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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 (see table 6, Appendix A).

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 (see The May 17 Agreement , ch. 5). 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--see Glossary) 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."

Data as of December 1987

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Lebanon Table of Contents