Self-Sufficient ‘al-Dinniyeh’: Planting, Consuming, and Exporting

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Farming in Dinniyeh (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Abdel Kafi al-Samad

Published Thursday, August 25, 2011

There is a great difference between the cool air of al-Dinniyeh and the fatal heat, pollution, and humidity of the cement coastal cities. Any passersby would discover this difference once arriving at the Lebanese army checkpoint at the junction of Ashash town, Zgharta district on the way towards al-Dinniyeh. There there is a soft, cold breeze that accompanies the northern barren land. It does not at all compare to the hot weather and humidity carried from the coast.

The moderate climate is not the visitors’ only hint that they are at ‘the gate of al-Dinniyeh.’ The Union of Municipalities has placed a huge attention-grabbing iron sign that says "The Green Dinniyeh welcomes you," shortly after the army checkpoint. The sight of fruit and vegetable stands on both sides of the main road connecting al-Dinniyeh to Tripoli renders the phrase clearer.

This image reflects the socioeconomic reality of the 38 villages and towns of al-Dinniyeh. The agricultural sector is one of the most significant resources for its residents, particularly during the summer season when the area turns into a veritable bee hive.

What al-Dinniyeh is experiencing today, though notable, is not new. According to farmer Mohammad Kanj from Bekaasafrin town, agriculture has been the main resource for the majority of residents since the 1970s. However, at some point, there was a striking development in the socioeconomic life of local families. At first, it was immigration at the beginning of the civil war, and then there was a tendency of many to begin work in trade, business, service sector jobs, and professional occupations in later years.

Nevertheless, those who remained in al-Dinniyeh were able to sustain it as “a distinctively agricultural territory, even if many abandoned it and the urban designated space expanded,” says Maan Jammal. Jammal, who is from Bakhoun, one of al-Dinniyeh’s major towns, is head of the Agricultural Department in the North. He dissects reality through figures, supporting his position: “between 39 and 42 percent of al-Dinniyeh families live on agriculture or benefit from it. This percentage varies between one town and another, but increases slightly in dry lands where agricultural areas have expanded.”

While al-Dinniyeh has to some extent maintained its reputation as an agricultural territory, several changes have eroded that image, including what Jammal calls a "decline of local workforce in agriculture." He adds, “Thus, senior farmers are forced to hire foreign workers during high seasons (that is why the number of Syrian workers in al-Dinniyeh multiplies during the summer). Add to that a decrease in the area of land planted with apples and pears for the benefit of peaches, apricots, and others. Not to forget the development in vegetable planting, as is the case in al-Nijas and Marbin.”

The cause behind replacing some kinds of plants by others is “diversification of crops rather than restriction to one,” adds Jammal. The reason for that according to Ahmad Taleb, a farmer from al-Nijas barren land, is that “if one type of crop was damaged, the farmer would have the others as compensation.”

During the summer, more than 500 families work in the cultivated areas of the barren land, a fertile area that some years ago they reclaimed. To irrigate their crops, they depend on dirt pond water transferred in pipes over several kilometers from al-Qurna al-Sawda (meaning ‘the black nook’). In the barren land, farmers grow many crops: fruits such as apples and pears and vegetables such as green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and others. Once cultivated, many of the crops are sent to local, regional, or national packaging shops, which then distribute their products.

A more frequent approach for many locals of al-Dinniyeh is to sell their products regionally, avoiding transfer costs to the main vegetable market in Tripoli or to Beirut. They do so by setting up vegetable and fruit stands along the main road, specifically on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays of every week, when road traffic peaks with people coming north to vacation in area villages. Many resort to this means of distribution. Ahmad Shawk, one of those wandering vendors from Bkarsouna, indicates that “more than three-quarters of the season is sold here in the village to summer tourists, namely cucumber, tomatoes, and green beans, in addition to fruits.” He points out this form of vending saves him “the cost of transporting the products as well as the commission of the merchant. It allows me to make some extra money to buy supplies for the winter and to pay registration fees for my children at schools.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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