Lebanon: Syria conflict affects banana exports

A year into Syrias uprising, the impact of the crisis on the Lebanese agricultural sector has been significantly less than experts had predicted, officials said.

"There is a serious impact on various aspects, particularly exports, but the situation has not reached a disastrous level," Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan said.

Hajj Hassan said the deteriorating exchange rate of the Syrian pound and lower Syrian consumption have taken their toll on Lebanese banana and citrus exports. But contrary to fears, the head of the Farmers Association Antoine Howayek said citrus produce exports to Syria have actually increased.

"In 2011, we exported 31,000 tons of citrus produce to Syria while in 2010 it was slightly less at 27,500 tons," he said.

Howayek said the agricultural sector has been surprisingly resilient to the crisis, but agreed that banana exports were hit hard last year.

"We had expected that the situation in Syria would have a devastating impact on agricultural exports. But so far the negative effects have been somewhat restricted to last years banana produce," he said.

The banana volume exported tumbled by 55,000 tonnes last year. Howayek said, "In 2011 banana exports were very modest at 35,000 tons compared to around 90,000 tons in 2010."

Lebanon produces around 110,000 tons of bananas, most of which are exported to the Syrian market. Nabil Itani, the head of Investment Development Authority of Lebanon, said the impact of the Syrian crisis on agricultural exports has remained limited in the first months of 2012. Itani said agricultural exports to Syria declined by 30 percent less than expected in the first two months of 2012, compared to same period last year. Agricultural exports to other Arab countries, through the Lebanese-Syrian border, decreased by 10 percent in 2012. But the decline is modest if measured against the deteriorating security situation across Lebanons only neighbor accessible via land routes.

Moreover, agricultural imports from Syria remained stable at 70,000 tons both in 2010 and 2011.

Source: www.dailystar.com.lb