Magazine article World of Work

The Bitter Tobacco Plant Gives Way to the Freshness of Oregano

Magazine article World of Work

The Bitter Tobacco Plant Gives Way to the Freshness of Oregano

Article excerpt

Promoting oregano cultivation is part of a comprehensive support package launched by the ILO in 2008 to assist socio-economic recovery in war-torn southern Lebanon. Farah Dakhlallah, ILO Regional Outreach and Advocacy Officer in Beirut, reports.

Not so long ago, Hassan Bazzi's farm in the south of Lebanon grew lush every summer with the tough and resilient green leaves of tobacco plants.

But the work was hard and expensive and could endanger health. What some farmers in the area had called the "plant of steadfastness" for its ability to provide cash and survive decades of conflict, was increasingly being called the "bitter plant" because of the challenges to growing tobacco.

Farmers were looking for an alternative, and they found one - with the help of the ILO. Today, many of the "bitter plants" are gone, replaced by a fresh green herb that is easier and cheaper to farm, and even goes well with a variety of local foods and cooking, including the famous Lebanese condiment zataar, a mix of herbs, sumac, sesame seeds and salt.

Oregano farming is the new face of this area's development: orégano is easy and economical to grow, doesn't damage anyone's health, and smells and tastes good. Promoting its cultivation is part of a comprehensive support package launched by the ILO, and funded by the Lebanon Recovery Fund, in 2008 to assist socio-economic recovery in areas of south Lebanon affected by the 2006 July war with Israel.

"I had long wanted to make a switch but wasn't aware of any viable alternative until our local cooperative was approached by the ILO about orégano production," says Hassan.

Hassan is making the transition because, compared with tobacco farming, orégano is low-cost, consumes less water and requires less effort. It can also be more profitable: harvesting orégano instead of tobacco can lead to an annual income increase of 850,000 Lebanese pounds (US$566) per family.

However, diversifying crops and securing sales of new products like orégano remains a challenge.

Some 25,000 families in southern Lebanon - about 60 per cent of the population in the south - continue to rely on the statesubsidized tobacco sector for their livelihood. Because of the Government's long-standing price support policy, tobacco is regarded by many in the region as a secure selling crop - providing the average farmer with an annual income equivalent to US$2,400. …

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