Lebanon: Marijuana farmers in the Bekaa struggling to survive as profits decline

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An armed bodyguard inspects a field of Cannabis plants in the village of Knaysseh in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon on July 30, 2008. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images- Ramzi Haidar)

By: Louai Falha

Published Saturday, September 13, 2014

Farmers [in the Bekaa Valley] are not ashamed of growing marijuana. For them, it is neither a disgrace nor a mistake, “We grow it to survive” they say candidly. While some may view cannabis as an illness, farmers consider it as a cure for their problem, the same problem spreading all over the Bekaa: poverty and deprivation.

People in the Bekaa explain that growing hashish allows them to have a decent life and to build themselves homes; it provides them with a good alternative to the state that has long neglected them. Today, however, the hashish industry is not as lucrative as it used to be. And while the Lebanese in general suffer from rising consumer prices and cost of living, people in the Bekaa complain from a sharp decline in marijuana prices. This green plant, that used to support thousands of people in the Bekaa, is no longer profitable, according to many farmers in the area.

“The prices are very low and the profits are meager,” Talal repeats. This season was unusually disappointing. Although hashish plants cover large swathes of land in the Bekaa and farmers are ready to harvest what they planted in February and March this September, the problem lies in the lack of demand and the difficulty to sell the products, Talal said. When the supply exceeds the demand, it is normal for the prices to decline.

Maan shares Talal’s opinion. Along with other cannabis farmers, they complain of a bad marijuana season, but they already know that their complaints will get them nowhere. For them, the same state that compensates the losses of regular farmers is the one persecuting them and issuing arrest warrants against them.

Maan warned that the decline of marijuana profits may cause an economic problem in the Bekaa, since many families depend on planting and selling hashish to survive. He, however, stressed that no one resorts to this industry except after giving up on finding a suitable job, especially since planting cannabis is a risky business.

For his part, Said asserted that he will not be planting any marijuana next season; his goods are piled up and he is virtually unable to sell any of them. He explained that farmers make a lot of efforts to take care of their plants for many months, they face many perils and live in perpetual fear that [security forces] will destroy their plants, or that they will be arrested while selling their goods, but the financial returns are meager.

“This business is no longer profitable,” he said.

According to farmers, marijuana prices declined by about 70 percent. In years past, 1,200 grams of hash was sold for about $1,000 but today it barely sells for $300. One dunam (1,000 square meters) of land planted with cannabis used to yield about $5,000, but today the amount does not exceed $1,200, this is added to the many expenses that farmers have to pay, such as seeds, irrigation and laborers’ wages, further shrinking their profits.

However, it is the farmers – who do not own the land, but rent the lands of others to plant cannabis – who bear the greatest losses. They have to pay many expenses and their profits amount to nothing.

This year, the security forces did not take tough measures to destroy marijuana plants, like they do every year. Their priority was to control the borders and ward off terrorist threats, leading to a high offer in the market, hence a decline in the prices.

However, the main reason behind the low demand is the closure of the Lebanese- Syrian borders along the eastern mountains, which had been used in the past to traffic hashish out of the country, with only a small quantity trafficked through the port and the airport.

Traffickers are facing many difficulties to sell their goods due to the fighting on the Syrian side and extremist groups taking control of some border points, added to that the deployment of the Lebanese army along the borders. Many traffickers were even shot at while attempting to smuggle their goods, so they stopped buying from farmers, leading to a price decline due to a lack of demand.

Cannabis farmers do not seem to be able to find any solutions as long as the borders remain closed. They are tired of calling to legalize marijuana cultivation, almost as much as they are tired of alternative agriculture projects that have not been successful in alleviating their poverty. They believe that legalizing marijuana would allow them to sell their goods without resorting to trafficking.

Meanwhile, farmers confirmed that many have left cannabis cultivation in the past two years due to declining profits. Under these circumstances, one must ask, will the losses borne by farmers lead to what the Lebanese state has failed to do for years, which is convincing some Bekaa residents to drop cannabis cultivation?

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Not that the Lebanese government could care but the farmers would make a very good living if they could move their produce to Europe. Even at normal prices the farmers are being paid not even 10% of the retail and doing all the work (besides the smuggling which wouldn't be necessary). Why do they need to stop growing cannabis? It is easier to grow than vegetables and more profit with no downsides or danger. Never mind the lies created by idiots in Washington and spread through their even dumber puppets.

Time to grow the sinsemilla

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