Lebanon’s agricultural future is under imminent danger due to the shortage of Syrian laborers

Lebanon’s agricultural future is under imminent danger due to the shortage of Syrian laborers who cultivate and harvest the crops, farmers warned Monday.

They added that the General Security Directorate’s decision in December 2014 to restrict the entry of Syrians to Lebanon has had a devastating effect on farming.

According to the farmers, the number of laborers working in the fields in most regions has dropped by nearly 80 percent.

“Syrian laborers have dropped by 80 percent lately due to the Kafala sponsorship system imposed on Syrians entering Lebanon and we are in dire need of agricultural workers to prevent our crops from going to waste,” said Ramiz Osseiran, head of the farmers’ association in the south.

The General Security Directorate issued a directive on Dec. 31, 2014 – amended on Jan. 13, 2015 – to regulate the entry and residency of Syrians in Lebanon.

Syrian workers became subject to a Kafala sponsorship system.

Based on the new regulation, Syrians entering Lebanon must specify the purpose of their visit under one of these categories: tourism, business, shopping, owner of real estate or tenant in Lebanon, study, transit, medical treatment or visa application at a foreign embassy. They must also have a Lebanese sponsor who will be fully responsible for their stay in Lebanon.

“Workers should also pay the amount of LL300,000 ($200) upon their entry into Lebanon and the rest of the procedures cost an additional LL100,000, which is probably way above their financial capabilities,” Osseiran said.

“Workers cannot afford to pay such a sum of money because [it is the equivalent of] half their monthly salary while they usually come to Lebanon to work only for two or three months per year,” he added.

His views were echoed by the head of the Lebanese Farmers Association Antoine Howayek, who told The Daily Star that some farmers do not have the means to guarantee Syrian workers or to be responsible for them throughout the year.

“Laborers working in this sector are seasonal so they may come to work for one month per year,” he said. “Nobody is really interested in paying LL300,000 to come and work for one month.”

Osseiran acknowledgedthe need for measures to limit Syrians’ entry into the country in the midst of the current deteriorating security situation, but he also urged the Agriculture Ministry and the General Security Directorate to find a quick solution in order to spare farmers’ crops.

“We are not against regulating the entry of Syrians into the country in the prevailing security situation, which necessitates such measures, but we are in dire need of a solution by the beginning of the coming season,” Osseiran said.

He said that Lebanese authorities could for instance, investigate whether the Syrians seeking work in Lebanon have actually worked in the country before the outbreak of the war in Syria.

“This can be done in a legal manner,” he said.

Osseiran argued that this was the only solution for the time being, adding that the farmers may be compelled to hire Lebanese workers at a higher cost to make up for the decline in the number of Syrian laborers.

“Lebanese won’t accept to be paid $20 per day as is the case with Syrians,” he said.

“Moreover, most Lebanese are not used to this type of work because the money generated from farming is relatively too low, “ he added.

Likewise, Howayek said the wages of agricultural laborers have increased to $25 and $30 per day due to their scarcity.

“Lebanese won’t even work for this sum because the job requires great physical effort,” he said.

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