Weaving in Rural Lebanon

Weaving in Rural Lebanon

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Weaving the story of the pashmina shawl

From Changthangi goats in the Tibetan Plateau to retail stores in Srinagar, the making of the pashmina shawl involves many – pastoralists, wholesalers, spinners, dyers, designers, embroiderers and entrepreneurs

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“It was all different a few years back,” said Niaz Ahmed, at his shop in Srinagar’s Lal Chowk. The demand for pashmina shawls was robust, and Niaz and other shop-owners could make a profit by selling the shawls across India as well as abroad.

That was in February 2016, when I started to trace the pashmina shawl from the Changthangi goats to the retail stores I am interested in the history of ancient Indian trade routes that connected India and Central Asia. Pashmina and silk were prized commodities on this route.

The Changthangi goats are reared by the nomadic Changpa pastoralists in the Changthang region – a western extension of the Tibetan Plateau, near the India-China border in eastern Ladakh. At an altitude of around 4,000 to 5,000 metres, it’s a harsh habitat. The search for pastures for their animals – sheep, pashmina goats, a few yaks – and the long winters from late September to May make living here hard. Collecting fuel, childcare, cooking, spinning pashmina thread – the work days are long.

Each Changpa family has at least 80-100 animals, most have 100-150, some even over 300 usually an equal number of goats and sheep. From one Changthangi goat, a family can get 200-300 grams of raw pashmina per year.

On a cold morning in March 2016, I met Bensen Tsering leading his flock in southeastern Changthang, between the towns of Hanle and Chumur. He told me that the cooperative society in Leh – the All Changthang Pashmina Growers Cooperative Marketing Society, affiliated to the state-run Ladakh Hill Development Council – purchases raw pashmina directly from the pastoralists at a fixed rate, cutting out the middlemen of the past who often wouldn’t give a fair price. The cooperative now offers Rs 2,500-Rs. 2,700 for a kilo of raw pashmina. This price has not gone up much over the last 4-5 years because of falling demand. Non-pashmina shawls and woollen apparel flooding the market from Punjab and other states have affected this trade.

Around 40 kilometres from Hanle, I also met Pema Choket. Of Pema’s six children, only her eldest daughter, 23-year-old Dechen, wants to continue their family’s way of life. “She is our flag-bearer,” Pema said, adding that she has a great love for their animals and the pastoralist life.

But many Changpas are slowly selling their tents and livestock and moving to other occupations or to Leh. Pema’s eldest son is a truck driver, another son is a porter at road construction sites, a daughter works in an office in Leh. She says “all her family members, who are in towns have got easy lives.”

In Leh, I met Kashmiri traders buying raw pashmina at Rs. 8,000-9,000 a kilo from the cooperative, sometimes going up to Rs. 20,000, depending on the quality and demand. The longer the staple length and smaller the diameter, the better the quality. The pashmina from eastern Ladakh, I was told, is considered among the finest.

I met Stanzin Dolma too in Leh. She had stopped spinning by hand. “Our work is slowly bowing down to power looms [that is, the spinning machines],” she said, with a sigh. She felt she could not make her hands go fast enough to compete with the machines. The traditional spinning wheels (locally called yender ), used to convert raw pashmina into yarn, are now competing with more cost-effective spinning machines owned by families who can afford them. In the narrow lanes of Old Srinagar (mainly in the Nawhatta and Rainawari localities), I would regularly hear the sounds of these machines running.

Once woven, pashmina shawls are dyed by hand in workshops in Srinagar. The dyers earn Rs. 150-200 per shawl (and can earn Rs. 15,000- 20,000 a month working on other woollen apparel as well). The workshops then send the dyed shawls for washing at the banks of Jhelum.

The next step is usually designing on shawls by hand, a generations-old art. In Ganderbal block in Srinagar district, and Bandipore and Sopore tehsils in Baramulla district, to name only a few, needlework on pashmina shawls remains the livelihood for many artisans. They use wool thread to weave intricate patterns. Silk thread is used rarely in needlework, and the price of such a shawl is higher.

“We cannot work for more than 4-5 hours a day, it strains our eyes,” Nazir Ahmed, an artisan in his 50s, told me in Ganderbal. Because needlework cannot be done all day, many artisans also double up as agricultural labourers. Ahmed said he earned Rs. 200-300 a day from the pashmina wholesalers, depending on the design. “It comes to us naturally. We can beat computers. ” he said.

Then the embroidered or hand block-printed shawls are taken to the wholesalers in Srinagar, who sell them to retailers in Srinagar, other Indian cities or abroad.

In November 2018, I visited Niaz Ahmed at his Lal Chowk shop again. He told me, “The farther the shawls reach, the higher the price. More designs [on the shawls] mean more time and higher prices. A shawl with an all-over pattern will cost Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 5-6 lakhs, while plain shawls are Rs. 10,000 and those with borders can cost Rs. 30,000-40,000.”

A family of Changpa pastoralists – Jampa Chokey, Tsering Dolma and their daughter Sonam Nyidon in Changthang, around 80 kilometres southeast of Hanle.

Bensen Tsering takes his goats out for grazing in southeastern Changthang, across difficult stretches of open land, boulders and steep slopes. The day’s grazing lasts for about 6-8 hours, depending on the availability of grass. Most pastoralist families have around 100-150 animals, and the entire lot is taken out to graze at the same time.

Pema Choket's daughter Dechen watches over a two-day old lamb as it clings to its mother in early spring, March 2016). She makes a warm shelter for the baby lambs – underground ditches covered with rocks, and lids made of wool and wooden frames. All members of pastoralist families take the utmost care to ensure that the newborns can survive in these harsh surroundings, and not succumb to steep drops in temperature, icy winds, or frost.

Women here spin raw pashmina by hand almost every day and in all seasons

Left: In Korzok village, Tsering Norzom and Sanoh Dolkar are unperturbed by the freezing winds blowing over the frozen Tso Moriri lake. They are busy making a carpet and sweater with wool from their own herd of goats and sheep. Right: Tsering Dondap and Yama chat as she weaves a carpet on the bank of Pangong lake in Spangmik village, around 60 kilometres southeast of Tagste town.

Stanzin Dolma and her daughter in their backyard spinning with a yender and a borrowed spinning machine. Many families still prefer to use the traditional spinning wheel to convert the raw pashmina to yarn. They are used to it and it is easy to repair.

In some localities of Leh, groups of Ladakhi women (not from the Changpa community) have set up, or are employed in, small units where machines are used for spinning. This, they say, speeds up the process and increases profits

In Leh, Saima Dar says she prefers machine-weaving because it is quicker and allows her time for childcare. Her husband works in a hotel in Srinagar.

Mohammed Sidiq Kotha and his son Irshad Ahmed Kotha have been hand-weaving pashmina shawls on the loom for decades. They say that the speed of machine-woven shawls is hard to compete with.

Sabzar Ahmed and Zubair Wani are traditional dyers in a workshop in the Nawhatta area of Srinagar. Their work involves being exposed to chemical fumes, but their employers rarely provide them with protective gear.

