africa," said Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International's Executive Director.

Poor people are particularly hit by these farm losses. The three main farming areas of southern Lebanon, the eastern Bekaa Valley, and the northern El Hermel have high levels of poverty. Of the 195,000 farmers, 75 per cent are small-scale farmers owning one hectare or less. Thirty five per cent of people in Lebanon are either directly or indirectly dependent on farming.

Falling debris and scrub fires caused by the bombs ruined tobacco, olive and banana plantations. In southern Lebanon tobacco farming supports 14,000 families (approximately 100,000 people) according to the state tobacco authority. The area was extensively bombed and in some villages, 85 per cent of homes were reduced to rubble. In many areas farmers still cannot go back to their fields due to unexploded bombs.

In the Bekaa region, farmers were left short of laborers as the mostly Syrian farm hands fled Lebanon when hostilities began. Damage to water pipes and pumps and electricity failure also caused major water shortages for irrigation. Thirty-three farm workers in the northern Bekaa valley were killed in an Israeli air strike as they were loading a truck with fruit in fields near the Lebanese town of El Qaa.

Ali Abd El Sater a farmer from Laat, in the Bekaa region, puts the losses of his smallholding of potatoes, melons and cucumbers at US$35,000. Ali said: "There are shortages of fuel, insecticides and fertilizers, all the things I need to rebuild my farm. Even if there weren't these shortages I don't have the money now to buy anything. I fear for my children's future because I won't have the money to pay for their education."

Contact Information

For more information contact:
Ian Bray in Oxford +44 1865 472498
Harriet Binet in Lebanon +44 (0)7786 110054