Stakeholders say agricultural exports ‘declining alarmingly’

Farmworkers collect vegetables in Mafraq
Farmworkers collect vegetables in Mafraq on May 5, 2021. Stakeholders from the agricultural sector say the lack of a marketing and distribution company, coupled with a dry rainy season, is hurting Jordan’s produce exports. (Photo: Amir Khalifa/Jordan News)
AMMAN — Amid a dry summer and the economic fallout of COVID-19, Jordan’s agricultural exports are “declining alarmingly”, according to Saadi Abu Hammad, former chief of the shuttered vegetable and fruits exporters association.اضافة اعلان

Whereas Jordan used to export 900,000 tonnes of agricultural products per year a decade ago, in 2020 the country only exported 380,000 tonnes, he explained in an interview with Jordan News.

“Jordanian farmers get taxed by the government, taxed by the Saudi Arabian borders $550 for each tonne, and (face) incredibly high shipping fees because the government wanted to fix the transportation sector, and forgot about every other sector,” Abu Hammad said.

He added that other countries like Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey reward their farmers with $400 per tonne of exported agricultural product, while Jordanians get taxed instead of rewarded, making the agricultural scene in Jordan a “sad reality.”

Notably, agriculture is linked to the country’s ongoing water problem: while agriculture consumes 56 percent of Jordan’s fresh water, it only directly constitutes 3 percent of the Jordanian GDP, according to a 2019 report from the West Asia-North Africa Institute.

Agricultural expert Mousa Alsaket told Jordan News that the issue of expanding exports never seems to be solved, because “with every new ministerial cabinet, each and every agricultural minister suggests establishing an agricultural marketing company, but it was never done.”

“East Europe used to be our top exporting destination, but now with the Syrian borders being closed, we had to find alternative exporting destinations,” Alsaket said. “Gulf countries became our only alternative solution, but Egyptian vegetables are flooding the Gulf’s markets, because they’re cheaper and shipped way faster than Jordanian vegetables.”

Alsaket added that a national agricultural marketing company would provide fast and high-quality packaging and shipment of agricultural products, because these products spoil quickly. In addition, it would provide prices competitive with Egypt’s.

The expert also suggested that one of the reasons Jordanian vegetables are expensive are because of  a hike in the price of foreign workers’ permits, a hike in water and electricity prices, and merchants “monopolizing” fruit and vegetables prices.

“The price of one kilogram of tomatoes in Ghor is JD0.10. Once the shipment reaches Amman the price insanely multiplies into JD0.90 per kilogram,” he said. “Merchants increase the prices arguing that the packaging prices are expensive, which is not true at all. If these are the prices in Jordan, try to imagine the prices offered to the Gulf, not to mention shipment fares.”

Fayyad Al-Zyoud, chief of the Olives Exporters Association, told Jordan News that the government established an agricultural marketing company called the Agricultural Marketing Cooperation, but it was shut down 10 years ago because of “rapid changes in the market”.

“The agricultural scene was flourishing 10 years ago; the marketing company was doing fantastic,” he said. “But with the Arab Spring movement, and borders being closed, everything changed and that company shut its doors.”

Zyoud added that Jordan is in “desperate need” of a new marketing company, because “all the Arab counties are easily producing fruits and vegetables, but the quality and packaging is the only thing that will allow Jordan to compete with the market.”

On Monday, Abu Hammad met with Minister of Agriculture Khalid Alhanafiyat, to examine the obstacles blocking an increase in the flow of agricultural goods to foreign markets, and sought to open up new markets for agricultural products.

In addition, Alhanafiyat has focused on the importance of establishing an agricultural company that will ensure enhanced competitiveness of agricultural products in traditional foreign markets, and markets of greater global economic value.

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