Once ready, the pashmina shawls are washed on the banks of the Jhelum in several areas of Old Srinagar.

Left: Shabir Butt, now in his mid-30s, learnt to make designs on pashmina shawls from his father, and has been in the trade since he was 15. Though the drawings are now computerised in many places, he prefers to continue drawing by hand. Right: Hand-carved wooden blocks are used to make borders on pashmina shawls, and artisans like Bilal Maqsood in Old Srinagar take pride in transforming a plain cloth into an attractive shawl.

Left: Nazir Ahmed, a master artisan, embroidering a pashmina shawl with his sui-dhaga in Ganderbal. A shawl fully covered with designs can take even up to 6-8 months, while a plain one with an ornate border might take a month at most. Right: Niaz Ahmed, the owner of a pashmina shawls shop in Lal Chowk, Srinagar, has been in pashmina trade for decades and says he has seen good times when the demand of pashmina was good as were his profits. Mashqoor Sheikh, now 44 has been in family’ pashmina business since his teens, and shifted from weaving to wholesale to try and earn more.

Prabir Mitra is a general physician and Fellow of The Royal College of Physicians, London, UK. He is an associate of the Royal Photographic Society and a documentary photographer with an interest in rural Indian cultural heritage.

Traditional handicrafts in Lebanon

Carpets, cutlery, glass, soap, furniture—these traditional Lebanese crafts have a valued place in the country’s—and the region’s—history. Industrial development in the last half of the 20th century has, inevitably, affected Lebanon’s traditional artisans. One the one hand, it has driven demand down for artisanal crafts that are usually more expensive than mass-produced imports. On the other, for local artisans who have weathered weary economic waters, access to a new global market has been made easier, a result of improved online marketplaces, social media, and internet-based communication. There are also multiple initiatives underway in Lebanon that seek to ensure Lebanese artisans find their place in increasingly crowded local and global markets. For traditional artisan crafts in particular, local and international organizations have worked to improve their sustainability by providing technical, industrial, design, and marketing support, and by providing a place for craftsmen to market their goods.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and L’artisan du Liban are two organizations that have helped keep Lebanese artisanry alive by providing production support, serving as design catalysts, and offering a place for local craftsmen to market their wares. Established in 1979, L’artisan du Liban was Lebanon’s first social enterprise, and it sought to keep artisans active and safekeep artistry and heritage by providing local craftspeople a marketplace for their goods. UNIDO has been active in Lebanon since 1989, and supports sustainable development across multiple sectors, including its work with craftspeople. Both organizations have played similar, but distinct, roles in sustaining local artisanry.

Despite a strong history of design generation and export in Lebanon, recent economic stagnation has made it difficult for some traditional artisans to compete with cheaper imports from places like China. For example, where 10 years ago there were several glassblowers in Lebanon, today only one family, the Khalifehs in Sarafand, remain. The period between 2011 and 2018 marked a 37 percent increase in imported glass and glassware, according to data by Blominvest Bank, with which Lebanese glassblowers had to compete.

Artisans across the handicraft spectrum have had to adjust to shifting market trends and find new ways to make their products attractive to consumers in a modern market. Driven, in part, by shifting market trends and demands, artisans have used several tactics to stay ahead of the game, from introducing subtle, more modern-looking design twists, to adopting new materials and packaging methods to make traditional goods more marketable.

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T he rapidity of changing trends, a clientele more aware of global trends and buying options, and the combination of rising ease of travel and digital advancements have accounted for the largest market shifts, says Hadi Maktabi, owner and curator of Hadi Maktabi carpets, who holds a PhD in Islamic Art from Oxford. Difficulty in identifying a unified “Lebanese taste” has also made marketing to a local audience challenging. And it is in this climate that producers and artisans must decide which model they want to adopt, whether that be identifying a niche within a larger market and catering to it, or following the “supermarket model,” which Maktabi defines as being largely mass-produced, cheaper wares made abroad that appeal to a broad audience (think IKEA).

“Fifteen years ago, it was the supermarket model, and you had five to 10 big dealers who catered to everything,” Maktabi says, referring to the carpet industry. He argues that where trends in the 1990s shifted every 10 years or so, recently they have begun changing every two to five years.

The advent of the internet and improved digital marketplaces have sped up the introduction of new styles over the last 20 years. Rapidly growing global markets also meant the Lebanese market was flooded with more affordable, modern products that were designed in Europe, but were produced in places with cheap labor supply. “Most people working on this [supermarket model] side are dealing with products mass produced in China and India, and then selling them here,” Maktabi says. “But what they’re selling now is not craft, it’s just a product.”

Now, within the last few years, more have tried to carve out a niche in a crowded market—like Maktabi’s focus on antique carpets and textiles—specializing in providing a specific product. Complicating the matter, on the local front, he argues, is the rising European influence and the need for the Lebanese to find their place within that trend. Even local geographical considerations play a role in this. “Drive a few kilometers south of Beirut, and it’s like entering a different time period,” Maktabi says. Torn between the occidental and oriental, this clash of cultures has made designers and artisans alike, who choose to follow the niche market approach, have to define a narrow target audience.

But those specialists, specifically some traditional artisans, have needed help finding a viable market for their niche crafts. A few kilometers south of Beirut, Houssam Outabashi is found in Ouzai with multiple workshops lining the street. Here, Outabashi, a master in traditional marquetry and inlay techniques, can look at a piece of mother of pearl and name its country of origin by its color. Marquetry is a process by which small pieces of different types of wood are bundled to form a pattern, and then shaved in thin layers, while inlay design is a process in which chunks of wood are carved out and replaced with the shimmery pieces cut from sheets of Mother of Pearl to create intricate designs.

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Outabashi specializes in the traditional styles of his craft, however, he has started modernizing some of his designs. L’artisan du Liban has provided him with support to help preserve his craft, which goes back as far as the 1800s through generations of his family. Nour Najm, creative director of L’artisan du Liban, says they work with Outabashi, designing objects that Outabashi creates by hand and then are sold in L’artisan du Liban store.

Further south in Sarafand, L’artisan similarly works with the Khalifeh family who create glassware out of recycled glass—which in a country that has an excess of garbage, is remarkable. The Khal ifeh’s only turn on the oven five to six times a year, but can turn it on up to 10 times when there is an order to be filled—otherwise it is a resource drain. When it is on, six to eight people work in shifts around the clock for 15-20 days to fill an order. Najm says L’artisan makes sure to place a large order with the Khalifeh’s each time they turn on the oven .

In the small, run-down warehouse where the Khalifeh family makes their glass, Najm is thinking about what she can do to give the glassware a modern twist—for her, the answer is color. With colored glass she bought from the US, the glassblowers are experimenting with different techniques to potentially incorporate color into their traditional designs. Najm says they have introduced a lot of small details to modernize traditional designs and help make them competitive in today’s markets. “Small twists change everything,” she says.

