EU gives Lebanon agriculture $20-mln boost

BEIRUT: The European Union provided Lebanon’s Agriculture Ministry Friday a grant of 14 million euros ($20.14 million) to fund a four-year agricultural and rural development program. The grant agreement was signed between Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan and Angelina Eichhorst, head of the EU delegation to Lebanon.

“The current agreement with the EU aims at boosting the performance of the Lebanese agriculture by improving four main components of the sector including the agriculture guidance, infrastructure, loans in addition to offering equipments to the ministry,” said Hajj Hasan.

Hajj Hasan briefed reporters on each of these components, saying the rehabilitation of the guidance centers included equipping half of the centers established by the ministry with the necessary tools in addition to providing training to employees.

The infrastructure component, he added, includes the creation of mountain ponds and the launching of a number of forestation projects.

On the loan front, Hajj Hasan said the EU would earmark 3.5 million euros to Kafalat so that the latter would be able to increase the percentage of guarantees it offers to farmers.

“This will enable farmers to get loans with better conditions than the ones currently available,” the minister said.

He added that farmers would be able to take loans either for 10 years with a three-year grace period or for three years with a grace period of six months.

“The interest rate will be subsidized by the Central Bank whereby the cost of the loan will reach 2 percent only,” he said.

Hajj Hasan explained the implementation framework of the project, saying the EU has donated the money and it will be the one to supervise its spending pattern.

The minister also gave some figures on Lebanon’s agriculture imports. “Lebanon imports 85 percent of its food consumption and the cost of imported agricultural products reached $1.3 billion while it exports agricultural products equivalent to only $200 million,” he said. “The agricultural sector contributes 4.8 percent of GDP.”

Hajj Hasan criticized the lack of support offered by the government to the Lebanese agriculture sector. “Lebanese officials have always neglected the Lebanese agriculture, considering it an unprofitable sector which has highly contributed to the termination of local production,” he said.

He also clarified a misconception about the quality of Lebanese agriculture products, saying they are of no less quality than the quality of products cultivated in neighboring countries. “If we are to open the file of pesticides and the quality of the Lebanese agriculture produce, I assure you that we would end up stopping three quarters of our imports due to the pesticides issue,” he added.

The minister said the difference between neighboring countries and Lebanon is that Arab governments directly support the sector by providing low-cost energy, low labor costs in addition to other offerings and facilities.

Hajj Hasan added that his ministry would implement five projects, including the improvement of the cultivation of grains and wheat, the fodder cultivation project, the Export Plus program, the establishment of mutual funds to compensate for natural disasters and enrolling farmers in the NSSF.

Eichhorst said Lebanon has the greatest agricultural capacity in the Near and Middle East but it is not being used to its fullest, and added that the country must preserve its natural wealth. “We aim at generating sustainable results in the field of creating job opportunities and fighting climate change,” she said.

Hajj Hasan said the current 14 million euro donation is not the first to be provided by the EU to Lebanon. “There were several projects in the country supported by the EU in the fields of water, sanitation, schools, hospitals and agriculture,” he said.

Source: The Daily Star Lebanon>>