Dear Laila has kindly provided a translation of my al akhbar article
Supporting the Poor
Despite the difficulties and criticisms facing the current government, observers from every side of the Lebanese political spectrum agree that the ministry of agriculture’s performance has been, and still is, unique. Minister Hussein Al-Haj Hasan has led the ministry’s public servants from depression to optimism. Upon his appointment, the minister set up wide ranging consultation committees which included academics, large scale producers and representatives of the private sector.
These committees looked at our agriculture reality and made plans to revive important crops such as grapevines, potatoes and citrus fruits. Based on this, a working plan was set out and it was followed by the ministry. The government adopted this plan, doubling the ministry’s budget. This in itself is an accomplishment, because successive governments have taken money out of the ministry of agriculture’s share in tune with their strategy of neglecting the production sectors in favor of a rent economy.
However, despite all these laudable accomplishments, the agriculture sector is still declining. Its share of the Lebanese economy is shrinking. Poverty is still rife in the countryside, forcing small producers to abandon their land and immigrate to make a living.
In the last few months, pressure on the agriculture sector has increased as a result of the difficulties in exporting through Syria, the main line for exporting to the Gulf countries. This crisis has clearly shown the fragility of agriculture which is based on production for export. One of its main problems is that it almost always works in favor of the wealthy who are able to deal with international markets, their demands and their variabilities.
In light of these facts, it is perhaps time to review our agricultural plans and to support them with a plan which favors the interests of family farmers and small producers, who belong to no particular sector except that of poverty and deprivation, who if they do produce anything it is usually some olives and a little wheat or, at best, they rear some livestock. If agriculture is unable to improve their conditions, when they are the ones who live in the countryside and who defend the land, then we will have failed in our primary objective.