Reimagining the craft

UNIDO has also worked with local craftsmen to help them update traditional designs and help artisans peddle their crafts. For example, UNIDO worked with Jezzine cutlery craftspeople—as well as local soap makers and tark el-fouda (embroidery) craftspeople—to help them modernize designs and industrialize production. Two years ago, UNIDO launched a program in partnership with the Ministry of Industry and funded by the Austrian government to help preserve traditional artisanry and improve livelihoods of artisans in these sectors, says Nada Barakat, national project coordinator at UNIDO.

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Jezzine cutlery, for example, was once thought of as a gift that sat in a wooden box unused the product had to be re-imagined into something people would by to use and enjoy. Barakat stressed the importance of marketing: they did away with the old wood box and started packaging the sets in cardboard, which cut down costs and made the sets more practical. To better market the soap, they did the opposite and introduced an attractive olive wooden box as packaging. Jezzine cutlery, which was traditionally made out of olive wood and featured bird-like motifs on the handles is now sometimes made out of resin, but maintains the older features with a modern edge. Creating the mold for the resin-based handles made the production process and end-product marginally cheaper, but consumers can still buy the cutlery with the traditional wooden handles as well.

Barakat says that while the collection is primarily available to local markets, negotiations are underway with Coincasa, an Italian retail outlet, to market the collection there. L’artisan du Liban has a slightly larger global reach with their online store that opened last year. Najm says that less than 10 percent of their sales are global, but they have clients all over Europe and in the US, and they attend yearly trade fairs in Paris.

Both entities—UNIDO and L’artisan du Liban—have worked to keep Lebanese artisanry alive and are beginning to introduce traditional local crafts in international markets. Though industrial development made traditional crafts more expensive, recent globalizing trends and improved digital markets may help some local artisans find a viable market for their goods abroad. While it is too early to tell what the future holds for Lebanese crafts in the international market, at least here at home some local artisans have found the support needed to keep centuries’ old traditions alive.

Al Sadu, traditional weaving skills in the United Arab Emirates

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Inscribed in 2011 (6.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

Al Sadu is a traditional form of weaving practised by Bedouin women in rural communities of the United Arab Emirates to produce soft furnishings and decorative accessories for camels and horses. Bedouin men shear the sheep, camels and goats, and the wool is cleaned and prepared by the women. The yarn is spun on a drop spindle, then dyed, then woven on a floor loom using a warp-faced plain weave. The traditional colours are black, white, brown, beige and red, with distinctive patterns in the form of narrow bands of geometric designs. Weavers often gather in small groups to spin and weave, exchanging family news and occasionally chanting and reciting poetry. Such gatherings are the traditional means of transmission: girls learn by watching, and are gradually given tasks to do, such as sorting the wool, before learning the more intricate skills involved. However, the rapid economic development and social transformations brought about by the advent of oil in the Emirates have caused a sharp decline in the practice of Al Sadu. The pastoral Bedouin communities have dispersed among urban settlements, and young women increasingly work outside the home. The bearers of Al Sadu are now mostly older women whose numbers are declining.

© 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAEs © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH) UAE 2010 © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE © 2010 by Intangible Heritage Department (ADACH), UAE

Lebanon’s Food Insecurity and the Path Toward Agricultural Reform

One hundred years after its creation, Lebanon is invited to rethink its economic model in the context of a profound internal crisis and regional turmoil. The collapse of its financial and banking sectors, paired with the domination of a corrupt and incompetent political elite, has led the country to the verge of becoming a failed state in which people cannot access food and basic services. Within this overall environment, rethinking agriculture is a key element in building a sustainable economic model that reduces geographical inequalities and ensures food security.

Lebanese Agriculture: From the State&rsquos Foundations to the Present Crisis

Agricultural development in Lebanon has always been highly influenced by local and regional socioeconomic and political dynamics. After the famine of 1915&ndash1918, the creation of Greater Lebanon in 1920 was motivated by food security imperatives. Akkar, the Beqaa Valley, and South Lebanon&mdashall predominantly agricultural areas&mdashwere added to Mount Lebanon to ensure that the new state would not suffer famine again. However, rural and agricultural development soon faced political challenges. The French Mandate (1923&ndash1943) failed to foster a rural economy and reduce geographical inequalities, giving up on the implementation of its rural development plan in order to gain support from rural landlords.

Kanj Hamadé

During the rise of what became known as the &ldquomerchant republic&rdquo between 1943 and 1958, there was an inflow of regional capital and low-wage Palestinian refugee labor to Lebanon, while the oil boom increased trade opportunities with the Arab Gulf states. In that period, little emphasis was placed on taking advantage of economic growth to transform agriculture. Across the country, and more notably around Palestinian refugee camps near the coast and in the Beqaa Valley, traditional local agriculture was replaced by export-oriented fruit production and a handful of large agroindustrial enterprises. Food production was geared primarily toward regional trade, radically altering social dynamics.

For instance, in the Arsal area in northern Beqaa Valley, the move from agropastoral modes of production toward growing cherries and apricots for export radically changed gender and social dynamics there. Women, previously central to agricultural production, saw their roles relegated, while there was a reduction in cooperation over sustainable land resources management, a feature of traditional agropastoral systems.

Within that context, the reforms under president Fouad Chehab in the late 1950s and early 1960s represented a unique attempt to develop agriculture and rural development policies and address inequalities. However, the Chehabist reforms did not alter the system. Export-oriented agriculture and politically affiliated agroindustrial investments failed to induce local economic development at a time when improvements in health and reduced infant mortality had prompted a demographic boom. The lack of rural opportunities led to increased migration toward Beirut and the growth of the city&rsquos poverty belt, fueling social conflict that later contributed to the civil war in 1975.

By the war&rsquos end in 1990, Lebanon found itself divided into several political and territorial spaces. The state did not have any policy vision for agriculture, and the sector relied on the intervention of international donors and the influence of local nonstate actors in shaping regionaldevelopment policies. This was particularly true of rural development in majority Druze areas, Bsharri in the north, and Deir al-Ahmar in the northern Beqaa Valley, as well as regions under the influence of the two leading Shia parties, Hezbollah and Amal.

Since 2011, Lebanon has faced two shocks threatening its capacity to ensure food security for its inhabitants&mdashthe Syrian crisis beginning in 2011 and the financial crisis in late 2019. The war in Syria provoked an influx of about 1.5 million Syrians, expanding demand for food. While this demand represented a burden, it also had a positive impact by increasing the real value of agricultural output by 10 percent compared to the precrisis level. To respond to rising food demand, people invested in agriculture, especially in greenhouses, vegetables, and potatoes. Satellite pictures of the coastal Akkar and northern Beqaa Valley regions show the expansion of agricultural land after 2011. 1 This local investment created income-generating opportunities for other Lebanese people and absorbed many Syrian refugee agricultural workers. Despite a lack of political support, the Lebanese agricultural sector has been able to adapt quickly in response to food security shocks and generate social stability and resilience in rural areas.

