Lebanon: Agriculture to face hunger

Sabah greets the PUI communication team with an unwavering smile on her face and optimism in her eyes. She proudly shows us the growth of her crop and points us towards several batches of tomatoes that are about to ripen. As a hands-on second-generation farmer and her family’s sole provider, Sabah is dedicated to her three greenhouses which help to provide for her family’s needs.  

Sabah and her niece in their rehabilitated greenhouse growing tomatoes in Tall Birch, December 2022. © Lamia Dandan / Première Urgence Internationale

Sabah, 61, lives in Tall Bireh, a village on the Lebanese Syrian border in the Akkar governorate of North Lebanon. She shares her house with her two ill sisters and her brother, who is also in poor health, and his family of six.  

Lebanon: Acute Food Insecurity Situation  

Between September and December 2022, about 1.98 million Lebanese residents and Syrian refugees were considered to be in crisis or severe crisis and required urgent humanitarian action to reduce food gaps, protect and restore livelihoods, and prevent acute malnutrition, according to the first Lebanon Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Acute Food Insecurity Analysis.1 

Between January and April 2023, about 2.26 million people are also expected to face high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above), caused by further deterioration of the economic situation and depreciation of the Lebanese Pound (LBP), protracted inflation, and soaring international prices.2 

“While there is no single root cause, or solution, to the multiple crises currently bringing Lebanon to the risk of complete collapse, one point is clear: the need to invest, or re-invest, into local production capacities. This is especially true for agriculture, all the more so in North Lebanon,” states Enguerrand Roblin, PUI Lebanon’s Head of Mission. “This type of project feeds into this macro-level logic of strengthening local capacities. At an individual level, for a family such as Sabah’s, we aim for this project and our support to be the bridge from surviving to thriving,” he adds.  

To help the bolster the resilience of the population most affected, PUI currently provides assistance to 3,690 individuals in Akkar through an integrated food security, livelihood and nutrition intervention, made possible by funding from the the Interministerial Food Aid Committee (CIAA) within the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. 

From Adversity to Sustainable Livelihood  

Sabah’s brother Hasan ran a modest sewing shop in Tall Bireh until he was forced to shut it down due to the economic crisis and energy shortage. As a result, Sabah had to step up as head of the household, although she had no prospects to pursue a profitable livelihood at that time.  

“2021 was the hardest year I went through in my life because my brother closed his workshop and got sick. Our household of 9 members was struggling to pay for daily expenses such as food and medication. We then focused on land cultivation as a main food source. To help pay for my brother’s and sisters’ medical care, we also have a cow whose milk is sold,” says Sabah.

According to the World Food Program (WFP), the presence of a household member with chronic illness or disability, lack of access to health services or education, the presence of an unemployed household member or an unstable income were found to be highly linked to the probability of being food insecure. In addition, households headed by women face more challenges in the labour market and higher unemployment rates with respect to men.3 

In Sabah’s case, three old greenhouses, which were severely damaged in 2019 due to strong winds, sat unused on the family’s land. “I remember my father bought them from Syria in 1982, we planted in them till 2019, and we couldn’t afford to repair them due to the high cost of rehabilitation,” states Sabah. 

A long-term project supported by the whole family

Once the greenhouses were damaged, Sabah and her family struggled to make ends meet and attempted several times to register for humanitarian assistance projects whenever they heard of an opportunity. They were unsuccessful until July 2022, when Sabah participated in an information session delivered by PUI about a new agriculture project.

As a second-generation farmer, Sabah had learned the basic farming techniques from her father, but she was unable to afford to cultivate her land because of the inflated prices of seedlings and fertilizers.  

After completing the vulnerability and greenhouse assessments, PUI selected Sabah as beneficiary for the new project, through which she received additional agricultural training, farming materials and was able to have her greenhouses rehabilitated.  

Now, after nearly three years of enduring precarious circumstances and a lack of steady income, Sabah can cultivate her own land with continued support from PUI’s food security and livelihood team.  This is also the first time in five years that she has successfully cultivated crops in her greenhouses. 

Sabah her rehabilitated greenhouse growing tomatoes in Tall Birch, Akkar, January 2023. © Lamia Dandan / Première Urgence Internationale

“On the 26th of September 2022, the three greenhouses on my land were completely rehabilitated and I am very excited and thankful that I can start planting them [even] in winter with tomatoes and beans for self-consumption and to generate additional income for our household. This is an enormous support for us because we could never have been able to rehabilitate our greenhouses without it,” says Sabah with enthusiasm.  

Adopt sustainable practices

Greenhouse rehabilitation can provide numerous benefits to growers, including energy savings, improved productivity, sustainability, and longer lifespan of the greenhouse structure,” adds Zakhia Mahfouz, PUI Agricultural Engineer.It can in fact help growers adopt sustainable practices such as water conservation, reduced use of pesticides and fertilizers, and use of renewable energy sources. Most importantly, a well-maintained greenhouse can create a healthier environment for crops, reducing the risk of disease, pests, and other issues that can affect plant growth and yield”  

Depending on the weather and her use of the agricultural techniques PUI’s team taught her, Sabah can currently produce about 3,500 kg of tomatoes, which she sells to her neighbors, local markets and wholesalers. With this restored access to profitable livelihood, the family is no longer struggling to put food on the table. 

PUI’s intervention, made possible by CIAA funding, constitutes a lifeline for Sabah who remains the primary breadwinner for her family of 13, many of whom are still struggling with illness and unemployment. Despite the challenges, Sabah’s eagerness to improve her skills and her love for planting remain constant.  

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