Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Agriculture and land tenure in Lebanon: will anyone dare challenge the big landowners?

Dear Laila kindly provided a translation of my article in al akhbar

Agricultural Feudalism

Food security in Lebanon suffers from a chronic crisis. Lebanon imports 75% of its food needs, particularly basic foodstuffs such as wheat, sugar and oil. The livestock sector depends entirely on imported feed, rendering it hostage to foreign markets. 

Experts in food security are divided into two sides over a solution for this crisis. The first believes that opening the markets and freeing them will lead to lower international prices and will achieve food security through exports. The second argues that the number of hungry people in the world is rising, particularly in poor countries where markets have been flooded with foodstuffs subsidized and exported by industrial countries. They rely on studies which have shown that the main reason behind the rise in the price of commodities is the financial speculation carried out by international financial corporations. The second side emphasizes the need to bolster local production to achieve a certain amount of independence. 

Therefore, it has become necessary to resuscitate the agricultural sector in Lebanon, which has witnessed a sharp decline in recent decades. 

One of the problems of this sector is reflected in the unfair distribution of agricultural land. Major landowners control 30% of agricultural land, but they represent only 2% of this sector. Small farmers, who represent over 95%, occupy only half the agricultural area. The produce from their small landholdings is not enough to fulfill their everyday needs, forcing them into displacement and immigration. 

It is clear that Lebanon’s food security and the sustainability of its countryside are mainly based on small producers who do not have the ability to carry on unless agricultural land ownership is reorganized and the right to exploit abandoned land owned by the rich is reviewed. 

Do any of the political ‘reformers’ dare to tamper with the property of the ruling elite?

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