BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon plans to build two new grain silos to combat its worsening food security crisis, the country’s acting economy minister told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Amin Salam said several countries and international organizations have expressed interest in funding and bidding for the new silos, which will cost a total of $100 million.
“We have had very serious interest from Germany, the United States, France and even more from the United Arab Emirates,” Salam said, adding that he would soon be traveling to Qatar to discuss the issue.
The small Mediterranean country is in the grip of a crippling economic crisis that has bankrupted the state and plunged more than three-quarters of its population into poverty. Lebanon’s only grain silos in the port of Beirut lie in ruins, after hundreds of tonnes of explosive ammonium nitrate exploded there nearly two years ago. The explosion killed more than 200 people and injured more than 6,000 others.
A die the silos have been burning for weeks due to the fermentation of the grain, as it heads towards collapse.
Sluggish wheat imports due to the Russian war in Ukraine and soaring food and fuel prices have led to panic and scuffles at bakeries over partially subsidized bread.
Salam said Lebanon received a technical feasibility study from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in June giving the green light for the construction of two grain silos north of the capital in the port of Tripoli and in the east of the Bekaa Valley.
“Building the silos will be serious crisis management, because we need the (grain) reserves,” Salam told the AP. “All shipments that used to take a week to 10 days to arrive now take up to a month. And in some cases they are cancelled.
Salam said he was also in talks with the World Bank and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to secure funding.
The Lebanese Central Bank has subsidized wheat imports for years to keep bread prices stable, but bread prices have slowly risen as the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value against the US dollar. The Central Bank has slowly backed away from its subsidies as its foreign exchange reserves continue to decline.
Last week, the minister accused bakery owners of hoarding subsidized wheat for traditional Arabic bread, a local staple, to resell at higher prices later for a higher profit.
Parliament this Tuesday voted to spend $150 million World Bank loan on wheat importsthat acting economy minister Amin Salam hopes keep bread prices stable for at least six months. Lebanon is expected to receive the funding within the next month, he said.
The minister said that the construction of the two new silos and that they would be fully operational could take place within a year. But new silos for Beirut will take time, pending a slow judicial investigation and a virtually non-existent harbor clean-up and reconstruction plan.
Salam said the silos at the port held 125,000 tons. “We are looking for a similar number for Tripoli and a lower number in the Bekaa,” he explained. “That way, once we have three, Lebanon is safe with nine months of reserves.”
Lebanon’s economy for nearly three years has been spiraling. Experts blame decades of poor economic planning and corruption without accountability of the country’s many sectarian political parties. Meanwhile, the government has struggled to implement financial and structural reforms to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package and unlock billions of dollars in financial aid.