Already contending with an economic crisis immobilizing the country, Lebanese farmers are terrified that a recent produce ban by Saudi Arabia will be a decisive blow to their livelihoods.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia proclaimed an unspecified ban on Lebanese agricultural products after hindering an endeavor to smuggle 5.3 million pills of illegal amphetamine Captagon concealed in a shipment of pomegranates at Jeddah Port.
Captagon is manufactured in Lebanon, Jordan and in Syria and Iraq, primarily for consumption in Saudi Arabia, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. “This is an unjust decision,” Hassan Abbas of the Agricultural Workers Union told a news agency. “We were astonished that a country like Saudi Arabia that has provided so much aid to Lebanon to make such a hasty decision.”
Saudi Ambassador Waleed Bukhari tweeted that the Kingdom had found more than 57 million illegal pills from cash-strapped Lebanon since the beginning of 2020. Lebanon fears other countries will follow Riyadh’s decision, which has been endorsed by Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. A panicked Ibrahim Tarchichi, who heads the Bekaa Farmers Association, said farmers and the agricultural sector are facing a “huge disaster”. Much of Lebanon’s agricultural production is based in its eastern Bekaa Valley. “Everyone is going to yield less and earn less,” he told. “Lebanon as a whole is paying the price for a few criminals and the bedlam taking place in other countries.”
Various estimates say the Lebanese fruit and vegetable trade is worth between $20 million and $34 million annually. Tarchichi said 1,000 tonnes of produce on 40 trucks were scheduled to leave for Saudi Arabia through Beirut Port, but the shipment was halted after the ban was announced. On Wednesday, Tarchichi received word that Saudi Arabia would make an exception and allow it to go through. Riyadh has not said it intends to reverse its Lebanese produce ban.