Beirut – Everyone here loves labneh, Lebanon’s signature soft cheese, but few realize that the dairy and goat farmers who produce the milk for this and other products were among the hardest hit during the military hostilities between Lebanon and Israel in the summer of 2006.
In just 33 days, aerial bombing, ground fighting and starvation killed 27,000 animals. Shelters, equipment and feedstock were destroyed, and thousands of hectares of pastureland rendered useless due to the presence of unexploded cluster bombs and landmines. It will be years before the Lebanese Army and UN teams finish their clearing work and declare all the affected lands safe.
Tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers and peppers are also some of the mainstays of Lebanese cuisine. The greenhouses and open-field farms in which they grow in the southern part of the country were largely destroyed in the war, and the poorest farmers have had a tough time rebuilding.
While the news media focused on the situation in Beirut, the 2006 conflict wrought enormous destruction on southern Lebanon, a mountainous region with rocky soils, well suited to the small-scale horticulture and livestock rearing that has been practised here for centuries.