Grain silos, Al Aqabah
Agriculture contributed substantially to the economy at the
time of Jordan's independence, but it subsequently suffered a
decades-long steady decline. In the early 1950s, agriculture
constituted almost 40 percent of GNP; on the eve of the June 1967
War, it was 17 percent. By the mid-1980s, agriculture's share of
GNP was only about 6 percent. In contrast, in Syria and Egypt
agriculture constituted more than 20 percent of GNP in the 1980s.
Several factors contributed to this downward trend. With the
Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Jordan lost prime farmland.
Starting in the mid-1970s, Jordanian labor emigration also hastened
the decline of agriculture. Many Jordanian peasants abandoned
farming to take more lucrative jobs abroad, sometimes as soldiers
in the armies of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states or in
service industries in those countries. Others migrated to cities
where labor shortages had led to higher wages for manual workers.
Deserted farms were built over as urban areas expanded. As the
Jordanian government drove up interest rates to attract remittance
income, farm credit tightened, which made it difficult for farmers
to buy seed and fertilizer.
In striking contrast to Egypt and Iraq, where redistribution of
land irrigated by the Nile and Euphrates rivers was a pivotal
political, social, and economic issue, land tenure was never an
important concern in Jordan. More than 150,000 foreign laborers--
mainly Egyptians--worked in Jordan in 1988, most on farms.
Moreover, since the early 1960s, the government has continuously
created irrigated farmland from what was previously arid desert,
further reducing competition for arable land. Ownership of rain-fed
land was not subject to special restrictions. Limited land reform
occurred in the early 1960s when, as the government irrigated the
Jordan River valley, it bought plots larger than twenty hectares,
subdivided them, and resold them to former tenants in three-hectare
to five-hectare plots. Because the land had not been very valuable
before the government irrigated it, this process was accomplished
with little controversy. In general, the government has aimed to
keep land in larger plots to encourage efficiency and mechanized
farming. The government made permanently indivisible the irrigated
land that it granted or sold so as to nullify traditional Islamic
inheritance laws that tended to fragment land.
Data as of December 1989