LEBANON – Grape farmers in Lebanon have increasingly embraced seedless varieties due to their premium quality and high export revenue.
Recent data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report reveals that almost 90% of the 59,000 tons of grapes produced in Lebanon were exported in 2021.
This upward trend is a clear testament to the premium quality status of the country’s grapes.
While this volume is certainly impressive, it is modest when compared to giant exporters like Greece, Spain, and Italy, which export 270,000 tons, 300,000 tons, and 720,000 tons respectively.
According to Elie Haddad, a grape and stone fruit grower in Bekaa Valley, the Lebanese grape exports to Europe since 2005 have been satisfactory in terms of quantity but have lacked in quality.
“The focus on seedless varieties and premium quality over the past three years changed that declining trend,” explained Ellie.
True to the claims, FAO figures reveal that the country’s exports fluctuated between 15,000 and 30,000 tons from 1978 to 2019, only to suddenly increase to 47,000 tons in 2020 and 52,000 tons in 2021.
Elie, who established his vineyard in 2018, planted red and white seedless varieties, including Arra 15 and some Lebanese varieties.
Currently, he harvests 300 tons of the fresh fruits per year on his six-hectare land.
Lebanon’s stable climate and fertile soil, according to Eli, further contribute to the production of grapes of superior quality by providing an ideal environment for grape cultivation.
Moreover, it takes $18,000 to establish a hectare of grape vines and an additional $4,000 to cover it on average.
Given these figures, Eli believes that investing in grape farming is more affordable in Lebanon than in Europe because Lebanese farmers do not incur the cost of covering the grapes to protect them from rain, hail, or control the amount of UV light.
Aside from product quality, seedless varieties offer several other advantages, including a zero-waste philosophy and the use of modern, sustainable cultivation methods.
“Plant waste is left on the ground to contribute to the organic matter of the soil,” continued Elie. “And all our grapes, from the first to the last, are assigned destinations according to their quality.”
The Lebanese take about three weeks, from late September to the first half of October, to harvest their grapes.
Eli reveals that this timing is impeccable because they avoid competition from Egyptian exporters in the international markets.
This is because Egyptian grapes are produced and sold earlier in the season.
Turkey is one of the leading global producers, with 2.2 million tons in 2022/2023, according to USDA.
Ellie, however, does not consider Turkey a threat because they have climate issues absent in Lebanon, and the flavors of Lebanese grapes are more diverse and superior.
“Despite the current input costs, I have complete confidence in the exceptional quality of Lebanese grapes, and I have high hopes for the future of the sector,” concluded Ellie.
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