Lebanon's farmers, and the country, need help to grow

A $200m World Bank lifeline is welcome, but deeper reforms are needed for Lebanese society to get back on track

Farmers clean drying tobacco leaves at Harf Beit Hasna village in Dinnieh province, northern Lebanon. In the past, farmers could rely on rain to irrigate their crops and sustain a living, but climate change and the country's crippling economic crisis has left their soil dry and their produce to rot. AP
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For the past few years, finding any positive news regarding Lebanon seemed to be an impossible task. Beset by economic collapse, political paralysis and instability, the problems faced by its long-suffering people seem never-ending. Sadly, another victim of the country’s many challenges has been its agriculture sector.

Lebanon’s farmers have been under extreme financial pressure in recent years. In May, The National reported from the Bekaa Valley village of Qab Elias where water shortages threaten crops and livelihoods. There, farmer Walid Al Ahmid said he had no choice but to irrigate his crops with a limited supply of spring water that the municipality, which regulates the spring run-off from a nearby mountain, provides once every nine days. Coupled with below-average snow and rainfall, he faces a tough summer. A poor harvest could hit profits and lead him into debt.

Mr Al Ahmid’s predicament, although moving, is far from unique. It is also just one reason why recent news that the World Bank has approved $200 million in financing to bolster Lebanon's embattled agricultural and farming sector is to be welcomed. According to the organisation, about 80,000 farmers are expected to benefit from the Green-Agri Food Transformation for Economic Recovery, or Gate project, which will support "climate smart" investments, services and infrastructure.

This step is a significant lifeline. Although agriculture is, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, responsible for only 5 per cent of Lebanon’s overall GDP, in some parts of the country, up to a quarter of the population work in the sector either full or part-time. In some of Lebanon’s poorest districts, agriculture accounts for up to 80 per cent of local GDP. Notably, the FAO adds, women farmers, who are mostly linked to dairy, preserves and subsistence farming, “are marked by an increased incidence of poverty”.

Therefore, the stakes for many people in Lebanon’s farming communities are high. The country’s agri-food sector is in a precarious position and it is to be hoped that every farmer that benefits from help such as that being proposed by the World Bank will put the industry, and those who work in it, on the road back to some kind of stability.

But what is needed is an approach that is more sustainable and that reduces the need for such outside aid. In March, EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarci said the bloc would donate more than $65 million in humanitarian help to Lebanon this year. However, he added that more substantial and long-term aid assistance would depend on the country’s leadership making progress towards finalising a $3 billion package with the International Monetary Fund.

Politicians’ progress on agreeing and enacting important domestic reforms has been slow, at best, and Lebanon has been without a president since October last year. Parts of the country’s infrastructure, such as its electricity system, are in dire straits and many young, educated Lebanese are trying to leave and make a better future elsewhere. So, while the help being provided to a struggling sector of Lebanese society is important and timely, planting the seeds of a real recovery will require a deeper commitment from Lebanon’s politicians and the international community.

Published: July 03, 2023, 3:00 AM