Latakia citrus at cheap price despite high costs
Latakia – Linda Ali
The 37-year-old Nazeer realizes that regret is no longer useful, and his loss in this year’s citrus season has become a reality after about two months when he refused to sell his orchard’s crop to a merchant for 2,000 Syrian pounds per kilo of French clementines, while today the price has dropped to only 1,000 pounds per kilo.
Nazeer, who comes from the village of Bahlouliya, is counting on the abundance of production this year, which may compensate for part of his loss, as he owns citrus land with an area of about three dunams.
On October 21, the young man sold French clementines for 1,300 pounds in the central vegetable market, al-Hal, while he paid 150,000 pounds for the car that transported the crop for a distance not exceeding ten kilometers.
Many farmers on the Syrian coast are accustomed to selling citrus crops in bulk while they are still on the trees. The merchant comes and estimates the weight of what each tree bears and then immediately delivers the estimated price to the farmer while he is free to control the crop and set a date for harvesting it.
There is another type of yield guarantee, where the merchant comes and chooses trees of a specific type in the same way in terms of price, such as choosing to buy only the Meyer lemons or navel orange lemon crop and not the rest of the other types.
Farmers are impatiently awaiting the harvest season to secure their families’ supplies and pay off their debts accumulated throughout the months of agriculture amid a deteriorating economic and living reality along with the deterioration of the value of the Syrian pound against the US dollar.
The US dollar is trading at 14,200 SYP according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar.
Hoping for a better tomorrow
Hassan, 56, from al-Fakhoura village, lives in the hope that the price will improve, so he decided to stop harvesting the season. If the price improves, he will sell. If it continues as is the case today, he prefers to leave the harvest in the ground and save transportation costs and the price of the containers.
The transportation cost from his village to the al-Hal market is about 200,000 pounds, while the price of the container in which the fruits are placed is between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds. Therefore, he believes that leaving the fruits is much better than bearing the costs of picking them and then the costs of transporting them.
Hassan, who was living with great hope at the beginning of the season, also regrets today because he did not agree to the offer of the merchant who came to guarantee the crop and who paid him 2,500 pounds per kilo of navel orange type while today no merchant pays more than 700 to 1000 Syrian pounds per kilo of all types.
Government promises are repeated every year to prevent the loss of citrus farmers on the Syrian coast, but none of these promises are fulfilled.
Successive government officials failed to solve the problem of marketing citrus to the point that some farmers uprooted the trees and built residential buildings in their place or replaced them with other crops.
With the rise in the price of fertilizer and most other agricultural costs, the loss is no longer sustainable at all.
Fahd, 45, who owns a citrus orchard in the village of Fidio, said that if he wants to take good care of his crop, each dunam needs two plows per year, and the cost of plowing one dunam is 120,000 pounds today, and it can be increased depending on the rise in the price of diesel.
One dunam requires certain types of fertilizers, the value of which is estimated at about two million pounds annually, and each tree needs approximately 20 kilograms of organic fertilizer and the price of a kilogram is 1,000 pounds today, with the possibility of increasing later.
The forty-year-old man does not forget to calculate the cost of the packages, which reached about 5,000 pounds per package.
Fahd has given up fertilizing his land and is trying to save money in labor. He guarantees his land to a merchant directly at the start of each crop and refuses to market it to the Syrian Trading Company after he tried it last year.
Fahd said that the Syrian Trading Company takes the kilo for much less than its price and divides the season into types, and often the employee wants a “bribe” according to which all the items are designated as the first type, and the institution does not pay the price of the season until more than a month has passed, and the currency has lost its value even more.
Today, Fahd is saddened that the price of a kilo of navel oranges, one of the most sought-after types, does not exceed 2,000 pounds, which is equivalent to the price of only one egg.
It is surprising how all other types of fruits are sold at a high price except citrus fruits, as the price of a kilo of apples of the third type reaches 5,000 pounds, while a kilo of oranges is sold between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds to citizens in shops.
The government fails every year to market the citrus season, with questions raised about not exporting in large quantities or establishing a juice factory on the Syrian coast.
The Citrus Office in the Ministry of Agriculture estimated the expected amount of production this season at about 836,000 tons, 662,000 tons of which in Latakia and 174,000 tons in Tartus, that is, an increase of about 200,000 tons over the last season, while production is still less than in 2018, which reached one million and 100,000 tons, which reflects the extent of the decline in farmers’ interest in this agriculture due to its economic feasibility.
Only in Syria does the increase in the amount of agricultural production turn into a calamity for farmers, in an equation that is impossible to solve, as large production means lower prices, which frustrates farmers.
As usual, the Ministry of Economy and Foreign Trade announced allowing the import of Lebanese bananas in the amount of 30,000 tons, starting from October 20 until April 2024, according to the local Al-Watan newspaper, which is a decision that the government used to take in conjunction with the start of citrus production, which leads to consumers’ reluctance to buy them.
The price of a kilo of bananas reached 50,000 pounds this summer, and with its import allowed, its price is expected to fall significantly, thus increasing the demand for it at the expense of citrus fruits.
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