Lebanon, which is economically, financially, and politically exhausted, is looking to recapture part of its capabilities and wealth, especially those related to the agricultural sector, at a time when the country is seeking to grow cannabis for “medical purposes” and open new markets.
For more than two years, the agricultural sector in Lebanon has been grappling with the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, until a diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states came to make matters worse.
Indian hemp coming soon
The Lebanese Minister of Agriculture, Abbas Hajj Hassan, described the cultivation of “Indian hemp” for medical and industrial purposes as a “lifeline” for the Lebanese economy due to its high financial returns.
Although the Lebanese Parliament passed a law in 2020 allowing the cultivation of “Indian hemp”, but the implementing decrees for this have not yet been established, which hinders the start of granting the necessary licenses for this type of cultivation.
In an interview with The Eastern Herald, the minister believes that this cultivation will constitute an alternative to the cultivation of prohibited drugs (hashish) in the Bekaa region, and will have a financial return for farmers, “This type of cultivation reduces water consumption and pesticides, compared to other cultivations.”
Lebanon is the fourth producer of hashish in the world, according to what the United Nations announced in 2017, although Lebanese law punishes its cultivation with imprisonment and a fine, given its use as a narcotic paste.
Hajj Hassan adds that “Lebanese law prohibits the cultivation of cannabis, and the government is always working to destroy this type of plantation, while “Indian hemp” will be planted according to the law to benefit from it for medical and industrial purposes.
He continued, “In the coming days, the law will become effective after its implementation decrees are drawn up, thus Lebanon will take its first steps in this field, which is a successful experience in some countries such as Morocco.”
He added: “Canadian, American and Spanish companies have contacted Lebanon and expressed their readiness to establish factories to extract and manufacture the materials produced by this plant for medical and industrial purposes.”
Cultivation of “Indian hemp” was among the recommendations of “McKinsey” International Administrative and Financial Consulting Company in 2018 to Lebanon, due to the profits that this cultivation may provide to the state treasury, amounting to about one billion dollars annually.
Beirut’s assurances to Riyadh did not work
Over the past months, there have been Lebanese attempts to restore matters with Saudi Arabia, through assurances that Beirut has sent more than once to Riyadh, confirming that Lebanon has taken the necessary measures to prevent smuggling.
However, the Lebanese reassurances were recently overthrown by a diplomatic crisis that erupted between the two countries in late October, against the background of statements by the Lebanese Minister of Information, George Kordahi, about the Yemen war.
In an interview recorded last August (before his appointment as a minister), and broadcast on October 25, Kordahi said that the Houthis were “defending themselves against the attacks from enemy nations.”
After the statement, several Gulf states took strict decisions towards Lebanon. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Yemen announced the withdrawal of their ambassadors from Beirut, but Saudi Arabia extended its set of decisions and stopped all Lebanese imports from entering it.
According to Hajj Hassan, “the diplomatic crisis between Lebanon and the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, is a transient one, God willing,” and stresses that “the current crisis is weighing on the export of Lebanese agricultural products.”
While the minister points out that Lebanon is seeking to open new foreign markets for Lebanese agricultural products, with friendly and brotherly countries, he stresses that this will not be a substitute for the Gulf market.
He explained, “Lebanon exports to the Gulf countries most of the agricultural products, such as apples, potatoes, citrus fruits, grapes, vegetables, and others. I hope that relations will return to excellent as well as they were before, especially with regard to agricultural exchange.”
Lebanon was exporting 25 percent of its agricultural production to Saudi Arabia, and 44 percent of Lebanese agricultural products passed through it to other Gulf countries, before the ban was announced.
In 2020, the value of Lebanese agricultural exports to Saudi Arabia amounted to 24 million dollars, to Kuwait 21 million dollars, and to the UAE 14 million dollars, according to the head of the Lebanese Farmers Association, Antoine Howayek.
Cooperation with Jordan and Turkey
Jordan is one of the new markets that the Lebanese minister seeks to make it an additional destination for Lebanese agricultural products after he signed an agreement a few days ago with the Jordanian government.
Hajj Hassan points out that this agreement constitutes support for Lebanese agricultural products, but he reiterates that this will not be a substitute for the Gulf market because “the Lebanese product, when it enters Saudi Arabia, enters the spirit of brotherhood with it.”
As for cooperation with Turkey, the minister mentions that he recently held a meeting on the sidelines of the Islamic Summit for Food Security with the Turkish Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Bakr Pakdemirli, and it was agreed that there would be a Turkish-Lebanese partnership.
He continued, “It is true that Turkey produces everything and has enormous agricultural products, but despite this, his Turkish counterpart hoped that there would be technical committees to study partnership agreements between the two countries in the animal and plant sectors.”
“In the coming days, there will be meetings to draft these agreements,” according to the minister.
A call for the liberation of the Shebaa Farms and the Kfarshouba hills
“The issue of Shebaa Farms and the Kfar Shuba hills has never disappeared from the conscience of the Lebanese,” Hajj Hassan affirms, “Lebanon’s right to recover these two areas located in southern Lebanon from the Israeli occupation.”
He says: “We call on the international community and the pressing forces to assist in the liberation of this Lebanese land, and we affirm our legitimate right to resistance and diplomatic action and all that is available to us to liberate it.”
Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 after more than two decades of occupation, under the weight of armed resistance waged by several national, leftist and Islamic organizations, most notably the “Hezbollah” group.
However, Israel still occupies parts of southern Lebanon, namely the “Shebaa Farms” and “Kfarshouba Hills”, which have an area of about 200 square kilometers and include agricultural lands containing types of trees, especially olives and almonds.