The Executive Director of the René Moawad Foundation, MP Michel Moawad, stressed the urgency of developing an integrated plan for agriculture through assistance and sustainable development, as well as examining the needs of foreign markets and the standards they set. This enables us to choose which products to grow and export.
The Netherlands’ Ambassador to Lebanon, Jan Waltmans, affirmed: “Lebanon is at the top of the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ priorities, especially because it bears the burden of a large proportion of displaced Syrians, and we must support it. In light of the current crisis that the country is going through, we see that Lebanon needs to increase its domestic production.”
Waltmans expressed his country’s satisfaction with its cooperation with the René Moawad Foundation, which began in 2017. He guaranteed the contribution of his country’s expertise and the necessary financial support to helping Lebanon improve its agricultural production to a measure that enables it to export products abroad. He also confirmed that this year, 600 tons of potatoes will be exported to the European Union, which will help Lebanon overcome this crisis.
Moawad and Waltmans’ statements were made as they were following up on the process of exporting the season’s first batch from the Beirut port, amounting to 60 tons of Lebanese potatoes to the European Union markets, specifically to Rotterdam in cooperation with the Dutch embassy in Beirut. This is within the framework of the program “Promoting Lebanese fruit and vegetable exports to European and regional markets,” which is funded by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and being implemented by the René Moawad Foundation.
In addition to Moawad and Waltmans, René Moawad Foundation General Director Nabil Moawad and Project Manager Imad Al-Riachi also joined.
Moawad thanked the Ambassador and the Kingdom of the Netherlands for their support of the project. He said: “This project was born as a model project in 2017, from the simple fact that Lebanon had previously signed an agreement with the European Union that allows it to export 50,000 tons of potatoes annually without tariffs. However, we have not exported any potatoes since this agreement was signed because we did manage to plant per the stipulated standards. From this, the project took off, and the René Moawad Foundation started working with farms by paying attention to the quality and quantity of their crops. We also provided them with support to grow a product that conforms to the standards of the European Union. We were able to export the first shipment to the Netherlands in 2018.
He added, “The success of the first project incentivized the Kingdom of the Netherlands to expand the scope of the program and extend its duration for an additional five years, with the aim of making it sustainable with time. We have also expanded the scope of the project with three new agricultural export crops: grapes, cherries and avocados.”
Moawad pointed out that this project, in addition to its importance in developing the integrated export chain, works to create an economic model through which transforming Lebanon’s economy into a productive economy is not a mere slogan but can become a reality. He said, “through this project, we demonstrated our ability to cultivate agricultural products with the aim of exporting them, which can secure the funds that Lebanon needs in these difficult circumstances.”
In response to a question regarding a governmental plan in this context, Moawad confirmed that he had raised the issue of aid in the form of a 1,200 billion LL stimulus divided between aid and loans to industrialists and farmers. He stressed the need to develop an integrated vision for agriculture that encompasses exports and domestic food security, saying: “I, as an MP, and we, as an institution, will work on an integrated plan for agriculture by moving from the logic of assistance to the logic of sustainable development and studying the needs of foreign markets and the standards they set, enabling us to choose the varieties that we must grow and export abroad.”
In 2018 “René Moawad Foundation”, in cooperation with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Department of Agricultural Scientific Research and Agricultural Cooperatives in Akkar, exported about 21 tons of Lebanese potatoes to European Union markets, which known for its import standards, in what pioneering step, a first in the history of the Lebanese potato. The Foundation was not satisfied with this achievement, expanding the project scope of the project, which now includes three new agricultural chains in addition to potatoes: grapes, cherries and avocados.
This project aims to develop the integrated export chain and intensive labor in four ways: firstly, through improving the quality of the product and raising it to international standards by working with farmers and efficient cooperatives all over Lebanon. Secondly, by working with exporters and equipping their centers with the modern equipment necessary for packaging, transporting and cooling; thirdly, by working with government agencies to enhance the capacities of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Scientific Research Authority’s official laboratories; and finally, by working on raising awareness about child labor in communities where employment in agriculture is prevalent.
The project also supports sustainable economic growth by developing the integrated export chain, which creates job opportunities and promotes the export of grapes, avocados, cherries, and potatoes to European and regional markets. Benefiting from this are about 2,760 farmers; 8,580 Lebanese and foreign agricultural workers; 1,365 at-risk children; 150 local agricultural communities; 900 marginalized groups with new jobs; 20 vegetable and fruit packaging centers; two public sector establishments; 10 private sector institutions; 15 cooperatives; and 20 agricultural experts. The project includes the 6 governorates of Akkar, North Lebanon, Baalbek-Hermel, Bekaa, Nabatieh, and Southern Lebanon.
So far, more than 1,253 cherry, potato, avocado, and grape farmers from all across Lebanon have joined the project. Six hundred twelve farmers and 1,836 workers attended training workshops and hosted the field visits if a team of engineers and experts who provided them with technical support.
It is noteworthy that this shipment will be followed by another series of shipments that will be delivered in the coming weeks, whereby more than 260 additional tons of potatoes will be exported to the European market. At this rate, the total quantity will reach 600 tons by the end of the year.