Jordan finds new markets, routes to peddle produce

Friday 03/07/2015
A plantation near Jerash.

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.