BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said Monday that Lebanon should step up agricultural development to raise the important sector’s share in gross domestic product, boost employment and improve food security.
“It is necessary to not ignore agriculture, a key component to boosting food security and allowing citizens to remain linked to land and heritage,” Sleiman said.
“The contribution of agriculture was merely 5 percent of Lebanon’s GDP and has recently risen to 6.5 percent, but we should rapidly increase it as agriculture is key in realizing balanced development,” he added.
The president, who was speaking at a joint FAO-Agriculture Ministry event to commemorate World Food Day, added that the government should continue to increase the funding of the sector.
“The international financial crisis showed that economies should be based on productive sectors, particularly agriculture and industry,” he said.
“We should bolster the role of monitoring for imported food and apply stringent international standards.”
Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said the current Cabinet has prioritized agricultural development and thanked Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati for endorsing his ministry’s initiatives.
“The budget of the ministry rose from LL41 billion in 2009 to LL102 billion for 2013, and the budget of the sector soared from LL120 billion to LL320 billion during the same period,” he said, highlighting that the increase in funding indicated the sector’s importance.
Hajj Hasan said the agricultural sector underwent significant development over the past few years.
“The strategy for developing the sector, which we put in place back in 2009, has resulted in a fundamental structural [positive] change,” he said.
He said the government has successfully passed the legislation needed to shore up the sector, adding that the ministry has been successful in developing its human cadre by hiring hundreds of agricultural engineers, veterinarians and experts.
Total international funding of the agricultural sector soared to $103 million over the past three years, Hajj Hasan said, expecting the figure to grow exponentially in the coming years.
United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly praised the country’s developments in revitalizing its agricultural sector.
“The government now has a convincing five-year strategy for developing Lebanon’s agricultural potential, placing it closer to the center of the national development agenda,” Plumbly said.
Plumbly said the five-year plan successfully channels investments into the vital sector, including farming, livestock and fisheries. Enabling access for farmers to small credit is also a very positive component of the plan, he said.
Commenting on the international status of food security, Plumbly said a study by the U.N. published last week showed that “we have gained ground in the battle against hunger.”
“The number of people suffering from hunger has declined more quickly than predicted over the past 20 years,” he said, quoting the study.
Ali Moumen, representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., also praised the strategy being applied by the government.
“[The strategy] is indicative of the government’s political will to ensure sustainable food security and consequently reduce significantly the food dependence of the country on imports,” he said.
Moumen added that the FAO’s cooperation with the Agriculture Ministry is focusing on the improvement of agricultural production and modernization of the technical, scientific and regulatory frameworks.
During the event, which was held under the slogan “Agricultural Cooperatives key to feeding the World,” speakers said that Lebanon should offer more support to cooperatives given the relatively small size of agricultural land and the average agricultural holdings.