As the global food security crisis creates challenges for farmers, an agricultural program in Lebanon is distributing critical resources to help thousands.
Lebanon is in the grips of one of the most devastating crises in its modern history. A myriad of factors including COVID-19, geopolitical pressures, internal political instability and the 2020 Port of Beirut explosion have provoked hyperinflation and severe currency devaluation. This economic and food security crisis has been further compounded over the past year by Putin’s war in Ukraine, which has impacted the accessibility and affordability of fertilizer and other inputs. From October 2019 to February 2023, the consumer price index (CPI) increased 2,423 percent and the Lebanese Lira (LL) lost over 98 percent of its value against the USD as of March 23, 2023. Consequently, smallholder farmers in Lebanon are having trouble affording the essential agricultural inputs they need to be productive. In October 2021, the President of the Bekka Farmers’ Association estimated a 70 percent drop in planting on smallholder farms in the country because farmers could not afford seeds and fertilizer. With the help of supplemental funds appropriated by Congress due to the global food crisis, and to aid farmers and to prevent a widening humanitarian disaster, the USAID Agricultural and Rural Empowerment (ARE) Activity supplied 5,500 open-field farmers and 1,500 greenhouse growers, supporting 3.8 percent of all farmers including 5.2 percent of commercial farmers in Lebanon, with inputs in the forms of seeds, seedlings and locally sourced compost. USAID also deployed technical advisors to provide tailored advice and training to farmers on the appropriate use of these inputs.
Two participants, Elham El Hajj Hassan and Rana Hassan, are both mothers and smallholder farmers whose main source of nutrition and income is the vegetables they grow and sell at local markets. Elham received seeds for eggplant, garlic, onions and fava beans. She said receiving seeds and soil-enriching compost has helped her put food on the table for her family, and she’s used the money she’s saved to buy wood to keep her family warm in the winter. Rana, meanwhile, now grows tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, potatoes and bell peppers.
Rana Hassan now uses compost instead of the more costly fertilizer for her fruits and vegetables. Photo Credit: USAID ARE Team
“The compost provided is very important to farmers,” Rana said.
Compost is all-natural organic material that improves the quality of soil, whereas the more costly fertilizer can be either organic or chemical, and contains specific ingredients that plants use to grow.
Charbel Hanna of the USAID Office of Economic Growth said that in order to connect with smallholder farmers in Lebanon, the program issued brochures in Arabic, performed tutorials and outreach sessions explaining the required legal documents to be admitted into the program, and honed in on the types of seeds the farmers used.
“We found out the types of seeds and seedlings and what they were growing,” Hanna said. “Farmers on coastlines can’t grow the same as farmers inland.”
During field and online trainings, farmers learned how to maximize their use of USAID-distributed resources and implement best agricultural practices. The trainings covered topics like pest management, maximizing land use for seeds, using compost across seasons, water management and proper harvesting, and packing techniques which help reduce food loss and waste.
During the first production season, farmers were able to reduce their production costs by up to 30 percent and increase their income by 20 percent. If they continue to apply their training and reinvest in later seasons, farmers can potentially reduce their production costs by an additional 15 percent. To date, farmers have produced 750 total hectares of vegetables and legumes, yielding 4,500 tons of food for local consumption. With the start of the spring 2023 planting season around the corner, USAID plans to support an additional 5,000 farmers with agricultural inputs.
Meanwhile, both Elham and Rana continue to reap the benefits of their participation in the program. Before receiving support from USAID, they both borrowed money from friends and family to buy seeds, fertilizer and compost. Last year, Elham was able to sell most of her harvested eggplants in the market.