However, the financial crisis and the collapse of the Lebanese pound have put the food security of vulnerable Lebanese and refugees at risk. Between October 2019 and October 2020, the consumer price index increased by 240 percent, while food prices increased by an alarming 367 percent. Data collected from Beirut supermarkets show that volumes of sales of high-end food products&mdashfunctional foods, imported sweets, culinary preparations, and more&mdashhad decreased by 56 percent, while the sale of basic food items such as cereals, pasta, sugar, and rice had increased by 105 percent. 2

Despite the price increases, the average consumption level of a basket of fresh produce in 2020, including potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers, is remarkably stable compared to 2018 and 2019. 3 However, this stability may not withstand a collapse in local production and only reflects the ability of the urban middle class to financially cope with the crisis. Until now, no data have been available on the consumption patterns of vulnerable people. The World Bank has estimated that poverty and extreme poverty rates in Lebanese households during 2020 have reached levels as high as 45 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Precrisis vulnerability assessments by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that around 37 percent of Syrian refugee households are food insecure. In other words, almost one quarter of Lebanese households (those experiencing extreme poverty) and four out of ten Syrian households are likely to skip a meal daily.

The financial crisis has not only affected food security by increasing prices but also by threatening Lebanon&rsquos capacity to produce food. Since the mid-1990s, suppliers of agricultural inputs have pushed for a production model that relies heavily on imported seeds and seedlings, fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation systems. Until recently, this reliance was sustained by the Lebanon&rsquos central bank&rsquos policy to peg the Lebanese pound to the U.S. dollar and the banking sector&rsquos policy to make credit lines available to input suppliers, who, in turn, offer credit to farmers. This system has now collapsed, putting Lebanon&rsquos agricultural production capacity at risk.

For instance, the cost of producing vegetables in 2020 has increased by an estimated 40 percent since 2019, when denominated in Lebanese pounds. 4 In turn, the costs of new investments&mdashnew irrigation systems or greenhouse equipment&mdashhave increased by 80 percent, since farmers had to work, on average, with an exchange rate of 2,000 Lebanese pounds to $1.00 in late 2019 and around 3,500 pounds to $1.00 in spring 2020, compared to 1,500 pounds to $1.00 prior to the crisis. Overall, suppliers of inputs and agriculture services contractors have reported a 40 percent average decrease in sales, reflecting how farmers are adopting cost-reduction strategies. These have involved canceling planned investments, decreasing cultivated areas, or increasing areas dedicated to lower-cost crops such as wheat. It has also meant relying on local seeds or seeds smuggled from Syria, using gravity irrigation&mdashwhich does not require imported plastic irrigation networks&mdashinstead of drip irrigation, as well as reducing the use of fertilizers and plant protection inputs.

Overall, the agricultural sector was able to sustain the initial impact of the financial crisis because the increase in prices partially made up for the sector&rsquos increased production costs. However, there is a significant risk of production collapsing in the 2021 season, as the pound&rsquos devaluation has reached levels as high as 8,000 pounds to $1.00, leading to an estimated increase of 175 percent in operating costs and up to 350 percent in the costs of new investments in the vegetable sector. 5 Under this pressure, many farmers may not be able to sustain their production levels, leading to a loss of income-generating opportunities for many Lebanese and for large numbers of Syrian refugees. Furthermore, rising input prices will favor large export-oriented farming while the country mostly needs small sustainable holdings&mdashlinked through cooperative organizations&mdashthat produce food for local markets.

Barriers to Agricultural Development

The Lebanese government&rsquos response to the situation in the agricultural sector has been limited. In fact, much of the reaction has come from nonstate actors, including civil society and Hezbollah, which has called for an &ldquoagricultural and industrial jihad.&rdquo Both have glamorized farming and a return to the land in a period of coronavirus-related lockdowns. Hezbollah seeks to reconnect with its base by using local municipal resources and capitalizing on the expertise that its Jihad al-Binaa foundation has acquired in rural development and community support. However, the initiatives of both the party and civil society have had a limited impact so far. Meanwhile, the magnitude of the country&rsquos financial and political problems keeps growing.

Besides promoting a form of agricultural autarky, the government has focused on two sets of actions. The first aims to support farmers&rsquo capacity to sustain production and invest in agriculture, including by locally producing inputs. The second seeks to tackle key structural and policy issues that impede the agricultural sector&rsquos capacity to grow and expand in a sustainable way.

Key factors hindering development of the agricultural sector are deeply rooted in an inequitable and clientelistic Lebanese system, where a small number of influential people control access to resources and opportunities. The factors are primarily sociopolitical and only secondarily related to agricultural infrastructure and technical issues. The following are six major impediments.

  • The informality of the agricultural sector: Around 90 percent of Lebanese people, and almost all Syrians, working in agriculture do so informally. Agricultural labor is unregulated, and, therefore, there is no legal definition of &ldquofarmer&rdquo as a profession or of &ldquoagricultural exploitation&rdquo as a business. The fact that definitions of legal and commercial status don&rsquot exist implies the absence of any social protections for agricultural workers, such as health coverage or pensions.
  • Land regulation and access to land:The top 10 percent of landowners control two-thirds of agricultural land, with large land estates being easily traceable to key political figures. Agricultural holdings are divided between (1) a handful of large estates with easy access to credit and inputs and fully integrated with trade and industrial activities and (2) myriad undercapitalized, fragmented, and in most cases small farms that are managed in ways that prevent them from being sustainable. Furthermore, a significant number of Lebanese agricultural workers and all Syrian agricultural workers are landless. They are either employed by landowners to oversee large- and medium-size orchards or are renting land to plant seasonal crops or set up greenhouses. Inadequate land tenure is linked to low productivity and land degradation, as it encourages unsuitable practices such as the overuse of inputs leading to soil and water pollution. Meanwhile, inheritance laws that facilitate the fragmentation of agricultural land impede efforts to reach economies of scale.
  • Access to finance: Farmers cannot access credit to finance their investments or operating costs. Input suppliers, who were the primary source of credit prior to Lebanon&rsquos economic crisis, created an unsustainable heavy use of inputs. There is a significant gap between the credit provided by financial institutions and farmers&rsquo needs, coupled with a lack of mutual trust and understanding. A majority of Lebanese financial institutions lack the appetite to lend to small-scale farmers. Only a few are interested in and willing to dedicate resources to the agricultural sector. On the other side, farmers are reluctant to approach banks and prefer receiving informal loans from their social networks and input suppliers.
  • Access to post-harvest services: Farmers do not have access to post-harvest services&mdashincluding sorting their produce, grading it, putting it in cold storage, and so on. The reason is that these services are often controlled by integrated farming-trading operators, especially when it comes to key Lebanese exports such as apples, potatoes, and citrus. The monopoly of traders and large farmers over post-harvest services extracts most of the added value farmers can get from their produce by forcing them to sell at low prices during harvest time, when there is an oversupply. Furthermore, existing post-harvest structures, including wholesale markets, are badly managed. Estimates are that inappropriate post-harvest handling, including lack of access to cold storage, represents a loss of at least 15 percent of the total agricultural output. 6
  • Governance of local markets: Although it reduces farmers&rsquo margins and bargaining power, the sale of agricultural outputs through middlemen is one of the most common practices to sell crops. Because farmers and their organizations cannot offer adequate volume for the market, middlemen act as aggregators of agricultural produce. The absence of transparent information about wholesale prices and poor infrastructure and transportation logistics&mdashnot to mention risk-averse behavior&mdashall influence the farmers&rsquo decisions to sell through middlemen. Principally, the inadequate governance of wholesale markets stands as a barrier to the upgrading and improvement of local agricultural value chains.
  • The weak cooperative sector: Agriculture value chain actors in Lebanon need to alter their perceptions and understanding of the role and mission of farmers and cooperative structures. Cooperatives are often viewed as local extensions of the state administration or of developmental nongovernmental organizations instead of private sector economic actors offering a more democratic and socially fair model of management and income distribution. In fact, Lebanese political parties use cooperative organizations to control farmers and rural producers and as a tool to implement de facto rural development policies. In parallel, Lebanon&rsquos public administration inhibits growth of the sector by implementing an outdated interpretation of the law, thus limiting the creation and development of cooperatives.

