Lebanese agriculture minister warns of severe hunger as crisis worsens
The Lebanese Agriculture Minister has issued warnings that the country may witness a severe wave of hunger due to the devaluation of the local currency against the dollar and the restrictions placed by some countries on Lebanese agricultural imports.
Abbas Mortada stressed the importance of exports to Saudi Arabia – which is a major foreign currency earner – and of putting in place strict guarantees to prevent the smuggling of illegal substances that triggered punitive measures against Lebanese produce in recent months.
"Fear is growing every day in light of the absence of solutions to the economic and political crises in the country," Murtada said.
"The decline of the local currency against the dollar diminishes the ability to import agricultural items that are not available in Lebanon. The government should develop an urgent plan to stop the collapse of the lira so that Lebanon does not drift into a severe hunger crisis."
Arab countries are Lebanon's main export markets for agricultural products, accounting for nearly 80 percent of over $190 million of total exports in 2019, where Saudi Arabia had more than 20 percent of the share, followed by Qatar.
In April, Saudi Arabia issued a ban against Lebanese fruit and vegetable products due to an increase in smuggling operations, after foiling an attempt to smuggle 5.3 million pills of the illegal amphetamine Captagon hidden in a shipment of pomegranates at Jeddah Port.
Saudi Ambassador Waleed Bukhari said in a tweet the kingdom had found more than 57 million illicit pills from cash-strapped Lebanon since the beginning of 2020.
Ibrahim Tarchichi, head of the Farmers Association in the Bekaa valley, where much of Lebanon’s agricultural production is based, reacted to the ban saying farmers and the agricultural sector were facing a "huge disaster".
According to the World Food Program of the United Nations, Lebanon imports 85 percent of its food needs, noting that 50 percent of the Lebanese are concerned about their inability to provide food.
The high exchange rate of the dollar against the Lebanese pound has created shortages internally as farmers prefer to export their products abroad in exchange for hard foreign currencies, rather than selling locally.
Around 25 percent of exports were halted due to Riyadh's decision to prevent the entry of Lebanese exports.
The ban will remain in place "until the relevant Lebanese authorities provide sufficient and reliable guarantees that they are taking the necessary measures to stop the systematic smuggling operations directed at the Kingdom", the Saudi Ministry of Interior said, according to a statement.
President Michel Aoun this month pledged to continue subsidising the import of medications and medical supplies selected by the health ministry on a priority basis.
The central bank has for months urged the health ministry to identify priority drugs, but a list has yet to be finalised.
Last week, it said it would earmark $400 million to support key products including medicine and flour.