Conflict and Weather Extremes Dwindle Lebanese Harvest

The cross-border fire between the militant group Hezbollah and Israel has resulted in thousands of Lebanese fleeing north and even more olives left unharvested.
Harvesting olives in Deir Mimas halted shortly after Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7th. (Photo: Rose Bechara Perini)
By Amélie David
Feb. 19, 2024 15:00 UTC

In November, the International Olive Council esti­mated that Lebanon would pro­duce 18,000 tons of olive oil in the cur­rent crop year, in line with the five-year aver­age.

However, adverse weather con­di­tions exac­er­bated by cli­mate change led many local pro­duc­ers to believe the final fig­ure would be con­sid­er­ably lower.

We pro­duced only 20 per­cent of what we were expect­ing. I think I’ve lost nearly 10,000 liters of olive oil.- Rose Bechara Perini, founder, Darmmess

According to Murr Television, a local media out­let, yields have dropped from 120 liters per square meter to less than 20 liters in cer­tain regions.

See Also:2023 Harvest Updates

The esca­la­tion of ten­sions along the south­ern bor­der with Israel com­pounded the chal­lenges faced by olive oil pro­duc­ers.

Since the October 7th attack by Hamas, a polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary orga­ni­za­tion backed by Iran that gov­erns Gaza, on Israel, there have been near-daily exchanges of fire between the Israeli Defence Force and Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian polit­i­cal party and mili­tia. The con­flict has severely dis­rupted the olive har­vest.

According to fig­ures from the Ministry of Agriculture, at least 386 fires caused by Israeli bomb­ings destroyed 50,000 olive trees.

Save the Children, a char­ity, sim­i­larly esti­mates that about 47,000 olive trees have been destroyed in the con­flict. The group also believes 86,000 peo­ple have been dis­placed from south­ern Lebanon, leav­ing olive trees unhar­vested.

Rose Bechara Perini, the founder of Darmmess, was among those affected. She started her har­vest on September 24th in Deir Mimas, a vil­lage two kilo­me­ters from the bor­der.


Bechara Perini stopped harvesting on October 9th, taking what little olive oil she had produced north to Beirut. (Photo: Rose Bechara Perini)

We already knew that we were going to have a small quan­tity of olive due to a strong wind hit­ting hard dur­ing spring, mak­ing flow­ers fall,” she said. But that was not all: There have been sev­eral days of rain at the end of September, which never hap­pens.”

And then, there was the bomb­ing, from very far at the begin­ning, and then, it got closer. I couldn’t risk the life of every­one,” recalled Bechara, who works with around 15 farm­ers in Deir Mimas.

She halted her har­vest on October 9th amid the esca­lat­ing vio­lence.

The Lebanese pro­ducer thanked her farm­ers, col­lected every­thing she could, fil­tered and bot­tled it, and headed back to Beirut.

We pro­duced only 20 per­cent of what we were expect­ing,” Bechara said. We were not able to serve the 14 coun­tries we usu­ally export to. I think I’ve lost nearly 10,000 liters of olive oil.”

Despite efforts to save what they could, pro­duc­ers faced sig­nif­i­cant losses. Tony Maroun, another olive oil pro­ducer based in Jounieh, north of Beirut, expe­ri­enced a sim­i­lar decline in pro­duc­tion.

Unfortunately, we could reach only 50 to 60 per­cent of our usual pro­duc­tion this year,” he said. The qual­ity of the oil was good, but the quan­tity was much lower due to the sea­son, the har­vest and the weather, but also because many farm­ers couldn’t har­vest their fields.”

The pro­ducer runs a 60-year-old com­pany work­ing with nearly 70 farm­ers around Lebanon, a quar­ter of them are based in the south of Lebanon.

Despite these chal­lenges, the demand for Lebanese olive oil has increased inter­na­tion­ally. Maroun noted a two per­cent increase in exports this year, under­scor­ing the grow­ing global inter­est in Lebanese olive oil.

However, the rise in demand has con­tributed to higher prices, mak­ing it increas­ingly unaf­ford­able for local con­sumers, par­tic­u­larly amid Lebanon’s ongo­ing eco­nomic cri­sis.

Will the local con­sumer still be able to buy good Lebanese olive oil at an afford­able price? It’s becom­ing harder and harder,” Maroun said.

According to pro­duc­ers, prices had already risen before the war due to the scarcity of olives and the cost of energy.

The price per kilo­gram of olives on the tree went from $0.60 (€0.56) to a lit­tle over $1 (€0.93),” Bechara said.

While olive oil remains a sta­ple in Lebanese cui­sine, its acces­si­bil­ity has dimin­ished, with prices soar­ing to $6 or $7 for a 500-mil­li­liter bot­tle. For many, olive oil is fast becom­ing a lux­ury item – a stark con­trast to its pre­vi­ous ubiq­uity in Lebanese house­holds.


Related Articles