In its strategy for 2020&ndash2025, published in September 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture for the first time tackled strategic issues with an acceptable level of depth and analysis when compared to previous ministry efforts. The strategy is organized around five pillars, including for the first time food security. Other pillars focus on implementing technical improvements to enhance agricultural and agroindustrial productivity, increasing the competitiveness of agro-food value chains, ameliorating natural resource management, and improving institutional capacity.

However, the Lebanese government tends to develop strategies geared toward donors. The government presents intervention options for donors to choose from and implement as they see fit. Thus, most of the ministry&rsquos strategies have failed to tackle key policy and legal issues because donors and policymakers, for different reasons, are reluctant to push for long-term legal and structural reforms. This has prevented rural development and therefore the improvement and well-being of farmers and farm workers.

Possible Paths for Reform

Lebanon&rsquos agricultural sector requires in-depth legislative and institutional reforms. That means it needs a full-fledged transformation of the rules of the game in the sector, similar to what happened following the Chehabist reforms that led to the sector&rsquos current institutional framework.

Among the major reforms that could transform the agricultural sector is the enactment of a law that formalizes farming and animal husbandry&ndashrelated businesses, as well as agricultural labor. The law should facilitate business creation and assure the rights of small entities in a sector where scale is a key determinant of economic bargaining capacities. The law should also regulate agricultural work and enforce decent work standards for Lebanese and non-Lebanese people alike. The formalization of agriculture must go hand in hand with the establishment of health coverage and retirement schemes.

A second measure to reform land tenure and heritage laws would further transform the agricultural sector. The law should establish and enforce clear and fair land-use regulations. It must disallow the division of agricultural land below a certain size threshold. Also, it must regulate contracts to lease land, allowing for, and enforcing, sustainable land management practices.

A third measure would broaden the law on cooperatives to reinforce solidarity and socially oriented businesses. The reformed law should facilitate the creation of cooperatives set standards and rules for the financing of, and accounting in, cooperatives and remove elements of the previous law that impeded the independence of cooperatives and their capacity to grow.

A fourth measure to introduce structural reforms that enforce competitive market laws and regulations would remove cartels in the agricultural sector and improve the governance of wholesale markets and post-harvest services. The establishment of efficient and fair wholesale markets&mdashwith clear rules, transparent price information, pricing based on the graded quality of goods, and well-implemented phytosanitary controls&mdashremains difficult and challenging. An audacious ministerial administration will be needed to successfully implement these structural reforms, and, unfortunately, the ministry is not poised to take action in the current situation.


Politicians, and in certain instances civil society organizations and initiatives, have held Lebanese citizens responsible for ensuring their own food security, asking them to plant all available plots of arable land. Not only is this autarky ideal unrealistic&mdasheven undesirable&mdashit also frees policymakers from any kind of responsibility or accountability.

Agriculture is far from being a miracle solution to Lebanon&rsquos economic crisis. On the contrary, the sector is among those that may suffer the most. The increased cost of inputs will further deepen the gap between small holdings and large export-oriented enterprises, pushing more and more people into poverty and potentially encouraging a process of land accumulation. The improvement of the agricultural sector is linked to in-depth legislative and structural reforms that would balance value-added distribution between farmers and other value-chain actors. If nothing is done, Lebanon is at risk of losing a sector that has absorbed labor and helped to reinforce civil peace&mdashand this could ultimately trigger unrest and conflict.


1 Additional remote sensing images&mdashshared privately with the author within the framework of a UN Food and Agriculture Organization project&mdashare available upon request.

2 Author interview, co-conducted with agricultural economist Philippe Grondier, of a sales director at a major international supermarket chain in Lebanon, Beirut, September 28, 2020.

4 Author calculations based on field research and interviews with farmers.

6 Poor post-harvest handling&mdashfrom the farm to storage to the market&mdashhas likely led to losses much higher than 15 percent. Author interview of Hala Chahine, a post-harvest handling expert at Lebanese University, Beirut, September 28, 2020.

Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. There is no caste system in Lebanon. Money is now the most important factor in determining class lines. The middle class suffered a great loss of wealth during the war, and the gap between the very rich upper class and the lower class has widened. As a result, there have been numerous strikes and demonstrations. Differences in wealth and status often occur along religious and family lines.

Symbols of Social Stratification. All Christians and most Muslims who live in the cities wear European style clothes. In poorer Muslim towns and in some Muslim areas in the main cities, one may still find the Muslim chador (the veil traditional Muslim women wear). In the countryside, women sometimes wear traditional colorful skirts and men wear a traditional serwal (baggy trousers).

A Short History on Navajo-Churro Sheep

Diné philosophy, spirituality, and sheep are intertwined like wool in the strongest weaving. Sheep symbolize the Good Life, living in harmony and balance on the land. Before they acquired domesticated sheep on this continent, Diné held the Idea of Sheep in their collective memory for thousands of years. While wild mountain sheep provided meat and the Diné gathered wool from the shedding places, the species of sheep in North America do not have a herd behavior that permits domestication. As a result, the Diné asked their Holy People to send them a sheep that would live with them and with care they would provide a sustainable living.

“Sheep in every essence an important part of our culture and traditions. It is important to celebrate our sheep traditions and our lifeways. Our Sheep Is Life Celebration re-centers us in the cosmos of our universe it is our blessingway ceremony for our continuance here on earth, and for the next generations to come.”
Roy Kady, former President of DBI

In the early 1600s, Navajo acquisition of “la raza churra” sheep from the Spanish colonists inspired a radical lifestyle change to an agro-pastoralist way of life and expanded mobility. In the high deserts and wooded mountains of Diné Bikéyah (Navajo Land) Diné pastoralists developed the Navajo-Churro breed, which thrived under the spiritual and pastoral care of their new companions and assumed a central role in the People’s psychology, creativity, and religious life. With songs, prayers, and techniques taught to them by Spider Woman and looms first built by Spider Man, traditional Navajo weaving evolved to utilize the special qualities of the glossy Navajo-Churro wool.

As the Navajo managed their flocks for over 350 years, they evolved the Navajo-Churro, a breed recognized by the American Sheep Industry. They are hardy and have excellent mothering instincts and successfully lamb out on the range with little assistance. Smaller than many commercial breeds, they eat less and do well on forage alone. They do not need grain. There legs, faces and bellies are free of wool so they do not pick up burrs. They are tall, narrow in build with fine bones, making them sound, agile and fast out on the range.

