The collapse of the Lebanese currency and the restrictions imposed by Saudi Arabia on the importation of agricultural products from the Mediterranean country threaten to worsen food insecurity and create a wave of hunger in the country, according to its minister of Agriculture.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Abbas Mortada noted that fear grows day by day as Lebanon continues to be locked in an economic and political crisis.
Once considered the Paris of the Middle East, Lebanon has struggled with a devastating economic crisis for nearly three years against a backdrop of protracted civil war, regional conflicts and political instability.
The crisis, which began in October 2019, worsened further with the devastating explosions at the port of Beirut last August that left at least 200 dead and thousands injured in addition to massive property damage.
Due to the economic crisis, many Lebanese have had to resort to agriculture to cope with the hunger that has been hitting their doors for almost a year.
Meanwhile, a shortage of foreign currency and a devaluation of the national currency has caused the Lebanese pound to lose more than 90% of its value since 2020 and crippled the import-dependent nation, leading to shortages of fuel, medicines and basic supplies.
Mortada warned that the Lebanese could “abandon” agriculture as the continued deterioration of the Lebanese pound “weakens the process of importing agricultural products that are not available in Lebanon.”
He called on the government to “develop an urgent plan to stop the currency collapse so that Lebanon does not sink into a serious food crisis.”
The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that food prices in Lebanon have increased by 109%, with the country importing 85% of its food needs.
He also stressed that food has become a major concern for the Lebanese people, with around half of the country’s population “fearing that they will have enough to eat”.
Increase in agricultural exports
Mortada, however, praised the growth of the agricultural sector through the expansion of cultivated areas and the increase in the volume of exports despite the economic difficulties.
“This growth has translated into an increase in the value of agricultural exports, which stood at $ 720 million in 2020 after registering $ 625 million in 2019,” he said, adding that the land crops had increased by about 1,483 acres last year.
He pointed out that the high exchange rate of the dollar against the Lebanese pound makes farmers prefer to export their products abroad in exchange for foreign currency rather than selling them in the Lebanese market.
The bulk of agricultural exports go to China, Europe and Arab countries, Mortada said. However, he noted that the country’s exports to Saudi Arabia have been halted due to Riyadh’s import ban on Lebanese agricultural products.
In April, Saudi Arabia announced an import ban on fruits and vegetables from Lebanon, as the Kingdom said the shipments were used to smuggle drugs into Saudi Arabian territory.
Before the ban, Lebanon exported 25% of its agricultural production to Saudi Arabia, while 44% of its agricultural products passed through the Kingdom to other Gulf countries.
Mortada stressed the importance of lifting the Saudi ban on Lebanese agricultural products and called on the Lebanese government to put in place effective measures to prevent drug smuggling into Saudi territory.