Lebanon’s agricultural exports to Syria in the first four months have surged for the first time in many years as the war-ravaged country is trying to cope with dwindling production of wheat, vegetables and fruits.
The latest figures show Lebanese exports to its neighbor up to April of 2012 jumped by 17 percent, while imports from Syria in the same period fell by 19.5 percent.
Experts say the size of cultivated lands in Syria is diminishing gradually because of the intense fighting and instability in some areas that are considered the main agricultural producing centers, such as Idlib.
The harsh Western economic sanctions on Damascus have also further exacerbated the situation as Syria finds it more difficult to import its goods from most countries.
Antoine Hwayek, the president of the Farmers Association, told The Daily Star that there was a growing demand for citrus in Syria this year but noticed that Lebanon’s exports of bananas fell to 35,000 tons from 90,000 tons last year.
“There was a significant demand for vegetables also, but I can’t say this trend will continue for the rest of year. As a matter of fact the Lebanese farmers still have abundant quantities of potatoes, tomatoes and other items and prices on the local market fell sharply due to this abundance,” Hwayek said.
Syria was one of the main importers of vegetables to Lebanon and many regional countries for many years, but this year Syrian farmers have incurred heavy losses as fighting spread to rural areas which are extremely fertile.
Hwayek said Lebanese farmers were still exporting their agricultural produce to other Arab states through Syria.
“Export by land through Syria did not stop despite the security risks. But producers raised the prices of their products after paying hefty fees to insurance companies. We have had no problems so far but I am not sure this will continue if the situation deteriorates rapidly,” he stressed.
Lebanese exports up to April of this year reached $74 million compared to $63.3 million during the same period of 2011.
Apart from agricultural produce, Syria imported heavy machinery, electricity generators, chocolate, sugar, tissues and towels.
Official statistics showed that 255 trucks loaded with goods entered Syria, nearly the same figure as during the corresponding period in 2011.
But the quantities loaded in these trucks seemed bigger, officials said.
Some merchants said demand for flour in Syria also rose in the first few months of this year because the local production was not able to meet the Syrian consumption.
The official figures may not tell the entire story as many merchants smuggle Lebanese-made goods to avoid Lebanese and Syrian customs at some crossing points.
However, merchants say Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad are also patrolling the entire border with Lebanon to ensure that neither arms nor illegal goods cross into Syria.
Hwayek says it would not be fair to assume Lebanon will benefit from the Syrian crisis since Lebanese farmers are still facing many difficulties. “As I said before, we still have large quantities of vegetables and fruits that did not find their way to other markets. Prices of some vegetables are below the cost of production because farmers can’t dump them in the fields.”from daily star.