Carpet-wool sheep have two lengths of fiber, an inner coat of fine wool with an outer coat of hair. Navajo-Churro fleece is low in lanolin requiring little water for washing. It may be spun directly from the raw fleece without time-consuming carding. The wool comes in natural colors and is very high in luster which are highly-prized by hand-spinners. Yarn spun from this type of wool is extremely strong and durable, making it excellent for the Navajo rugs, horse cinches, and belts. In addition the wool can be easily felted for a variety of uses including hats and outer garments the distinctive long-haired pelts are highly valued.

Navajo-Churro Sheep are also excellent for milking. A range of dairy products is possible. Because Navajo-Churro store fat in their bellies, the meat is very lean in comparison to the meat of other contemporary breeds. The lightly flavored meat is prized by Chefs and brings a premium price.

A series of Federal government actions led to the almost total eradication of the Navajo-Churro breed, disrupting the chain connecting Navajo culture, weaving, traditional lifestyle, and self-sufficiency. In the early to mid-1900s, market forces, ignorance, and misguided attempts to “improve” Navajo wool, depressed the economic value of Navajo-Churro sheep and led to their almost complete extinction. During the 1930s, Navajos were forced by the United States to radically reduce their herds – the wellspring of their Good Life.

Government agents went from Hogan to Hogan, shooting a specified percentage of the sheep in front of their horrified owners, who love their sheep and regard them as family members. First to be shot were the Churro, because the agents thought this hardy breed was “scruffy and unfit.” Today, elders tearfully recall that time and can describe in detail each sheep that was killed and the exact location of the massacre. At the same time, traditional summer grazing lands in the mountains were appropriated by the U.S. government and a system of allotments was instituted which disrupted the traditional way of family land management. In the late 1930s and ‘40s, Federal agents discouraged raising the Navajo-Churro encouraged cross-breeding with other fine wool genotypes. This practice has led to wool that is very undesirable for both the commodity market and the specialty wool market.

The shorter wool fibers of commercial breeds break easily when hand spun using traditional Navajo methods and do not take the native, natural dyes very well. Navajo weavers became discouraged with trying to process this new wool by traditional means, and many began buying commercially produced and dyed yarns. While beautiful weavings have been created with commercial yarns, their use has contributed to breaking the traditional tie between sheep, wool, land, and weaving. Weavings made with commercial yarns are not as durable, and the texture and quality are not the same as those created with Navajo-Churro wool. Among today’s informed collectors, weavings from Churro wool command premium prices.

By the 1970s, only about 450 of the old type Navajo-Churro existed on the entire Navajo Nation, and only a few specimens were preserved in other locations. The conventional wisdom of the time was “the breed is not useful – let it die out,” an attitude often directed towards the traditional cultures, themselves. The disappearance of the Churro has adversely affected the Navajos’ health, as well as economic opportunities for specialized niche markets for meat and wool.

In the mid-1970s, animal scientist Dr. Lyle McNeal, sheep industry expert with Utah State University, recognized the genetic and cultural significance of the Navajo-Churro. He searched out enough remaining Navajo-Churro sheep to start a foundation flock. From this flock he has been able to re-introduce Navajo-Churro Sheep to the Navajo people. In 1977, Dr. and Mrs. McNeal founded the Navajo Sheep Project. The project has placed many breeding stock with Navajo families and helped form the nucleus of Ganados del Valle/Tierra Wools flocks in Los Ojos.

The Navajo-Churro Sheep Association was founded 25 years ago to maintain a breed registry and ensure quality. Today, there are several thousand sheep of this breed from throughout the United States registered with the association. Yet the numbers are too low for the breed to be safe and Navajo Churro Sheep continue to be listed by the Livestock Breeds Conservancy as “threatened by extinction”.

Diné be’ iiná, Inc. (The Navajo Lifeway) was founded by Navajos in 1991 to represent and assist Navajo Nation sheep and goat producers in their efforts to improve their

The Navajo-Churro Heritage Lamb Presidium was formed in 2007 with help of Slow Food International. The Protocol Guidelines of the Navajo-Churro Lamb Presidium (NCLP) include breed registration requirements, care, feeding, slaughter, labeling, and marketing, and a Member Agreement is to be signed by all members signifying a considerable level of cooperation. The group has created its own brand and label. They utilize brokers to develop relationships with Chefs and others who purchase their lamb for a premium price.

Medieval Silkworm Farming: A Global Perspective

Like today, silk has always been an expensive commodity. In the Middle Ages, its production involved a large number of workers, especially farmers, established across the Eurasian continent. They planted white mulberry trees, the only tree whose leaves can feed silkworms. Once the worms had formed a cocoon, they were boiled and their silk extracted. The precious threads were shipped to marketplaces or to weaving centres in all regions of the then known world.

The oldest evidence of manmade silk was discovered in 2016 in three tombs in Henan Province, central China, which were degraded silk proteins dating back 8,500 years. For centuries, China kept secret the mysteries of silk production. But, at the opening of the Middle Ages, sericulture was attested in Byzantium. From there, it spread in all directions. Silk production had become, by the central Middle Ages, a common occupation for Asian, Middle-Eastern, North-African and South-European farmers.

Sericulture in the Late Antiquity

In the Late Antiquity, the silk trade was blossoming. Through maritime and terrestrial roads, China exported raw and woven silk to south-east Asia, India, the greater Iran region and the Eastern Roman Empire (modern Greece and Turkey). From there, the silk was dispatched to Western and Northern Europe.

Although workshops throughout these regions could weave the raw silk, the highest quality fabrics came from China. The Persian textiles, with their intricate patterns, came a close second, while the Roman silk paled in comparison.

The Roman imperial power had established in the third century CE a monopoly on silk weaving. Imported silk was funnelled through an imperial officer who redistributed the material to imperial workshops, though expertise was lacking. The textile was of cheaper making, coarser and lacking the lustre of the others. But this also made it far less expensive. The Roman elite kept importing the best products from China and Persia.

Fragment of Woven Silk from 13th century China – image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

At the time, China still exerted a strict monopoly on sericulture, or the rearing of silkworms. All silk produced and traded in the world had to come from their silkworms. This was about to change.

Monopoly in Byzantium

In the fourth century CE, silkworms and silk eggs were smuggled to Japan. There, and eventually in India, sericulture developed and China lost its jealous hold. A century later, evidence suggests that Byzantine-Syrian farmers had started to “cattle” their own silkworms. And, in the sixth century, Emperor Justinian began actively promoting the production of silk.

A famous legend tells how sericulture began in the Eastern Mediterranean. As the story goes, sometime in the early 550s, Persian Christian monks travelled to “the land of the Seres”—the Western nickname for China, with “seres” meaning silk—and returned to Byzantium with silkworm eggs hidden in a hollow walking stick.

Although charming, the story is certainly untrue. Silkworm eggs would not have survived such a long trip. It is more likely that sericulture slowly emerged in Byzantine Syria through a gradual spread from India. Emperor Justinian contributed to the establishment of silkworm farming by financing the planting of mulberry orchards. The emperor may have hoped to break the Chinese monopoly on raw silk.

