Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb revealed Tuesday that, in a bid to help farmers struggling to sell their produce, talks on a deal are underway to boost apple exports to Egypt.
During a news conference from Bkirki after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, Chehayeb said the agreement was expected to be finalized in the next 48 hours as it was in the hands of top Egyptian officials.
Egypt currently imports up to 38,000 tons of Lebanese apples a year, according to Chehayeb. The new deal, if approved, would boost annual exports to 50,000 tons.
He said that while the Lebanon will cover the costs of transporting the apples, Egypt will be responsible for the fruit’s refrigeration.
Chehayeb added that this agreement came after a meeting between Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month.
He also praised efforts by Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea to resolve the apple farmers’ crisis.
“We are waiting for the technical details, because as we know the economic situation is bad. Many people depend on this apple season for their livelihoods,” Geagea later said in a news conference from Bkirki.
Antoine Howayek, head of Lebanese Farmers’ Association, reacted to the move of exporting apples to Egypt by saying that it came a bit late because small- and medium-sized farmers had already sold their produce at very low prices. “Merchants bought apples from farmers at the very low price of LL250 per kilogram and they stored them in refrigerators,” he said.
Howayek explained that small farmers do not keep the apples because they do not have the financial capacity to store them in refrigerators and they need money to survive. “This is why they prefer to sell their produce even if at lower prices,” he said.
He added that all farmers would have benefitted from this initiative if it had come a month earlier.
“Farmers would have sold their produce at LL600 per kilogram to Egypt instead of LL250,” he said. “So those who will really benefit from this move, if approved, are big farmers and merchants.”
Lebanon’s agriculture minister said there were also agreements to export Lebanese apples to countries like Jordan and Russia.
“Russia has agreed to reduce the tax on 1 ton of apples from $250 to $66. ... Apple exports to Jordan will begin on Oct. 18 instead of the end of the month,” Chehayeb said.
An additional 500,000 tons of apples, considered irregular in shape but good in quality, may be sold to aid organizations assisting Syrian refugees, Chehayeb added.
Over the past month, apple farmers have been holding protests and blocking roads across Lebanon, urging government action.
Howayek said that the farmers’ association is asking the government to compensate farmers by giving them LL8,000 for every box of apple production. “All farmers, including those who sold their produce and those who were not capable of selling, should be compensated because they are all incurring huge costs in their production,” he said.