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In need of support

Lebanese farmers are facing big challenges. More support is crucial to help the agriculture sector grow.

 

Lebanon’s agriculture sector has long suffered from the absence of a strategic plan.

The situation looks to be so grim if the Government doesn’t come up with a clear scientific and practical vision.

According to industry players, the Lebanese Government should transform the scientific theory to a plan ready to set up an agricultural policy based on research and marketing.

 

Public expenditures on the agriculture sector indicate the absence of the sector on the Government agenda. Consider the Ministry of agriculture’s share of the total Government budget in 2003 was low, not exceeding one percent. In the 2009 budget law, agriculture stood at a marginal 0.23 percent.

 

There is also no comprehensive approach to agriculture. Subsided loans and supporting subsidizes of specific agricultural products are only the main instruments used by the Government. Industry players criticize the Government policy admitting that instead of subsidies some products, a strategic plan should be set up to help the sector flourish.

 

Kafalat, a loan-guarantee scheme by the Government, is another instrument that touches upon agriculture. It aims to increase the lending capacity to agricultural small and medium enterprises (SME)s and stimulate investments in the SME which make up the biggest part of Lebanese firms.

In 2010, the agriculture sector accounted for 35 percent of total loan guarantees, extended to small and medium-size companies under the guarantee of Kafalat amounted to $169.4 million in 2010. Similar examples are the Investment Development Authority in Lebanon (IDAL) allocating the Export Plus program. This program established in 2001, aims to support agricultural exports.

 

Today, Lebanese farmers are unprepared to compete in the local market with subsidized Arab imports, because of the high production and labor costs in Lebanon. Farmers also still need a financial assistance to upgrade production techniques to compete with heavily subsidized programs mainly in Jordan and Egypt.

To make things worse, by end of 2009, some reports stated that high levels of pesticides were detected in local produce, fruit and vegetables, such tomatoes, grapes, strawberries, potatoes and apples, parsley. Experts blamed the Government for lack of action and proper legislation.

 

Farmers have always asked the Government to enhance Government projects, provide financial assistance and set up a marketing infrastructure.

The agriculture sector contributes about 7 percent of GDP. Agricultural production is mainly concentrated in the Bekaa valley, which accounts for 38.87 percent of total cultivated land, thanks to the plain nature of its terrain and easy accessibility to water resources, such as the major river, Litani.

The diversity of the Republic’s topography and climate enables the cultivation of a wide variety of vegetables, fruits industrial crops and cereals. The main agricultural products are citrus, grapes, tomatoes, apples, vegetables, potatoes, olives, sheep and goats.

In 2010, agricultural exports rose by 10.5 percent, however agricultural trade deficit surged by 11.4 percent relative to 2009.

 

However, if some agriculture insiders express their frustration at the Government neglect and absence of a strategic plan, others place the blame on farmers because of their delay in introducing new crops, upgrading quality production and improving production techniques.

 

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