Country Listing

Jordan Table of Contents




Grain silos, Al Aqabah

Agriculture contributed substantially to the economy at the time of Jordan's independence, but it subsequently suffered a decades-long steady decline. In the early 1950s, agriculture constituted almost 40 percent of GNP; on the eve of the June 1967 War, it was 17 percent. By the mid-1980s, agriculture's share of GNP was only about 6 percent. In contrast, in Syria and Egypt agriculture constituted more than 20 percent of GNP in the 1980s. Several factors contributed to this downward trend. With the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Jordan lost prime farmland. Starting in the mid-1970s, Jordanian labor emigration also hastened the decline of agriculture. Many Jordanian peasants abandoned farming to take more lucrative jobs abroad, sometimes as soldiers in the armies of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states or in service industries in those countries. Others migrated to cities where labor shortages had led to higher wages for manual workers. Deserted farms were built over as urban areas expanded. As the Jordanian government drove up interest rates to attract remittance income, farm credit tightened, which made it difficult for farmers to buy seed and fertilizer.

In striking contrast to Egypt and Iraq, where redistribution of land irrigated by the Nile and Euphrates rivers was a pivotal political, social, and economic issue, land tenure was never an important concern in Jordan. More than 150,000 foreign laborers-- mainly Egyptians--worked in Jordan in 1988, most on farms. Moreover, since the early 1960s, the government has continuously created irrigated farmland from what was previously arid desert, further reducing competition for arable land. Ownership of rain-fed land was not subject to special restrictions. Limited land reform occurred in the early 1960s when, as the government irrigated the Jordan River valley, it bought plots larger than twenty hectares, subdivided them, and resold them to former tenants in three-hectare to five-hectare plots. Because the land had not been very valuable before the government irrigated it, this process was accomplished with little controversy. In general, the government has aimed to keep land in larger plots to encourage efficiency and mechanized farming. The government made permanently indivisible the irrigated land that it granted or sold so as to nullify traditional Islamic inheritance laws that tended to fragment land.

Data as of December 1989