Akkar Farmers: Throwing Away Food
By: Robert Abdallah
Published Monday, May 28, 2012
Unable to export their produce to the Gulf due to the situation in Syria, farmers in the north have been dealt another blow.
In light of recent clashes in North Lebanon, farmers and produce traders had to adjust some of their delivery routes to avoid hot spots in and around the city of Tripoli.
The traders opted to simply unload their wares at the furthest point they could reach on the Baddawi road, and turn it into their new vegetable market.
The result was a new vegetable market on the road to Baddawi north of the city and a predictably chaotic scene, with vegetable trucks holding up traffic amid swarms of traders, arriving customers and passing locals.
One trader calling out to customers adopted a new sales pitch: “Poor people, come and buy! Eat fruit and vegetables for free!”
The prices are, indeed, almost for free. A 25-kilogram crate of high-quality cucumbers goes for LL5,000 (US$3.30). The wholesalers are clearly selling at a loss, or at cost price. One wonders what they will pay the farmers for their produce the following day.
“Prices are dead,” says farmer Khaled Hammad by phone from the Akkar village of East Tal Abbas. Traders are buying 50 boxes of courgettes for the price of 10 because they cannot sell on, he says.
“We’ve been ruined. We are feeding parsley and lettuce to the cows because they spoil quickly, and there is no market,” he says.
He fears the seasonal potato crop will be unsellable “because it’s closed from east and west” – meaning that the Gulf market is inaccessible because of developments in Syria, and now produce cannot be sent to the vegetable market in Tripoli either. As compensation for Akkar farmers, “we only have God,” he says.
The makeshift vegetable market on the Baddawi road only lasted two days, due to the many problems it caused. The local municipal police had to fire in the air to break up fights that broke out as a result of the severe congestion, according to Akkar trader Othman al-Rifai. The mayor of Baddawi decided to transfer the market to a dusty football pitch further out of town on the approach to Deir Ammar.
For Rifai, the financial losses he has sustained are less bothersome than the “indignity, offense and hassle” he has had to put up with. At the new venue, sweat pours off the porters and customers, and is caked by the dust raised by the multitude of vehicles that come and go, without any semblance of organization, all under the blazing heat of the sun.
Rifai does not blame the latest fighting alone for the problems faced by the traders and the farmers who supply them. “For years we have been hearing that they will move the vegetable market from Bab al-Tabbaneh to a new site, so we would be spared the heavies and the protection payments they impose on the stall owners,” he says. He adds that these thugs, who work for powerful political or security patrons, were among the gunmen who exploited their takeover of the streets in the recent fighting to loot the vegetable market.
“It was mass destruction”, says Fawwaz al-Masri, a wholesaler from the village of Nabi Yashou. He estimates that the losses sustained by the traders as a result of looting and/or destruction exceed LL2 billion (US$1.3 million).
Another trader, Muhammad Qamareddin, reckons he personally lost at least LL2 million (US$1,300) . Business “is all loss on loss” at present, he says, with the price of some products falling by over half, especially salad vegetables for which Akkar is famed.
He points to boxes of lettuce and parsley piled up in the middle of the football field in the glare of the sun. Asked what he expects in terms of compensation, he smiles and says: “Long may you live, and long live Lebanon”.
The fighting in Tripoli has stopped, and life has returned to normal following the deployment of the army. The political players have counted up their gains and losses. They all credit themselves with “supervising the restoration of normalcy” and “restraining the street and reining in troublemakers.”
Those who provided the arms and ammunition will now vie to demand compensation for the damage inflicted. But nobody will be talking of compensating the Akkaris.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.