A Lebanese agricultural hobbyist has grown what he says is the biggest pumpkin in the Middle East and North Africa region this year in the village of Kayfoun south of the capital Beirut.
As fall begins to settle in up in Lebanon’s mountainous villages, Abdul Salam Mohammad al-Mughrabi harvested a gigantic 341-kg. pumpkin that had grown for 120 days in his field behind his townhouse.
“I planted the special seed which I purchased from the United States in May 2020 and took very good and special care of the farming process … [and] on September 20 we garnered the region’s biggest pumpkin that weighed 341 kg.,” Abdul Salam told Al Arabiya English.
An agricultural enthusiast, Abdul Salam has been growing pumpkins for the past four years. This year, he broke his personal record, which he recorded in 2019 when he harvested an 89-kilogram pumpkin.
The 55-year-old father of three inherited the love farming from his 90-year-old father, Mohammad al-Mughrabi, who is a farmer himself and still manages his own farmsteads in Saida, a southern Lebanese city.
When asked if he could confirm that his pumpkin was the largest in the MENA region, he responded saying, “Definitely it is.”
“Actually, when I harvested a giant pumpkin which weighed 89 kilograms in 2019, nobody had reaped a pumpkin fruit bigger than that. Last year’s pumpkin took massive publicity locally but not in the MENA, unlike this year’s which is the biggest,” he said. “If one Googles the region’s biggest pumpkin, records will show the 341-kg. pumpkin.”
Abdul Salam said he constantly contacts Ron Wallace, a US-based world-record holder pumpkin grower, who supplies the Lebanese pumpkin grower with seeds and tips for how to grow the gigantic vegetables.
“He always gives me tips and provides me with solutions in case I faced any hurdles while growing the pumpkin. When, and if, anything goes wrong during growth, Ron constantly gives me the right tips and solutions.”
Abdul Salam said he plants his seeds in May each year, but this year, warm weather made the growing process difficult, especially in the August heat.
“Planting pumpkin seeds require special procedures and techniques. I first planted this seed and nursed it in Beirut due to the warm weather for nearly two weeks before moving the small pot to Kayfoun in May … and [I] take extra care of it until harvesting it in September,” he explained.
Where bees would normally pollinate pumpkins naturally, Abdul Salam would cover the male flower with foil would pollinate the flower that would grow into the pumpkin by hand.
“I used to wake up very early in the morning to race time and cover the male flower to protect it from being pollinated by flying bees,” he told Al Arabiya English, confirming that he doesn’t use any chemical fertilizers.
Pointing out the difficulties he faces while growing giant pumpkins, Abdul Salam said it is not an easy task, as it requires a special irrigation system with a dripper and a timer to water the seeds.
Once plucked from the vine, a metal bridge had to be set up on his house’s roof to roll the giant pumpkin from the patch down to the balcony.
Giant Pumpkin Championship
To have his giant pumpkin record accredited in the US amongst other giant pumpkins, he said that the pertinent authority notified him that he had to fly his pumpkin there to be officially registered.
“Meanwhile, I contacted a [pumpkin grower] in Germany’s Great Pumpkin Commonwealth who asked me to send the photos and videos of my accomplishment and they [said they] would look into it. However, he advised me to create my own Giant Pumpkin Championship [GPC] at my local space,” he added.
Abdul Salam said no one from his own government or the Ministry of Agriculture has contacted him about his agricultural accomplishment. Still deadlocked over Cabinet formation, the Lebanese government barely functions these days.
Pumpkins, and other crops, under threat
Like most of Lebanon’s major industries, the agriculture and farming industry has suffered greatly over the past year as it faces multiple threats, including the economic collapse, currency devaluation, and now coronavirus.
Purchasing imported supplies has become especially difficult as they must be paid for in dollars, which have been in short supply in Lebanon since mid-2019.
According to the 90-year-old farmer and his son, prices of the required resources, which are mostly imported, have risen and became unaffordable since the Lebanese lira lost nearly 80 percent of its value against the US dollar.
“The economic crisis has affected our mission tremendously. I purchase from abroad fertilizers and pesticides that used to cost me $600, which equals 900,000 Lebanese pounds [at the official exchange rate],” he said. “Nowadays, they cost a fortune. I do purchase supplies from the local market but in terms of quality and certification, the imported supplies are more efficient.”
He said the economic crisis has affected the planting season of local farmers, especially those who use imported materials and have to pay in dollars at the black market rate, which has topped 8,000 lira to the US dollar when the official rate is still technically 1,507 lira to the dollar.
Mohammad told Al Arabiya English that he provided his bank with the required manifests and stamped invoices to get dollars at the 3,900 exchange rate, which has been set for certain imports, but the bank refused.
“My goods were stuck. I visited the bank but they refused to give me dollars at that rate,” he said.
Mohammad said after checking with the central bank and the Ministry of Agriculture and after six weeks of waiting, his problem went unresolved.
“Farmers cannot rely on the promises of the ministries of agriculture and finance,” said Mohammad, who ended up paying the much higher black market rate to import his supplies.