Small-scale farming is still dominant in Lebanon. More local and overseas investment in the professionalization of horticulture is needed and factors such as the favorable climate and fertile soil are attracting these investors. But the current model also offers opportunities, says Moussa M. Zgheib.
Apple orchard in the mountains
"We source our fruit, mainly grapes, but apples, plums, and avocados, too, from small family businesses. We build long-standing relationships with these people and support them, financially and with expertise," begins the manager of Bamo Zgheib, an export company founded in 2004.
Low apple prices
Moussa has Gala apples available in August and September, Granny Smith and Scarlet Spur from September to January, and then Red and Golden Delicious until April. "Scarlet Spur has full coloring. It's one of our best varieties and highly sought after in Egypt. What you don't find in that export market, despite good demand, are club varieties. Small-scale growers hardly venture into apples like Pink Lady and Royal Gala.”
Apples are packed in the orchard
“That’s undoubtedly partly because apple prices have been low for the past decade. There's little confidence in this crop, so there's hardly any variety innovation. We must, thus, wait for external capital and professionalization. The climate isn't to blame; in certain parts of Lebanon, it's truly excellent for apple cultivation," says Moussa.
Although Lebanese apples are not currently the most profitable crop, and as a trader, Moussa could source products from other countries, he faithfully keeps marketing local apples, particularly in Egypt and the Middle East. "I could source anywhere, but my roots are here; I know the people and want to help them, even if it doesn't make me rich."
Moussa mainly has Red Globe, Crimson and Black Pearl in its range
Sharing knowledge via own grape cultivation
In contrast, grapes offer more perspective, which has not escaped Moussa's notice either. "My focus is increasingly turning to grapes. They're grown in the Bekaa Valley and are nice, crisp, and sweet. They're of outstanding quality, better than those from Egypt or Iran. They can keep for up to six months in cold storage and are suitable for transport to distant destinations like Malaysia, Kenya, or Ghana. Those markets are gaining importance in my export business. Previously, most grapes went to Egypt, their season stops when we start," he says.
Moussa's assortment comprises mainly Red Globe, Crimson, and Black Pearl. "I buy from local growers but have started my own cultivation. I want to get particularly Crimson's quality right and then pass that knowledge on to my suppliers. You see many young vineyards in the Bekaa Valley and one to two million vines are added every year. But the cultivation companies aren't always professionally run,” he explains. “Planting a vine and relying on the favorable climate isn't enough. You must research your soil, see which variety suits it best, and have the right cultivation practices throughout the year. That's where I'd like to help growers.”
Moussa strives for quality not only in cultivation but in packaging, too. "Take good care of and control all production stages, and you'll have less risk of claims. I haven't had any so far. But I don't have large volumes. I don't have the facilities for that yet." Still, he dreams of buying a piece of land in the Bekaa Valley and building a warehouse with modern cold storage and an advanced sorting and packing line. "It would give me more stability and be a calling card, an identity of sorts," concludes the exporter.