|Lebanon's flower industry struggles to recover from war wounds
|As spring dawns on Lebanon, flower farmers hope for recovery in a market that wilted drastically following the summer 2006 war with Israel.
Flower cultivator Rashid Debs said the war reduced the flower market to zero, that flowers had become a luxury and farmers did not "truly" benefit from normal peak periods such as Valentine's Day and Mothers Day because florists sell imported flowers during that season.
Setting up a greenhouse to grow flowers costs at least $7,000, and flowers are not easily marketed, Debs said, explaining that the season for flower sales in Lebanon starts in early July, but that even when Lebanese flowers go to market, dealers still promote imported flowers instead of local ones.
The bulk of flowers imported from various European countries comes into the country from January to March.
Saeed Hakim, a member of the Flower Cultivators Syndicate, told The Daily Star farmers stopped growing gerberas because they are susceptible to various diseases and roses "are a lot more popular and classy."
Cultivators also stopped growing carnations because they were "outdated and required a lot of care," Hakim said.
He said that roses, in addition to a wide variety of bulbs such as tulips, represent the majority of flowers currently being grown in Lebanon. Demand in the country averages 100,000 flowers a day, he said.
Sami Mashtoob, a former syndicate member, said he owned 35,000 flower seedlings but he lost half of them during and following the summer war.
"All roads were blocked during the war, and the Lebanese were in no mood to buy flowers, of course, and I had to throw away around 200,000 roses worth around $3,500," he said.
Syndicate chief Akram Jaber said a study showed flower farmers suffered $15 million in losses from the summer war and ensuing political upheaval.
Jaber said the government has still not allotted any relief for the sector, adding that a number of NGOs, including the UN Development Program, had offered skilled help and equipment instead of funds.
"Not only did we lose money, we also lost our chance to have the market for Lebanese flowers be self-sufficient," he said.
The Daily Star