Jordan finds new markets, routes to peddle produce
Desperate to rescue its lucrative fruit and vegetable sector amid regional instability, Jordan is tackling a shortage of refrigerated trucks for overland freight to neighbours while carving out non-traditional new markets for its produce.
Jordan’s annual production of fruit and vegetables stands at 2.5 million tonnes. Prior to the “Arab spring” revolutions, 1.2 million tonnes were exported to neighbouring and European markets.
In April, Jordan lost its Syrian trade partner after their common border came under attack by militants. That also affected exports to Lebanon, Turkey and Europe, which used overland shipping from Jordan through Syria. In Iraq, Islamic State (ISIS) militants control a vast western desert bordering Jordan, making it hazardous for Jordanian trucks to cross the border.
Jordan has since found new markets in the Gulf Arab region, namely Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, for its produce, which peaks in summertime. The holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began on June 18th, spurs an increase in demand.
After Jordan banned its trucks from crossing into Iraq, exports of fruits and vegetables dropped. However, trucks are now taking new routes to export to Iraq.
“Currently, Jordanian trucks go to Kuwait overland and then transfer cargo via Iraq’s southern port of Basra,” Zuheir Jweihan, president of the Jordan Exporters and Producers Association for Fruit and Vegetables, said.
Jweihan explained that, despite the dangers, some produce from Jordan is still going overland through the common border with Iraq, where the cargo is transferred to Iraqi trucks.
“The Iraqi market is a significant and big market for us,” he said. “Therefore, this solution is good at present, although costs are higher.”
Jordan now exports about 500 tonnes of fruits to Iraq per day through the new routes. Exports had virtually dipped to zero in the wake of ISIS’s takeover of western Iraqi cities in the vast desert of Anbar province in early 2014 and the city of Ramadi in May.
Growing demand for summer fruit in Gulf Arab states is compensating for losses incurred by farmers and exporters after Jordan closed its Syrian borders in early April, particularly since the bulk of local watermelons used to be exported to Lebanon via Syria.
“We export all types of vegetables such as tomatoes, zucchini and fruit like watermelons, apricots and peaches,” Jweihan said. “About 3,000 tonnes of fruits and vegetables are being sent to Gulf countries every day, and we expect the number to increase.”
He emphasised, however, that an inadequate number of refrigerated trucks has slowed efforts to meet the growing demand. There are about 3,000 Jordanian refrigerated trucks. At least double that number is needed.
“The limited number of trucks increased the cost by 100% as the Gulf is buying more from Jordan,” he said. “Additionally, non-Jordanian trucks are not allowed to load from Jordan, which is another hurdle.”
Mohammad Dawood, head of the Jordanian Truck Owners Union, said Jordan has banned its truck drivers from going to Iraq to “protect them against kidnapping and beheading on the hands of terrorist groups in Iraq”. Before the ban, some 60 Jordanian trucks entered Iraq daily this year, while in 2014 and 2013 about 400 Jordanian trucks entered Iraq per day, Dawood said. At present, about 100 Iraqi trucks enter Jordan daily to load different types of cargo and commodities, Dawood noted.
He said the security deterioration in Iraq “hurt our business badly”.
Losses incurred by the land transport sector in Jordan since 2011 have exceeded $700 million, according to Dawood.
An Iraqi truck driver interviewed by The Arab Weekly during a recent stop in Jordan said he and colleagues were “risking our lives on a daily basis to bring needed commodities to our people”.
“When we enter Iraq, we keep praying the whole way for our lives to be spared,” added the driver, who declined to be identified, citing personal safety concerns.
He said after he leaves the Jordanian Karameh Border Crossing, he is stopped several times along the 600-kilometre highway to Baghdad by ISIS and other militants, “who ask for bribes”. Sometimes, militants confiscate his cargo.