Lebanon’s Agriculture Minister, Akram Chehayeb, and FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
13 December 2016, Beirut – Conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are the prime culprit behind the doubling of undernourished people in the Near East, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today as he visited Beirut, where FAO is opening a new sub-regional office.
Lebanon and 14 other countries in the Near East and North Africa region achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger rates by 2015, but food security problems have grown in absolute terms due to civil conflicts in the region.
Graziano da Silva praised the people of Lebanon and its government for “their great commitment and solidarity towards the displaced Syrians, as well as other refugees.”
He also congratulated newly-elected President Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri, the prime minister designate.
The country currently hosts almost 1.5 million refugees, a third of its own population, and many of them live in rural areas where public infrastructure and natural resources are both under strain.
“The degraded food insecurity situation today in the Near East and North Africa is not only constrained by the food production index or the increased dependency on imported goods, but it is also linked to conflict, migration and the increased refugee influx,” said Akram Chehayeb, Lebanon’s Minister of Agriculture. Conflicts have a “tremendous effect” far beyond their national borders, he added.
To address the challenge, and support countries that are taking in the lion’s share of refugees, FAO is opening its new Sub-Regional Office for the Mashreq countries. Chehayeb and Graziano da Silva signed the agreement to set up the facility at an event in Beirut today.
The expanded office will serve as a technical centre of excellence in support of food and nutritional security, sustainable agricultural development, as well as food safety, trade and rural development initiatives in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
It “comes at a very crucial time as the sub-region is aggravated by longstanding challenges such as water scarcity, soil degradation, the impacts of climate change and high unemployment,” Graziano da Silva said.
FAO scales up its presence in Lebanon
The new sub-regional office “is not the first collaboration between FAO and Lebanon, and it will not be the last,” said Chehayeb.
FAO is already engaged in Lebanon as part of a broader plan to boost resilience of regional communities in the face of the Syrian crisis. It has vaccinated the entire national livestock population against major transboundary animal diseases, strengthened veterinary surveillance and control systems, distributed seeds and farm tools to 20,000 people to improve homestead food production, and helped set up 500 semi-intensive poultry farms to provide food and employment.
FAO projects to strengthen local capacity and improve water management practises are key in the long-run effort to tackle climate change, Graziano da Silva said. “Climate action offers the triple win of tackling extreme poverty, hunger and climate change at the same time,” he added.
On Tuesday, Lebanon and FAO also signed two new major projects, both funded by the Government of the Netherlands.
One is a three-year $8.25 million initiative to support 1,220 farmers in reclaiming degraded lands and establishing water reservoirs, as well as assisting them in establishing irrigated fruit orchards. A key element of this project is to promote agricultural livelihoods and rural jobs, with more than 80,000 days of labour expected to be required for completion.
Another three-year $5.2 million project is geared to rehabilitating seven technical agricultural schools to give Lebanese youth and displaced persons an opportunity to acquire necessary skills to access career opportunities in farming and related agribusinesses in Lebanon and Syria.