In Byzantium, sericulture, like silk-weaving before, was strictly controlled by the imperial government. Such activities were forbidden to individual entrepreneurs or farmers. This strict control of the industry meant that the Byzantine Empire was never able to produce enough silk to meet its own demand. There simply weren’t enough farmers allowed to practice sericulture in the empire. The Byzantines thus continued to import large quantities of raw silk.

The Thriving Sericulture of the Islamic Empire

In contrast to the Byzantines’ difficulties, the neighbouring Caliphate was much more successful. At its apex, the Islamic empire stretched from the Indus River to Spain and Portugal. It comprised the silk-producing regions of Syria, conquered from Byzantium, and controlled trade routes from the east. Their silk industry exploded and expanded at a rapid pace.

The secret to their success was the light control that the central powers exercised on sericulture. This opened the industry to all people and enabled its broad practice. Some Byzantine workers even left Byzantium to establish themselves as sericulturists in Muslim lands or to work there as silk weavers.

From Syria, sericulture spread northward into the mountains of Lebanon, which became another important region for silk production. Mulberries were planted in Northern Iran, as well as in Baghdad (Irak). Everywhere where the climate allowed, families of farmers planted mulberry trees and tended to the precious worms. They sold the raw silk at a good price.

Soon, enough silk was produced to export the raw material in weaving centres established in Central Asia and in the Greater Iran region. The silk was sold in the Empire and beyond, in Europe. Sericulture also began in Egypt, from where it spread to North Africa. In the ninth century, silkworms arrived in Al-Andalus (Portugal and Spain under Islamic rule).

A 13th century riding coat made of silk, probably made in Iran. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Iberian Silk

In Iberia, the Sierra Nevada Mountains offered the best environment for the mulberry trees. There, silkworm farming thrived. Sophisticated irrigation techniques, imported from Persia and Central Asia, enabled the Muslim rulers to establish silk farms wherever possible. Soon, Spanish raw silk and textiles were sold throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. In the mid-twelfth century, author Al-Idrisi wrote that there were 3,000 silkworm farms in the region of Jaén alone, where sericulture had first been introduced.

Farms were also established in the eleventh century in the northern Christian kingdoms of Castile and Léon. Production was entrusted to knowledgeable Mozarab workers—former Muslim individuals to had converted to Christianity. But, if the so-called “Reconquista” had no detrimental impact on production, it inflicted a hard blow on the farmers themselves. During the slow Christian conquest of Al-Andalus, Muslims who refused to convert were persecuted and fled. Christian workers took over the farms to keep production going.

At the time, demand for silk was rising in Europe. But the collapse of the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth century cut off most of the European supply of raw silk. Now that Chinese silk had become a rarity, the Italian city-states stepped in.

The Silkworm in Italy

Tuscany, the Po river valley and the southern Calabria region provided hospitable environments for the mulberry tree and the silkworm. By the thirteenth century, five Italian cities had established a thriving silk industry: Venice, Florence, Genoa, Bologna and Lucca. In Lucca, the industry employed tens of thousands of workers, from farmers to spinners, from weavers to dyers.

By the fifteenth century, a dozen Italian cities had followed suit and become important centres of silk production. Local legislation strongly encouraged the planting of mulberry trees. In Modena, for instance, a law required landowners to plant a minimum of three mulberries on their estates. A similar ordinance was issued in mid-fifteenth century Florence, asking all farmers to plant from five to 50 trees a year on their lands.

But these measures were not enough to produce raw silk in sufficient quantities. Italy, like the rest of Europe, still relied on imported raw silk to meet the production demand.

Outside of Italy and Spain, farmers tried planting Mulberries and producing silkworms. Southern France began its production in the fifteenth century. But the climate did not allow the precious trees and worms to survive at higher latitudes. Only in the seventeenth century was England able to start its own production.

An image from a 14th century Italian manuscript – note the silkworms on the heraldic shields – Wikimedia Commons

Throughout history, silk has been an expensive and sought-after commodity. Its production involved a long chain of workers, sometimes spanning continents. At the bottom were the farmers. From China to Spain, an army of medieval farmers tended to their white mulberries and fed their leaves to the hungry silkworm-caterpillar. The cocoons were reeled in rural settings, before the silk was shipped to urban centres for spinning, weaving and further adornments.

The history of the silkworm’s travels does not end with the medieval era. Mulberries and silkworm eggs were successfully imported to the newly settled lands of America, first to Mexico in the sixteenth century, then to New England in the seventeenth century. Although farmers received several incentives to start production, the industry remained of modest size. Still today, China is the main provider of raw silk worldwide.

Lucie Laumonier is an Affiliate assistant professor at Concordia University. Click here to view her page or follow her on Instagram at The French Medievalist.

Further Reading:

Robin Netherton and Gale R. Owen-Crocker (eds), Medieval Clothing and Textiles, vol. 10 (The Boydell Press, 2014)

Top Image: Silk being woven on a loom, from Sericulture by Liang Kai, created in the 13th century.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1890829 207.0%
1900922 11.2%
19101,820 97.4%
19201,805 −0.8%
19301,851 2.5%
19402,729 47.4%
19505,873 115.2%
19605,858 −0.3%
19706,636 13.3%
198010,413 56.9%
199010,950 5.2%
200012,950 18.3%
201015,518 19.8%
2019 (est.)17,417 [5] 12.2%
Sources: [4] [7] [8] [9] [10]

2010 census Edit

As of the census [4] of 2010, there were 15,518 people, 6,118 households, and 3,945 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,326.5 inhabitants per square mile (898.3/km 2 ). There were 6,820 housing units at an average density of 1,022.5 per square mile (394.8/km 2 ). The racial makeup of the city was 91.2% White, 0.5% African American, 1.4% Native American, 1.1% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 2.1% from other races, and 3.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.8% of the population.

There were 6,118 households, of which 33.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.6% were married couples living together, 14.3% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.6% had a male householder with no wife present, and 35.5% were non-families. 28.5% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.50 and the average family size was 3.05.

The median age in the city was 36.6 years. 25.7% of residents were under the age of 18 9.4% were between the ages of 18 and 24 24.9% were from 25 to 44 23.6% were from 45 to 64 and 16.3% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.7% male and 52.3% female.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.87 square miles (17.79 km 2 ), of which 6.67 square miles (17.28 km 2 ) is land and 0.20 square miles (0.52 km 2 ) is water. [11]

Climate Edit

This region experiences warm (but not hot) and dry summers, with no average monthly temperatures above 71.6 °F (22.0 °C). According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Lebanon has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate, abbreviated "Csb" on climate maps. [12]

Lowe's Regional Distribution Center is the largest employer in Lebanon, with 650 employees. The other major employers are Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, Lebanon Schools, Wal-Mart, Weyerhaeuser, and Entek International. [13] [14]

Lebanon is served by the Lebanon Community Schools public school district, which includes Lebanon High School. It is also home to the private East Linn Christian Academy, which serves students from preschool through twelfth grade (PreK-12).

