The apple industry in Lebanon faces major challenges. Most apples were previously exported through Syria to the Gulf countries, but since the Syrian border has closed due to the on-going conflict, the local demand for apples cannot absorb the volume produced, and farmers cannot sell their orchards produce anymore.
Additionally, apples are still being imported into the country through other channels, which domestic apple producers have to compete with. On another level, lack of knowledge about new pruning practices and the best varieties suitable for the climate have been negatively affecting quality and thus reducing demand of the local fruit.
As a result of these factors, and the subsequent reduction in profit, several orchard owners of Mount Lebanon reported to the Agriculture committee of Ehmej municipality that they were considering removing their orchards and selling their land. The committee requested the assistance of an expert in pome fruit from the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Program to work with these fruit tree farmers on improved agricultural practices.
Dr. Renae Moran, an Associate Professor at the University of Maine, School of Food and Agriculture, visited Lebanon twice. During her two week assignment in October 2015 and her follow-up assignment in January 2016, she taught farmers better pruning techniques that improve both quantity and quality of the fruit and reduce the labor it takes to harvest. While not all the farmers in Ehmej adopted the practices she recommended, those who did have reported a 30 percent increase in quantity.
What’s even more important is that the quality of the apples produced has significantly improved, making them more appealing on the domestic market. The head of the Agriculture committee believes that it is only a matter of time before farmers who had decided to continue with their traditional pruning practices will be convinced by the results and begin using the new techniques.
While the results of Dr. Moran’s pruning techniques have not materialized yet into increased profits, the improvement in quality and quantity and decrease in labor costs for orchard owners has allowed the level of profit to remain steady and convinced several owners (5-10 percent) who had been planning to sell their orchards to re-consider their decision and keep them in production.
Farmer-to-Farmer Middle East North Africa is implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development and funded by the United States Agency for International Development.