Jordan lost millions because of border closures — farmers

jaber border trucks
A trailer ladden by Jordanian produce waits to cross the land border with Syria. (Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN – The closure of Jordan’s borders with neighboring countries, namely Syria and Iraq, inflicted loses on Jordan and its farmers, farmers said.اضافة اعلان

The argument came to the backdrop of comments by the Minister of Agriculture Khaled Al-Hneifat in a meeting with the director-general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu, on Tuesday.

Hneifat said that 75 percent of Jordan’s border has been shut down due to turmoil in neighboring countries, like Iraq and Syria. As a result, the ministry devised the National Plan for Sustainable Agriculture, which has been in effect since the beginning of 2022.

Farmer Jamal Masalha said the closure of the Syrian border alone “cost famers in Jordan more than JD80 million in the past decade”. He explained that the loss was incurred from produce from plastic greenhouses, which was intended for export to Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and Russia.

“At a cost of JD1,700–1,800 per piece, there were 22,000 plastic greenhouses in Jordan whose output was set for export to Eastern European markets through Syria”, he told Jordan News.

But the export was hampered by developments in Syria, he explained. He noted that “the plan was to grow that number to 50,000 in the span over a few years”.

“But now, we have zero,” he said.

During the Syrian civil war, farmers were forced to sell their products locally, and this included greenhouse produce, he said. This resulted in increased supply, coupled with a declined demand, which drove prices down.

Alternatively, some farmers opted for exports through Israel to avoid further losses, he added.

“Inspection on the borders with Syria took 8 to 10 days, which blocked shipments of Jordanian produce for 22 days for each consignment from Jordan to Russia,” he said.

Noting that the produce spoiled on the way, he said: “This was not good, and has resulted in huge losses for Jordanian farmers.”

He pointed with that the closure of the Syrian border forced a drop in exports to Europe 40–50 percent.

Walid Al Rabei, a Jordan Valley farmer who used to export through Syria, said Jordanian farmers “must export more than half of their overall production to make ends meet, and keep the local price range offering profitable”.

But because of the closures, “many farmers have gone bankrupt, and the majority of them face legal liabilities today”, Rabei told Jordan News.

Rabei proposed a barter system, which would enable Jordanian farmers to exchange produce with Syrian and Lebanese farmers to make up for part of the past losses.

“But there are powers at play here,” he cautioned, referring to the commercial and financial ramifications involved. “There are powerful producers and exporters in Jordan, who do not want to see other farmers bring in the same produce they import into the local market”, he explained.

As a result, export remains the only currently viable solution for Jordanian farmers, according to Rabei.

Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Lawrence Al-Majali said the ministry has been waiting for several years for the “situation in Iraq and Syria to be resolved, to restore agricultural export to, and through, Jordan’s traditional markets”.

“The closure of the Syrian and Iraqi borders caused Jordanian exports to, and through, Iraq and Syria to drop from 250,000 tonnes to nothing in some years,” he said.

“Evidently, the ministry must find solutions, looking at the situation from outside the box,” Majali added.

According to Majali, the national plan entailed the establishment of the Jordanian-Palestinian Agricultural Marketing Company, “which has secured numerous contracts to export local produce to markets in Europe and the Gulf, among other destinations”.

In fact, a recent shipment headed for Qatar ahead of the World Cup there, he noted.

“Another measure that was enacted to support the agricultural sector in Jordan was the introduction of zero-interest loans to finance certain produce that is in demand in the local market and abroad,” Majali said.

Additionally, the ministry is working on marketing the excess production of olives, dates, and other produce, the spokesperson said.

The National Plan for Sustainable Agriculture is “tackling these issues to restore profitability to the agricultural sector, and to find new export markets for the local produce, which may help revitalize the local sector in Jordan”, according to Majali.

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