Lebanon Agriculture

Lebanon Country Studies index

Lebanon - Agriculture

Crop Production

The impact of war and sectarian politics on Lebanese agriculture was unclear. It is obvious, however, that the Civil War did take its toll on the production of most crops.

Although there was a recovery from 1979 to 1981, it was not sustained, as the 1982 Israeli invasion disrupted production in the southern half of the country, especially along Israel's so-called "security zone." Even in the relative calm between 1978 and 1981, about 1,100 hectares of tobacco were destroyed, 300 hectares of agricultural land were abandoned because of land mines, and 51,000 olive trees and 70,000 fruit trees were destroyed, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Regional politics also played a major role in the fortunes of Lebanon's crop production. For example, in 1984 fruit exports reached their lowest level since 1962, in part because Syria had restricted imports of Lebanese produce. Syria imposed these restrictions not only to prevent the sale in Syria of Israeli produce available in Al Janub Province but also to pressure the Lebanese government to abrogate its May 1983 peace agreement with Israel. Indeed, Israel's flooding of the market in Al Janub Province with various agricultural products, especially bananas, caused some to claim that Israel was "dumping" surplus produce on a market that could not afford produce imported from any other country.

The collapse of the Lebanese pound in 1984-85 also had a major impact on crop production. On the one hand, the collapse improved Lebanon's ability to compete in foreign markets; indeed, exports of agricultural products notably fruits and vegetables, increased in 1985. On the other hand, local consumption slumped as fruit and vegetable prices rose an average 85 percent during the year. The fall of the pound also sparked price increases for seeds, fertilizers, feeds, and insecticides.

Tobacco played a major role in the economy of southern Lebanon before the Civil War. The Administration for Tobacco and Tombacs (Régie des Tabacs et Tombacs), a state monopoly, dominated tobacco marketing. Claiming that the marketing arrangements benefited only the largest tobacco growers, in 1973 about 10,000 small planters demonstrated in Sidon against the low prices being paid for their crops. Economic conditions thus helped alienate from the state the predominantly Shia south, a factor that contributed to the troubles of the later 1970s and 1980s. Henceforth, restructuring of the monopoly became a persistent demand of the southern Lebanese, Shia and Christian alike.

The Israeli invasion of 1978 badly affected tobacco production for several years, as dividing lines between militia groups hampered gathering and marketing of the crop. Planters found it difficult to get their crops to the reception sheds set up by the Administration of Tobacco and Tombacs in Bint Jubayl because the sheds were in the center of the border strip from which Israeli forces had declined to withdraw following their pullout from southern Lebanon on June 13, 1978. According to some sources, SLA leader Saad Haddad, to whom Israel had formally handed over control of the border strip in 1979, sometimes seemed deliberately to hinder farmers from getting crops to market in areas controlled by the UNIFIL or Muslims.

The purchase prices of the Administration for Tobacco and Tombacs failed to keep pace with inflation. In 1985, for example, the government raised prices by only 10 percent, although production costs rose by at least 40 percent and the increase in the cost of living was even higher.

In addition to tobacco, citrus crops suffered from years of fighting. Citrus fruits are grown on the coast, particularly in the southern half of the country. Between 1965 and 1972, yields rose steadily from 19 to 27.4 tons per hectare. Citrus played a vital role in agriculture, accounting for as much as half of total agricultural output. But the Civil War destroyed some 4,000 hectares of orchards around Ad Damur, and urban sprawl led to the loss of orchards around Tyre and Sidon. Nonetheless, production increased to a record 365,000 tons in 1981. A three-year decline in production followed in the wake of the 1982 Israeli invasion and the loss of more citrus-growing land.

The Biqa Valley, with 40 percent of the country's cultivable land, is the most productive agricultural region. It, too, has suffered from war and foreign occupation. By 1987 Syrian troops had been in the Biqa Valley for more than eleven years. During that time, they clashed with Palestinians, Christians, Israelis, and Shias. The 1982 Israeli invasion and the arrival of the Iranian (Pasdaran) Revolutionary Guards also brought economic hardship to the valley.

