Navigating hardship: Lebanon's agricultural workers in the absence of social protection

No rest in old age. The story of Chawki Boustani, who is still farming at 91.

Article | 08 February 2024

This video was produced by CeSSRA for the ILO.
DEIR AL QAMAR, Lebanon (ILO News) – In Lebanon, farmers and agricultural workers are excluded from the Labour Code and the National Social Security Fund, and have thus no access to social protection coverage.

Under the PROSPECTS multi-agency partnership, the ILO and its local partner the Centre for Social Sciences Research & Action (CeSSRA) have been organizing discussions throughout the country to understand what this lack of protection means in the farmers’ and their families’ daily life.

Chawki Boustani, 91, is one of the farmers the initiative has accompanied throughout a typical workday.

Boustani worked as a radiology technician in a hospital in Beirut for 45 years. But for him, as for many other Lebanese, reaching old age did not mean retirement.

Boustani was enrolled in the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) through his former occupation and received an end-of-service compensation upon his retirement. Although the compensation was already meagre, he eventually lost access to all his bank savings and healthcare coverage, as a result of the financial and economic crisis the country is going through.

He began to cultivate his farmland, where he has been primarily growing mangoes, avocadoes, kiwis, lemons, and oranges. Boustani has been selling his produce at a weekly farmer’s market in Beirut in recent years.

Chawki Boustani, 91 years old farmer from Lebanon.©ILO/Elisa Odone
“I built this garden for my older years, and thankfully, the garden gave me more than I needed,” he said. “At one point, my garden was producing 15 tons of fruits, but it was not profitable due to the many commissions and trade expenses.”

But Boustani had an idea: he began planting more exotic fruits like avocados, cherimoyas and kiwis.

“I began to plant trees that were not common in Lebanon to benefit from their price. Since I am working anyway, I might as well make a good profit,” he said.

Boustani suffers from a chronic heart condition and hypertension, requiring regular medications, which he must now pay for out of his own pocket.

“I take five pills in the morning and four in the evening. Some are for blood pressure and the rest for my heart and cholesterol,” he said. “They definitely cost me a lot, but I need them to survive. Since my country doesn’t insure me, I need to insure myself. Farmers do not have rights,” he said.

“Agriculture is basically my only source of income. If disrupted, I would find myself in financial distress,” he said. “But I will keep working and earning my livelihood with dignity and freedom.”