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

The story of Tony Al Hazoury and his struggle for a decent life.

Article | 27 February 2024

ZGHARTA, 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 partners the Centre for Social Sciences Research & Action (CeSSRA) and the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) have been steering discussions with workers in agriculture throughout the country to understand what this lack of social protection means for them and their families.

We accompanied Lebanese farmer Tony Al Hazoury, 42, during a typical working day and collected his thoughts on the challenges he and his family face on a daily basis.

Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Al Hazoury started working in agriculture at the age of 12. On his rented lands in North Lebanon, he mainly grows seasonal crops such as tomatoes, eggplants and zucchinis.

“In the past, agriculture was profitable, it used to support and sustain households.
But today, agricultural work is extremely difficult,” he said. “If you look at North Lebanon, particularly in the Zgharta district, only two to three per cent of people work in agriculture today.”

Al Hazoury said his parents and siblings work with him. With none of them benefiting from any form of social protection, they struggle to make ends meet.

“We must pay the rent for the land and many other expenses, like the cost of transporting our products to the market. All these costs have doubled,” he said. “Today, we do not receive any union support nor social insurance, there is absolutely nothing.”

Al Hazoury explained the business model he has been following to try to sustain his household amid the multi-level crisis Lebanon is going through.

For over three years, Lebanon has been hit by the most devastating multi-pronged crisis in its modern history. The unfolding economic and financial stressors that began in October 2019 have been further exacerbated by the dual economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the massive Port of Beirut explosion in August 2020.

“We could decide to make a profit by selling our entire production on local markets for a good price, but this would mean selling it over the course of two, three, or four weeks,” he said. “Or, we will have sell it for half of its value after that, barely compensating the costs of workers, and not reigning in any profit at all. This is the farmer’s life: it is like a lottery ticket; you either win or lose.”

“Today, farmers are anxious if a disease hits their crops, it is like when a person requires hospitalization,” he said. “In case of disease, the problem is how to buy pesticides; here, farmers struggle, facing a lack of support. No one supports farmers. No one makes things easier for them.”

Al Hazoury said that the only solution at his disposal was living one day at a time.

“We live day by day,” he said. “If, for example, I fell today and needed to be hospitalized, or God forbid, I got sick and needed medications, I would have nothing but God’s mercy and these crops.”

Still, both he and his family believe that this land represents their pride and their honour.

“For us, agriculture is the most honourable source of livelihood. We are honoured to be farmers and if I get married one day, I would like my son to continue our working family tradition.”

In Lebanon, farmers and agricultural workers are excluded from the provisions of the Labour Code. They have no access to social security schemes. Social protection is a human right for all, including farmers and individuals employed in agriculture.