Beirut, Lebanon – When the time for government subsidies in Lebanon runs out, the troubled country faces a tough battle to keep its population fed while food prices continue to rise, driven by a deepening and severe liquidity crisis dependence on imported foreign goods.
Despite having the highest proportion of arable land in the Arab world with more than 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres), Lebanon’s own agricultural sector has been underfunded and underdeveloped for many years, hampered by a lack of modern equipment and techniques. inefficient production.
Now, with Lebanese farmers unable to cover their own operating costs and the government paralyzed by a political stalemate, international NGOs such as Anera have been forced to improve their aid programs to combat the rapid socioeconomic decline.
“I think Lebanon is a rich country that has not developed to the fullest, and not just in the agricultural sector,” Samar El Yassir, the country’s director in Anera’s Lebanon, told Al Jazeera.
“With the bad government we have instead of optimizing our resources, we are often declining [them].
“Our interventions are at a grassroots, community and non-political level. There is no government to influence. We are trying to find ways to build resilience and sustain these communities through these crises. ”
The infrastructure does not exist
In happier times, some farmers in Lebanon made a tidy profit by selling products to foreign markets. However, this has led to a system of declining returns, as these markets have become inaccessible.
Saudi Arabia suspended all imports of Lebanese fruit and vegetables in April after it was found that there was a shipment of pomegranates he used to smuggle millions of Captagon pills in the kingdom, cutting off a significant flow of revenue and contaminating the image of Lebanese products internationally.
“Lebanon grows quality products that are sold at high prices in the Gulf region,” said Serene Dardari, Anera’s communications and outreach manager.
“When agricultural exports get high prices, Lebanon imports the same products from other neighboring countries to benefit from the difference in prices and rates, which is not really a sustainable economic system.
“Infrastructure and technology support are weak or non-existent,” he continued. “Water supplies are in constant shortage due to a crucial lack of dams, which would otherwise allow the use of excess rainwater for irrigation and other functions, although Lebanon has the higher rainfall levels in the region “.
In Lebanon’s coastal district of Akkar, one of the country’s most fertile regions, Anera has provided farmers with tools and technical assistance, as well as high-quality seeds and pesticides, while helping them hire additional agricultural workers, many of whom which are Syrian Migrants.
This allows farmers to expand their farmland and establish new plastic greenhouses and irrigation pipe systems, also provided by Anera.
“Many of our rivers are polluted and much of the land is not used properly,” Yassir explained. “We are teaching farmers how to irrigate with unpolluted water and good practices. The hope is that this will not only improve their income, but also the quality of the food they produce. “
Dardari added: “The driving force behind this is to teach a man to fish instead of giving him one. By increasing farmers’ skills as well as the quantity and quality of their yields, we try to minimize their dependence. of aid “.
With this scheme, the NGO hopes to provide a model for a more productive and profitable agricultural industry. This would allow Anera, as well as other local organizations and communities, to delve deeper into this for the future with a scalable approach to available resources.
Fears of “brain drain”
For this development to continue in a meaningful and lasting way, a new generation of farmers is required to take it forward. With so many Lebanese graduates and professionals leaving the country in search of a better life elsewhere, this can be difficult.
“It simply came to our notice then [both] a Lebanese and a development professional in this country is the “brain drain” in all sectors, ”lamented Yassir.
“One of Lebanon’s many resources is its people. [We] we have access to a good education, so do we [need to] use these talents “.
Fortunately, Anera may have found a possible solution to this problem by offering young people the opportunity to try agricultural work for themselves, making a synergy with their other development initiatives.
“We are investing in training young people in agriculture, placing them with different farmers so that they can gain more experience while helping these farmers,” Yassir said. “We also help them establish their own small farming practices on their own land.
“Lebanon has fallen and we need young people and communities to build it again,” he added. “Lebanon needs a government that is able to implement the reforms that are currently holding back foreign aid.”
Cultivating interest in the field among the younger generations, the NGO said it will come to appreciate the need for sustainable agriculture and the possibilities it can offer as a potential career path.
With fuel subsidies are also coming to an end, Many in Lebanon are betting on dramatically raising food prices, as farmers need large volumes of fuel to run their machines and transport their goods to market.