Agriculture in Libya

Agriculture in Libya Last updated on Thursday 22nd April 2010

Despite the dominance of Libya's oil industry, agriculture remains the main occupation of the Libyan people. All farming activity is closely dependent on rainfall, however, which is often erratic, causing irrigation problems.

After a number of years of low rainfall, the water table falls dramatically and diesel and electric pumps are overworked in lifting underground water resources from greater depths. Seawater is drawn into large aquifers near Tripoli, with the result that water for both agricultural purposes and human consumption is becoming increasingly salty. Only a small fraction of Libya's land receives adequate rainfall to support agriculture without assistance from underground wells or from seawater.

The Great Manmade River (GMR) project was begun in 1984 with the objective of carrying water in a large diameter pipeline from well-fields in the south to the northern coast, and from thence to Benghazi in the east and Sirt in the west. The scheme, which is expected to take 25 years to complete, has had little noticeable effect so far on the overall shortage, partly due to the high operational costs.

Most of Libya's arable and pastureland is to be found in Tripolitania, and here about 22% of the working population was engaged in agriculture in the mid-eighties. Only about 1% of the country's land is cultivated, with about 7.6% in use as pasture. Principal crops are tomatoes, citrus fruits, barley, wheat, potatoes, olives, figs, apricots and dates. Libya's best dates, the deglet nur, come from the southwest.

Fodder is the most important single field crop, as large amounts are needed to sustain Libya's livestock. Mutton is greatly prized and sheep are kept by most farmers. In the late eighties other livestock included goats, cattle, camels and poultry, with some semi-nomadic shepherding of sheep and goats in traditional areas of pastureland. This 'family herding' practice is becoming a thing of the past, however.

Land tenure has changed dramatically over the past century. The original system was one of tribal land ownership, but with Italian colonization, much of the land became state-controlled and, between 1951 and 1961, gradually became absorbed by the government of the independent state of Libya. The human rights decrees of 1977, however, have meant a gradual reassertion of private rights with regard to land, and small farmers are once more allowed private ownership of land and other property.

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