Lebanese fear fruit and vegetables going to waste with Saudi market shut

Fruit is ripening and vegetables are shooting up in Lebanon's lush Bekaa Valley, but the head of the region's farmers' syndicate, Ibrahim Tarshishy, is still a worried man.

Saudi Arabia's ban on imports of Lebanese agricultural produce, imposed in April over drug smuggling, has shut a major market for Lebanese farmers who grow everything from lettuce and onions to cherries and peaches. There is no sign yet of an end.

"The Saudi decision was a shock to farmers and exporters," said Tarshishy, who heads the Bekaa Farmers Association. "To be honest, I don't expect the days ahead to be good. I see before us more depression, sadness and poverty." 

The harvest is already underway for fruit, an export money spinner that is vital with Lebanon's economy in crisis. A collapse in the Lebanese pound means farmers have greater need than ever for export dollars to buy fertiliser and other inputs.

Yet the trucks that would normally transport produce south to the Arab world's biggest economy are standing idle. Saudi Arabia said fruit shipments coming from Lebanon had been used to hide drugs, citing the example of a batch of pomegranates that had been hollowed out and filled with Captagon pills, a type of amphetamine.

Tarshishy said Lebanon's total fruit and vegetable exports were usually about 400,000 tonnes a year, with about a quarter heading to Saudi Arabia or going via the kingdom to Gulf states. That Saudi market for exports and transit, worth $24 million a year, has been shut down for now, leaving farmers and exporters racing to find alternative buyers abroad.

Source: Reuters

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