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Lebanon Table of Contents


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 (see fig. 3). 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 Lú500, compared with Lú1,100 for a counterpart working in industry or Lú8,060 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.

Data as of December 1987

Country Listing

Lebanon Table of Contents