Declining wheat production was one indication of the collapse of traditionally productive agriculture in the Biqa Valley. In ancient times, the valley had been part of Rome's Syrian granary, providing wheat for the empire's eastern provinces and for Rome itself. But as time went by, with arable land limited, pressure grew for intensive, high-value cropping. In modern times the amount of land devoted to wheat decreased--from 68,000 hectares in 1968 to around 50,000 hectares between 1972 and 1975. Still, some twothirds of the field crop acreage in the Biqa Valley was devoted to grains, primarily wheat and barley.

The 1975 Civil War prompted drastic changes in wheat production. From 1977 to 1979, the Lebanese devoted 45,000 hectares to wheat. In 1982 the amount fell to 23,000 hectares, in 1983 to 20,000 hectares, in 1984 to 17,000 hectaresin 1985 to 14,000 hectares, and in 1986 to 13,000 hectares. Production plummeted from a record 76,000 tons in 1974 to 9,000 tons in 1987. A major reason for declining wheat production was an increase in the production of profitable crops: hashish and opium poppies.

Hashish had long been grown in the region around Al Hirmil in the northern Biqa Valley. Before the Civil War, the government had encouraged local farmers to grow sunflowers instead, but these efforts were blunted by the onset of civil strife and by wealthy zuama (sing., zaim) and politicians who controlled the illegal export market. Hashish became a major cash crop in the 1970s and 1980s. Annual production rose from about 30,000 tons at the start of the Civil War to around 100,000 tons in the early 1980s, when hashish was grown on an estimated 80 percent of agricultural land around Baalbek and Al Hirmil.

By the mid-1980s Lebanon had became one of the world's most prominent narcotics trafficking centers. Before 1975 much of this trade was exported by air from small airstrips in the Biqa Valley. After the valley came under Syrian control, the drug crop left the country by sea through Christian-controlled ports to Cyprus or it went overland to Syria; sometimes it went through Israel to Egypt, reputed to be the world's largest hashish consumer.

The production and sale of hashish undoubtedly brought some prosperity to the Biqa Valley, but financial benefits and overall gains to the economy were not easily quantifiable. Before the 1982 Israeli invasion, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was believed to have been earning about US$300 million annually from hashish trafficking. Christian middlemen were profiting, as were Shia growers and Syrian smugglers. And one reporter argued that the crop was worth "billions of dollars to the worldwide Lebanese underworld network."

Growers not only planted more drug-producing crops but also sought to increase the value of their crop. By March 1987, according to a report prepared by the United States House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, the high profitability of opium had caused extensive replanting in the Biqa Valley. The report stated that "with the breakdown of law and order in Lebanon, production, processing, and trafficking are on the rise, and a great deal of hashish production in the [Biqa] Valley has been supplanted by opium, in recognition of the more lucrative heroin trade. It is estimated that up to half the land available for drug cultivation in the [Biqa] Valley is now being used for opium, where previously only marijuana was grown for hashish, largely destined for the Egyptian market. Numerous processing labs are known to exist, both in Lebanon and to a lesser extent in Syria." The report did not estimate the magneude of production but said, "It is clear that opium production in the [Biqa] Valley has increased dramatically while hashish production has dropped sharply."


The variety of Lebanon's agricultural lands, from the interior plateau of the Biqa Valley to the narrow valleys sweeping down to the sea, enables farmers to grow both European and tropical crops. Tobacco and figs are grown in the south, citrus fruits and bananas along the coast, olives around the Shuf Mountains and in the north, and fruits and vegetables in the Biqa Valley. More exotic crops include avocados, grown near Jubayl, and hashish, a major crop in the Biqa Valley. Local wines, even those produced in times of war, have won international prizes. Since 1975, however, Lebanon's fertile land has not been fully exploited because of almost constant warfare. In addition, the livestock production, which had made up a significant part of total agricultural production before the war, fell off drastically, especially after the 1982 Israeli invasion.

