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Toula: the humble village, setting new horizons in new times

2. Agriculture

The village of Toula is known by the names of Toula Al-Jubbeh, or Toula Zgharta and is located in the District of Zgharta, which is a mountainous region of the country on the western slope of Mount Makmel and is approximately 1476 metres above sea level.  It is at a distance of 104 kilometres from Beirut, and it is reached either by via the coastal road to Chekka, which then ascends through Amioun, Tourza, Serhel and Ejbeh, or via Tripoli, then Zgharta, Arjes, Sebhel and Mazraat El-Tuffah.

The geography of the region has been affected by earthquakes and the resultant floods, such as those in 1170 and 1199, which altered the course of the rivers in the region, such as the the most significant river in the region, the Geouit River, which was changed to join the Kadisha River.  The change in the Geouit River permitted easier movement of the people of Toula to other villages in the region, and led to a significant change in the irrigation of the area.  Source: Barakat 10-11.

The area of the village of Toula is 406 hectares, which is 4060000 m2.   It is well known for its agricultural products which are a result of the fertile soil which surrounds it.  In ancient times, the region was covered by forests, but these were systematically cut down in order to create land suitable for agriculture.  The process of allowing the land to lie fallow, that is, planting crops on a piece of land one year, but not the following year, when animals were allowed to graze on it and fertilise it, was employed to maintain the fertility of the soil. In the present time, modern scientific methods such as the use of chemical fertilisers are employed in the agriculture of the region.  In the past and still today, because this part of the country is remote from the city, traditional tools, rather than modern farm machinery are used, such as the pick, shovel, plow and sickle.   In the past, the villagers lived simply and in a very similar manner to each other, with simple furnishings, household equipment and weapons. Source: Barakat, 249-51.

The most important produce grown in the district includes apples, pears, quince (khaki), plums, legumes and vegetables, such as potatoes.  Apples and pears replaced grain and cereal production and a wide range of other products, which used to be grown in the region, because they are easier to cultivate and they produce a greater income.  Of particular note are the high quality grapes which are used to produce arak, the strong distilled alcoholic drink flavoured with aniseed, which is a plant widely found in the eastern Mediterranean, and is a popular for use in food and drink.  Characteristic of many countries in the eastern Mediterranean region, a similar drink is also made in Greece, where it is called ouzoSource: Members of the village

The reason for the richness of the farming land is because it is irrigated by springs on the edge of the village, the most important of which are Al-Burj, Makhyoura and Ain El-Njas. Opposite the village of Bhiret Toula, the spring of Joueet irrigates its farmland and thus provides benefits for the village.  The water for irrigation is distributed fairly between the various families of the village for equal times each week. Source: Barakat, 19-20. Drinking water was first connected with the village in 1907. Source: Barakat, 19.

The cultivation of raspberry trees was very important in the area in the past and they are used for the cultivation of silkworms and the production of silk.  The high quality of the raspberry leaves was well known and this is because of humid climate of the region.   They were introduced in 1622 by Fakher Al Din the Second, when he was crossing this region from Syr to Gebet Bsharri, and he encouraged his Italian engineers to plant the raspberry trees beside the rivers and in the orchards.  There was a very large production of raspberry trees of the common and the red shami varieties in the region and this is well documented by contacts and taxation records from the Ottoman period.  In 1875, the production of silk declined and, since then, raspberry was replaced in many areas by apple, pear and olive trees.  Some raspberry growing and the cultivation of silk remains.*   Similarly, walnut production was common in the region for hundreds of years.  Traces of walnuts remain, but they have largely been replaced by apples and pears. Source: Barakat, 253-7.

The major problem for agriculture these days is the dry season, which increases in length each year, during which the streams in the mountains dry out, the winter becomes less cold, spring begins earlier and autumn later.  This affects the income of the farmers and leads to the decline in agriculture.  Thus, the region of Toula is affected by climate change like many areas of the world.  Source: Barakat, 262.