Figs Make a Comeback
Published Friday, September 14, 2012
The humble fig tree, once considered old fashioned and uneconomical by Lebanese farmers, is witnessing a comeback as cash-strapped growers in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley seek alternatives to boost a depressed agricultural sector.
“Successive agricultural crises prompted many to look for old crops, thought by some to be things of the past,” Mohammed Salloum, a farmer, told Al-Akhbar. “[Fig trees] cost nothing compared to the rise in production cost of modern fruit trees.”
Ibrahim al-Khatib, another farmer, remembers a time when figs were a major local crop and a boon to poor working families in rural areas.
“[In the 1940’s], My father would take me with him to the city of Zahle to sell our fig harvest which we put in baskets made from cane or in tin containers,” he says. “This crop used to bring a good financial return for poor families in the countryside. If it is developed and supported by the state it can compensate part of the losses sustained by the agricultural sector in the past ten years.”
The days of packing figs in homemade baskets and peddling them locally are over. Today, figs have entered the market in a major way and can been seen neatly packaged and stacked in 2 and 3 kilogram crates for shipping. Price is subject to supply and demand as well as quality. The wholesale price currently varies anywhere between 800 to 1,500 Lebanese Lira (LL) ($0.53 - 1.00).
Fig trees, unlike other crops, mature quickly in just 3 to 6 years, require relatively little extra watering, and any surplus fruit can be dried and sold later, making them an ideal investment for farmers like Salloum.
“[It’s] very easy: Just take a shoot from the branch of an old tree, bury it in the soil at a depth anywhere between 40 to 60 centimeters at the beginning of the winter or towards the end of February before the new leaves and branches grow,” Salloum explains.
There are many different varieties of figs, including Anaqi, Shahimi and Ajluni, Qarasi, Sukari, Aswad, and Shamouti. In addition to their sweet flavor, vitamin-rich figs are also used in home remedies.
Vitamins A, B and C, which are all found in figs, as well as high levels of minerals such as iron, potassium and calcium, help regenerate cells in the body, regulate blood circulation and treat symptoms of keratosis.
Figs soaked in water can be used to treat respiratory infections, chronic constipation, and to relieve whooping cough. Eating dried figs is thought to help the body resist cold in winter.
The white juice secreted by unripe figs was also used to curdle milk in order to turn it into white cheese before the use of rennet became widespread.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.