The Beqaa valley is the most important agricultural region of Lebanon and shares a long border with Syria. Despite the relatively high production potential of the region, the population suffers from high unemployment and poverty.
Like the valley, the agricultural sector in Lebanon has been left behind. Agriculture has fallen from up to 23 percent of economic output at the end of the last civil war to only 4 percent of GDP. At the same time, agriculture is thought to account for up to 20-30% percent of employment in the country. Agricultural workers are the poorest workers in all employment sectors, with about 40 per cent of agricultural workers considered poor, a double burden on the Bekaa Valley, which receives most of the Syrian refugees than any other region of Lebanon, many of whom also work in the agricultural sector. The Government of Lebanon (GoL) estimates that the country is home to 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the conflict in Syria. Of these 1.5 million Syrians, 185,000 live in the Baalbek-Hermel regime, or 41% of the population. The conflict in Syria has further affected Lebanon's social and economic growth, exacerbated poverty and humanitarian needs, and exacerbated existing obstacles to development in the country. In addition, social tensions between the Lebanese host society and Syrian refugees on resources and labor are increasing.
Actual agricultural production and seed diversity are severely constrained as the mechanisms of the internal market are inefficient due to market failure, import inflation, defective value chains and lack of employment opportunities. Farms remain relatively small and fragmented. Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) has a budget of about 1 per cent of its total budget (around 10 Mio USD), and without sufficient financial and technical capacity the Ministry has not been able to provide adequate advisory services to small farmers. As a result, small farmers do not benefit much from information on good farming practices, access to research and finance or a well-organised cooperative sector.
In order to meet the demand for food, Lebanon must import far more than it produces or exports (between 65 and 80 percent of its food needs). The country imports around five times the value of its exports. This leads to increased vulnerability towards price changes and impacts on the public budget additionally. Nowadays Lebanon’s debt is one of the highest in the world in proportion to the size of its economy.
Aware of the agricultural potential of the Bekaa Valley and the needs of the region and its population, Welthungerhilfe (WHH), in cooperation with its Lebanese partner organization the Lebanese Organization for Studies and Training (LOST) and with financial support from the the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) , has initiated a project in the Baalkeb-Hermel Governorate. The project aims to improve livelihood opportunities in the agriculture sector for rural Lebanese communities and Syrian communities, to increase profitability of agriculture value chains and to reduce social tensions within the communities.
In order to activate and strengthen the economic and existential development of rural communities, it is important to think "locally" - this means investing in local assets and creating incentives for young people and farmers to develop their technical skills in the field of agriculture.
Through the establishment of Farmer Business Schools (FBS) and demonstration areas in our target region, agricultural producers from different communities will be trained in modern, resource-efficient and profitable cultivation techniques to increase the efficient use of lands. In addition, the FBS will present new agricultural products to the project participant. This enables the farmers to increase their variety of crops in order to can to cultivate their fields throughout the year and earn constant income through more varieties, higher quality and increased quantity. Peer learning, demonstration fields and active technical support will help to impart new knowledge and diversify agricultural production.
“We need to increase local production and local investment. We would be more resilient in the crisis today if we had done this before.”
“We (Lebanon) import everything – but why?” “The local market is huge, it is excellent, we visited many supermarkets, but the local producers do not talk to the markets. People have their habits. Coaching is easy but it is not enough to just train practices, you need to change the action, mindset and encourage them to talk to each other.”
“Syrians are active stakeholders in the (Lebanese) agricultural sector. If you build their skills, you contribute to the Lebanese economy. By pointing this out to the local host community, we can promote social cohesion and counteract social tensions and prejudices.”
A serious problem for many farmers living in rural areas such as Baalbek is their limited access to local markets and traders and their reluctance to cooperate with other farmers or communities. The reasons for this are often mistrust towards others and competitiveness.
Many farmers often have to sell their vegetables at very low prices, in some cases even dispose of a large part of the harvest in the garbage because they have no access to local markets and do not network with others. Farmers often lack marketing strategies to sell their products. Additional most farmers rely on one single trader. These traders can monopolize the business, dumping prices and make farmers dependent. Another issue is the shortage of transportation. Local markets sometimes source their goods from traders in Beirut rather than from local farmers, who have no means of delivering their goods.
Through the establishment of farmer cooperatives and networking events Welthungerhilfe and LOST will help farmers to improve their market position through large-scale purchases and sales. As a result, value chains are more competitive and profitable through and increased collaboration between different farmer communities and linkages to local markets and traders.
“In the past, I regularly threw my harvest away or simply left it on the side of the road because prices were so low, or I didn't find any buyers.”
“The biggest benefit for me is the marketing training. The FFS shows us the advantages of networking with local markets and joining farmers' cooperatives. Together we can negotiate better prices and also finance large agricultural equipment such as tractors.”
“During the training we learn new cultivation methods that increase our yields. I also now know how to treat my plants when they fall sick. I'm also planting different types of vegetables so I can harvest all year round. This gives me a steady income and is also a kind of risk management in the event of a crop failure.”
“What I like the most is working in the greenhouse. Before participating in this project, we planted our tomatoes in the field. Now we use the greenhouse. This makes the work a lot easier and less strenuous. We can also harvest all year round.
“I have a lot of trust in the agricultural engineer from LOST. They have a better knowledge then traditional farmer. That why I will follow their advices even when the other farmers argue the contrary.”
“I’m retired but my passion is farming. Now with all the new techniques I learned I’m motivate to even expand my farm and hopefully build another greenhouse next year.”
“My Family benefits from my farm but is not much interested in agriculture. That’s why I get help from two Syrian families. Together we cultivate the fields and the greenhouses and learn from each other”.