Minister determined to overhaul Lebanese agricultural sector

BEIRUT: Agriculture Minister Hussein al-Hajj Hassan voiced support Wednesday for exports, reserving the Export Plus program, and calling off the IDAL nonsupport decision, which was scheduled to take effect in 2011.

He said he had already set up a strategic work plan for the agricultural sector that would be executed as soon as possible.

His remarks came during a luncheon party held at Dunes center in Beirut. The event that has been set in honor of Hassan, was organized by the Association of the Importers & Traders of Agricultural Products Requisites in Lebanon.

Hassan said he had decided to revive the agriculture sector in Lebanon while “the government’s decision since the beginning of the 1990s was to completely neglect this sector.”

Lebanese Farmers Syndicate president Antoine Hwayek has on many occasions criticized the successive post-1989 governments for failing to adopt reliable strategies capable of maintaining a profitable agricultural industry in Lebanon. He said the gross revenues generated by this industry in its current miserable state reached $1.5 billion while it was able to generate some $3.5 billion yearly if the required infrastructure was made available.

According to the Lebanon Economic Report issued by Audi Bank on a quarterly basis, the agriculture sector saw a stable performance during 2009 in its domestic component, while external activity saw a moderate slowdown. The report included statistics released by the Higher Customs Council mentioning that Lebanon’s agriculture exports amounted to $154 million in 2009, down by 7.2 percent relative to 2008.

It said domestic agricultural production remained more or less stable in 2009, with the sector contributing a modest 7 percent to the country’s GDP.

However, Hassan pledged to work on improving the performance of the sector by appointing 150 agricultural engineers and technical professionals at the ministry. “We also aim to improve our production and increase our guidance efforts through specialized committees,” he said.

Hassan also showed his readiness Wednesday to conduct economic and scientific studies aiming to introduce new kinds of agro-products to the Lebanese market. “Our objective is to replace old products with new ones capable of adding more value to our sector, and this is possible through the funds dedicated to this sector in the 2010 government budget,” he added.

He also said the ministry would soon launch the new farmers’ calendars which would make them capable of controlling their production according to the market’s needs. Moreover, he noted that the Sudanese market was open and ready to receive Lebanese peaches and apricots following the agricultural agreements that have recently been signed between Lebanon and Khartoum. “It is also possible to open flights between Lebanon and different markets via the Tans Mediterranean Airways,” he added.





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