Land and Irrigation

Almost one-fourth of Lebanon's of land is cultivable--the highest proportion in the Arab world. Most of these 240,000 hectares are rain fed, but in 1982 some 85,000 hectares were reported to be under irrigation, 20 percent more than in 1970. Another source estimated that in the mid-1980s 400,000 hectares (including marginal land) were cultivable, with about one-fourth of this irrigated. In 1981 the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that around 108,000 hectares were permanently cultivated and that 19,300 hectares had been reclaimed for cultivation since the inception of the 1963 Green Plan, a project designed to reclaim 15,000 hectares over 10 years. The FAO estimated that no less than 280,000 hectares of land in various parts of the country were reclaimable for agricultural production.

In the early 1980s, the government prepared plans to irrigate an additional 60,000 hectares, and by 1984 studies were under way on 6 major irrigation projects, all designed to be carried out as part of the 1982-91 reconstruction plan. The biggest project, to be implemented by the Litani Water Authority, was for irrigation of some 15,000 hectares of high land (between 500 and 800 meters above sea level) in southern Lebanon over an 8 year period, scheduled to start in 1990. Observers reported in 1986 that the government planned to increase the amount of irrigated land, through various dam and irrigation schemes, from 65,000 hectares to 125,000 hectares.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Lebanese officials reported that small tributaries of the Hasbani River were being diverted into Israel near the northern town of Metulla. Independent water analysts stated that after the 1982 invasion, Israel engaged in a much more serious diversion of Lebanese waters by attaching stopcocks at a pumping station on the Litani River. The stopcocks were designed to switch at least part of the flow-- which is generated entirely within Lebanon--to Israel via a specially constructed pipeline.

Lebanon's land tenure system is characterized by many small holdings, but the number has declined over the years. In 1961 about 127,000 farms were reported operating. The partial census of 1970, however, recorded some 75,000 farm holdings, of which 46 percent were smaller than 2 hectares while only 12 per cent had 10 hectares or more. In 1981-82 there were some 64,000 active farms, with only 50 in the 100-to 1,000-hectare range.

Landholding patterns were also affected by massive population movements in the 1970s and 1980s. Lebanon's internal refugees strove assiduously to maintain title to their lands, many of which came to be controlled by rival sectarian or political groups. A case in point was in southern Lebanon. After the 1978 Israeli invasion, many Muslim landholders fled to other parts of Lebanon, hoping to reclaim their land following Israel's withdrawal. But instead of handing the land over to the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), as was expected, Israel turned it over to the Christian South Lebanon Army (SLA). The effect was to dispossess many of the former landholders.

Two important socioeconomic trends made it difficult to evaluate the farming structure in the 1980s. The first trend was consolidation of holdings, as Beirut-based professionals began buying up small farms before the 1975 fighting. The war may have slowed this development, however, because it complicated longdistance supervision of land. At the same time, the trend toward large families, especially in the south, made the old system of dividing holdings among male offspring less feasible, although in many cases this factor was offset by the migration of males to the city or emigration abroad. Even elderly farmers acknowledged that the old land inheritance system had to be changed. But the pace of such change could not be monitored easily in the troubled conditions of the 1980s.

The number of farms dropped during the war, resulting in more tracts of untilled land rather than in more ownership transfers. Small freeholders who choose to continue farming often lived in poverty. Even before the 1975 Civil War, the average annual income for the head of an agricultural household was estimated at L£500, compared with L£1,100 for a counterpart working in industry or L£8,060 in the services sector. One report noted that 56 percent of those engaged in agriculture in southern Lebanon, most of whom were landowners, also had second jobs in the late 1960s.

You can read more regarding this subject on the following websites:

Agriculture in Lebanon - Wikipedia
Agriculture and Food Security | Lebanon | U.S. Agency for
Ministry of Agriculture - Lebanon
FAO in Lebanon | Food and Agriculture Organization of the
Lebanon Democrat: Agriculture

Lebanon Country Studies index
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