Image copyright Reuters Image caption Residual pine nut juice can be poured into alcohol to make a tipple called a Negroni
Lebanon’s pine nut trade faces an imminent collapse because of a rise in pests, and activists say it is a source of livelihood for at least 100,000 people.
From hotels to restaurants to the desert oasis where olive oil and balsamic vinegar are made, Lebanon is awash with pine nut syrup.
The sugar/dried pine resin product is both sweet and natural in taste.
In Lebanon it can be poured into alcohol for a sweet beverage called a Negroni and it is used in soups, gravies and sauces.
But as crop productivity shrinks, so are the exports, whose sales in recent years have exceeded $100m (£81m).
The problem is that some pests are now thriving on the pine nut trees at a rate which farmers say is illegal but on which agricultural authorities refuse to intervene.
“The situation has become dangerous and we think we’re just not able to fight it,” says 32-year-old Husain el-Rai, who grows pine nuts in Khalde, south of Beirut.
Image copyright AFP Image caption Pinea potatoes arrive in Beirut for cooking
Image copyright Reuters Image caption Neither side is clearly willing to accept the other’s overtures in a standoff
“The trees are full of pests. A virus has been killing us for years. Now the fire ants are there, and the rabbit flies are eating the fruits.”
Husain and his father have been farming pine nuts in Khalde for 20 years, and their trees produce three bags a day.
Their earnings have dropped to about $2,000 a month, from $6,000 before the pests arrived.
Image copyright Reuters Image caption Trump administration’s subsidy cuts for tobacco have helped prop up other US industries
One of Husain’s rivals, Samir Mahfouz, is facing similar financial hardship, and has recently abandoned his three pine tree groves and is selling his arable land, which grows potatoes, lettuce and sweet peppers.
“I had to sell the land because it was almost finished. My profit was less than five cents on the dollar,” Mr Mahfouz told the AFP news agency.
Among the farmers is Mohammad Hallo, whose pine tree crop is virtually non-existent, and who has been unable to find suppliers for his pine oil and honey.
Image copyright Reuters Image caption In the shadow of Mount Lebanon, a hillside used to be a common site for olive oil production
But the Lebanese pine nut association wants a broad set of measures to help boost productivity.
They say import duties on pine nut syrup should be lowered and more money should be made available to investors who could help meet the quotas set by the authorities.
They also want the government to set up an electronic system allowing them to export their syrup.
Currently they have to send payments by money order.
A forestry ministry official said he had taken the pine nut problem seriously and a dedicated department had been set up to deal with it.
The farmer Hassan said these measures were not enough.
“Until we have the technical ability and government pressure and some protection measures against these pests, we will not be able to get better results.”