Western University of Health Sciences opened their College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, Northwest in August 2011, the first new medical school in Oregon since Oregon Health & Science University was established. [15] The school opened with 107 students.

In 2017 Linn-Benton Community College opened its HealthCare Occupations Center beside the osteopathic college.

In 1847, Jeremiah and Jemima Ralston bought a pioneers' cabin, staked a claim, and built a log house on a low rise at what is now Ralston Park. Nearby, on today’s Main Street, they built a store. It soon became a stop for gold seekers on their way to California. A village grew up around the store, and in 1855 the couple filed a plat for the town, naming it for Jeremiah’s birthplace of Lebanon, Tennessee. They also donated land for the Santiam Academy, which the Methodist Episcopal Church operated until 1906.

Lebanon was established on the land of the Louis Band of the Santiam Kalapuya.Like other Kalapuya tribes, the Santiam had dwindled in number, from malaria and other diseases, before the Americans arrived. In 1855 the band sold the U.S. government their rights to the land and moved to a temporary reservation on a claim belonging to the Ralstons' son, just south of their own. There the band awaited removal to the Grand Ronde Valley.

In 1859, local men in search of a way to drive cattle to central Oregon discovered the Santiam Pass. Soon Lebanon found itself on another essential trade route. Linn County stockmen incorporated the Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Road in 1864, and vacationers as well as stockmen came to rely on what came to be called the Santiam Wagon Road. This toll road was later replaced with U.S. Highway 20.

Transportation was often easier by water than land in the early decades of American settlement in the Willamette Valley. The South Santiam River was too shallow for large boars, so in 1872 construction began on a canal to carry barges laden with goods between Lebanon and Albany. But the water flowed too fast for upstream shipping, and the coming of the railroad curtailed downstream shipping. Today, however, the canal is still in use, running through Lebanon backyards to provide water for the people of Albany.

Railroads helped Lebanon provide its goods not only to Albany but to the world. The Albany-Lebanon Railroad, completed in 1880, was a branch of the Oregon and California Railroad’s north-south line through Albany. The Southern Pacific eventually took over these lines and, in 1910, rerouted the old Oregonian line through Lebanon.

From the 1890s on, a great variety of farming and food-processing industries flourished in the area. Eastern Oregon came to dominate in wheat growing, but Lebanon-area farmers produced orchard fruits, berries, walnuts, filberts, hops, flax, vegetables, forage crops, turkeys, mohair, honey, and flowers for florists. Lebanon had a cheese factory, a creamery, potato warehouses, a cannery, and prune and nut driers. In the 1920s, the local grass-seed industry got its start, and by the 1930s Linn County was the leading grass-seed-producing county in the United States.

Lebanon's most celebrated crop has been strawberries. By 1907, Lebanon was one of the leading strawberry-growing areas in the Willamette Valley. Lebanon's Strawberry Festival--featuring, since 1931, "the World's Largest Strawberry Shortcake"--has been an annual event since 1909. In 2020, however, only one local strawberry field remains.”

The local wood-products industry began to grow around 1900, which the supply of timber in the upper Midwest declined. The industry began to boom when the Oregon and Electric Railroad was completed, in 1932. New sawmills were built along the line in town as well as in the mountains. From 1937 to 1942, twenty new mills opened in the city they made a great variety of wood products. The paper mill, which had originally made paper from wheat straw, doubled in size in 1936 to process logs that were floated down the South Santiam River. The local population swelled, and the Great Depression had little effect on the city.

In 1940, a greater boom yet began. That year Evans Products built what was purported to be the biggest plywood mill in the world. “Evansville” became a station on the Oregon and Electric line. World War II increased the demand for plywood, and women took men's places in the mill. From 1940 to 1950, Lebanon’s population grew 115 percent.

In 1952 the plywood plant, now called Cascade Plywood, began producing Lebanite, a hard composite board. Lebanon residents began calling themselves Lebanites. Cascade Plywood came to dominate Lebanon's economy.

Lebanon began slowly declining in the 1970s. As overharvesting in the nearby forests made timber extraction more expensive, the mills began closing. Lebanon's paper mill closed in 1980, the plywood mill in 1984, and the Lebanite hardwood plant in 2004. Weyerhaeuser shut down the last of the big mills in 2006 and 2007. Unemployment rocketed, and Main Street storefronts were left empty.

In the twenty-first century, the city’s economy has improved. The openings of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific Northwest, in 2011, the Edward C. Allworth Veterans’ Home, in 2017, and Linn-Benton Community College’s HealthCare Occupations Center, in 2017, have sparked growth. Weyerhaeuser opened the state-of-the-art Santiam Lumber sawmill in 2008, only one year after closing down the old Bauman sawmill. Main Street storefronts and old houses are being renovated, and brewpubs, bakeries, and other new businesses are thriving.

Annual cultural events Edit

Lebanon is the home of the World's Largest Strawberry Shortcake, a part of the annual Strawberry Festival that began in 1909. The Strawberry Festival includes a Junior Parade, a Grand Parade (featuring the Strawberry Royalty Court), and a carnival. It is held the first weekend of June.

Parks Edit

The city has 15 developed parks, totaling 71.5 acres (28.9 ha), which provide residents with baseball, softball, and soccer fields, as well as playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, and other resources. Gills Landing has a boat ramp and dock, as well as an RV park, camping area, and showers. [16] Ralston Park hosts the town's Christmas tree and yearly lighting celebration.

Trails Edit

A local nonprofit organization, Build Lebanon Trails, is working with the city government to build more than fifty miles of walking and biking trails in Lebanon.

Who Were the Luddites?

“Luddite” is now a blanket term used to describe people who dislike new technology, but its origins date back to an early 19th-century labor movement that railedਊgainst the ways that mechanized manufactures and their unskilled laborers undermined the skilled craftsmen of the day. 

The original Luddites were British weavers and textile workers who objected to the increased use of mechanized looms and knitting frames. Most were trained artisans who had spent years learning their craft, and they feared that unskilled machine operators were robbing them of their livelihood. When the economic pressures of the Napoleonic Wars made the cheap competition of early textile factories particularly threatening to the artisans, a few desperate weaversꂾgan breaking into factories and smashing textile machines. They called themselves “Luddites” after Ned Ludd, a young apprentice who was rumored to have wrecked a textile apparatus in 1779. 

There’s no evidence Ludd actually existed—like Robin Hood, he was said to reside in Sherwood Forest𠅋ut he eventually became the mythical leader of the movement. The protestors claimed to be following orders from “General Ludd,” and they even issued manifestoes and threatening letters under his name.

The first major instances of machine breaking took place in 1811 in Nottingham, and the practice soon spread across the English countryside. Machine-breaking Luddites attacked and burned factories, and in some cases they even exchanged gunfire with company guards and soldiers. The workers hoped their raids wouldꃞter employers from installing expensive machinery, but the British government instead moved to quash the uprisings by making machine-breaking punishable by death. 

Watch the video: Rural Lebanese women weave economic opportunity while conserving the local environment (August 2022).