Poplar Trees: Fast Becoming A Popular Crop
Published Saturday, July 14, 2012
In the past, poplar trees were planted just for their beauty. Houses surrounded their fences with them, to create a beautiful view and some shade. Today, the poplar is a profitable agricultural crop in Lebanon. Because the country does not have forests planted solely to provide wood, the cultivation of poplar has become widespread. One trip around the various areas of the Bekaa Valley is enough to see how much more land is now used to cultivate these trees.
Year by year, this cultivation has been developing in response to the need for alternative agriculture, which it seems the state cannot provide. Farmer Ghassan Younis speaks of his first experience in poplar cultivation, which he began three years ago. At the time, his dream was “very limited.” He wanted to make the best out the eight dunums of land he owns close to the banks of the river Shamsin. “Because water was plentiful, I thought of planting poplar trees, which need significant amounts of water to grow.”
Younis planted about 10,000 saplings of poplar over the whole area. He says: “This did not cost anything because the saplings can be obtained without the farmer having any material costs.” How? “You can do this by pruning the side branches that grow out of the tree trunks. These do not have to be more than a year old. You cut them into sections, each at least 50 cm long.” Here, “it is best to choose straight sections which have no defects. You plant them in the soil in the winter months, in furrows, with 50 to 60 cm between them.” Younis advises that poplar trees should be planted “on the banks of rivers and water springs, where they grow faster than those planted in modern nurseries and can be ahead in size by years, because of exposure to sun and air.” Going back to irrigation, Younis follows “the drip method to water the poplar trees at an average of three hours a week for each cycle.”
In contrast to other crops, this one does not “cost as much. Expenses are no more than 150,000 Lebanese Lira (LL) ($100) per dunum throughout the whole season, including the cost of fuel for the water pump, labor for pruning, pesticides and insecticides against aphids and worms and getting rid of weeds.”
Omar Hayek, another farmer, explains why he has planted around 70,000 poplar trees over an area of 80 dunums he owns on the plains of the town of Kafr Zabad (east of Zahle). He says that this “gives the land exhausted by traditional agriculture a break. It also provides the local market with thousands of tons of poplar wood, which is usually imported at great expense.”
Hayek’s ambitions go far beyond the Lebanese borders. “There is the possibility of exporting poplar wood, particularly to Canada, where it is shredded into small pieces the size of a grain of wheat, then pressed and separated into bags to be used as fuel for modern fireplaces designed specifically for this purpose.” But despite the growth of his business, he suffers from “a lack of support from the government.” He thinks that they should “provide helicopters and small planes specializing in spraying pesticides from the air, to combat aphids and mites, the only pests to attack these trees.”
The popularity of this crop is reflected among the carpenters. Ramadan Ramadan, the owner of a carpentry workshop in the town of Bar Elias, confirms that he stopped buying imported poplar wood five years ago because it is now so widely available in the local market, “with prices ranging between LL 140-180,000 ($93-120) per ton. This is about half the price of imported wood, which is currently sold at about $270.”
Ramadan mentions some of the uses of poplar wood, including “making boxes for vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage, making small dividers to arrange fruit, making ladders and small stools for loading vegetable and fruit boxes for export.” The wood can also be shredded into sawdust for poultry farming and to absorb moisture in places where cattle and livestock are kept.
He says that there are different kinds of poplar. There are the local, the Persian and the Greek kinds. There are also some foreign types – poplar strands crossbred in America and some European countries. They are fast growing, resistant to some diseases and pests and produce good quality wood.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.