Members of the agriculture and food industries discussed strategies for commercial growth and social responsibility during a conference Wednesday, highlighting the importance of the sector to the Lebanese economy. The Industry Ministry collaborated with the Italian Embassy in Lebanon and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization to host the event. Titled “Supporting Agro-industries: A Fundamental Choice for a Better Future,” the conference was held at the Grand Serail in Beirut.
During his opening address, Fadi Gemayel, president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists, emphasized the significance of the agriculture and food sector, saying it employed approximately 33 percent of the labor force and accounted for 23 percent of exports, in addition to operating more factories than any other industry in Lebanon.
Wednesday’s conference also marked the launch of the final phase of a five-year program intended to support the agro-industrial sector. The Community Empowerment and Livelihoods Enhancement Project has provided technical assistance to small and medium-sized businesses and agricultural cooperatives since 2011, prioritizing female-owned enterprises. The new phase of the program is expected to generate approximately 200 employment opportunities in rural communities throughout Lebanon, building on more than 2,000 jobs it has already created.
Industry Minister Wael Abu Faour voiced his support for the project during the event, saying that as the “political and social situation in the country is clouded by worry and tainted with pessimism,” the initiative represented “good news” as well as vital support.
“I hope it will allow us to improve and develop this sector, including olive oil and other products in which farmers are still using older methods, making them inappropriate for export and competition abroad,” the minister said.
The program is funded by the Italian government and implemented by the UNIDO, in cooperation with the Italian NGO Istituto per la Cooperazione Universitaria and the Industry and Agriculture ministries.
Gemayel echoed the minister’s remarks, calling for more innovation by businesses.
“We need cross-sector collaboration to increase the added value of products from the traditional agricultural sector, [to highlight] their potential and importance, and [to increase] market demand by giving them their own identity,” Gemayel told the conference.
Marlen Bakalli, a project manager with UNIDO, offered examples of enterprises in Lebanon that have found their own niches in the market. One example was of an olive oil company that adopted an unusually shaped, locally produced glass bottle to differentiate itself from other producers.
Redha Hamdan, vice president of the Consultation and Research Institute, echoed these sentiments and presented additional recommendations, including the creation of a Lebanese food quality stamp.
Maintaining the focus on untapped potential, conference attendees also heard about opportunities for ecological innovation.
One panel session explored strategies to improve food safety, while another examined environmental sustainability practices.
“This is a promising sector that has to be helped and taken care of,” said Sami Assaf, head of the environment committee of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists.
Assaf added that the adoption of environmental best practices by the agricultural and food industry was good for business and for Lebanon itself. “Compliance is our big chance to give back to our country and create jobs,” he said.
The Daily Star