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EMMA of the Agricultural Labor Market System

North and Bekaa
April, 2013

The gradual escalation of civil unrest within Syria has spilled over to the neighboring countries, including Lebanon. The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is expected to exceed one million by the end of 2013. Tensions between host and refugee populations are expected to rise as competition over jobs and resources becomes even more important to the survival of both communities.

This EMMA assessment was launched to analyze the key market systems upon which refugees and vulnerable host communities rely for income in the North and Bekaa Governorates of Lebanon. The Bekaa valley and North Lebanon (Akkar) comprise the largest agricultural areas of Lebanon. The purpose of this study was to identify opportunities for humanitarian agencies to promote market-based income-earning possibilities for host and refugee populations.

The agriculture market in this region is dominated by family farm operations that largely rely on seasonal family laborers and migrant workers, mainly Syrians. The market chain includes the market actors who help migrant workers find jobs and employers, such as land owners/operators, food processors and farm produce packing and sorting facilities. The baseline agricultural labor system in Lebanon is characterized by strong divisions of labor according to sex. Wages, work conditions and the mode of payment differ according to the nationality and gender of agricultural workers. For Syrian migrant workers, Akkar and Bekaa employ the largest number of paid seasonal agricultural workers in Lebanon, and did even prior to the Syrian conflict. Agricultural work is unattractive to many unemployed Lebanese workers due to the long working hours and relatively low wages. Usually Lebanese workers perform higher-skilled jobs, such as tree pruning or apple picking. Many migrant workers live in seasonal tented communities adjacent to agricultural lands that are managed by community leaders who serve as middlemen between residents and farm operators.

The conflict in Syria and subsequent influx of refugees into Lebanon have had significant impacts on the local agricultural labor markets. With an increase in production costs, competition from cheap Syrian produce in domestic markets and new restrictions on exports, Lebanese farmers are now in a critical situation. Workers wages have decreased, while the overall number of workers has increased, impacting the income of both Lebanese and Syrian migrant workers. Additionally, working conditions for laborers have deteriorated with fewer hours worked per person. Overall, the crisis has harmed landowners' profits because of the increased cost of production and of bringing produce to the market.

This report recommends linking the World Food Program's food voucher program to local farmers struggling to market fresh produce; providing alternative income sources through cash for work activities that will address the problem of “farm to market” access, support the production and use of organic fertilizer and improve the marketability of products through food processing; providing support to small farmers in accessing agricultural inputs in order to lower the cost of production and foster greater labor opportunities; and conducting further research into the feasibility of supporting household-level food processing as a mechanism for marketing Lebanese products.

Report authors: 
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