Lebanon unlikely to face threats on food security

Despite the steep rise in prices, Lebanon is unlikely to face any imminent threats on food security given the government measures to secure food supply, Lebanese officials told Xinhua.

Prices of food commodities surged globally under the double whammy of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia-Ukraine conflict, posing severe challenges for Lebanon, a country imports over 70 percent of its consumer products, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA).

Lebanese Minister of Economy and Trade Amin Salam told Xinhua that his ministry facilitated merchants to import cheaper brands for consumers in light of the collapse of the local currency and the low salaries in Lebanon.

In addition to sending teams to monitor prices in the market, the ministry is discussing an agreement with supermarkets to offer consumers an affordable food basket consisting of grains, beans, sugar, oil and other basic products, ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The solution for Lebanon in the short run is to reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), attracting big investments in the country’s infrastructure which would reduce electricity and gas bills for citizens and raise their purchasing power, said Salam.

“I am expecting an imminent deal with the IMF,” he said.

On another front, Salam said that his ministry has taken a series of measures to ensure Lebanon’s access to sufficient wheat and proper storage facilities.

As the first step, the ministry has managed to secure storage facilities for around 60,000 tonnes of imported wheat in the Bekaa region as an alternative to the silos that were destroyed by the Beirut port blasts on Aug. 4, 2020.

“We also have an additional storage capacity of 50,000 tonnes offered by mills across the country,” the minister added.

Reem Nejdawi, chief of ESCWA’s Food and Environment Policies Section, told Xinhua that a change in dietary habits in Arab countries would improve nutrition and contribute to food security.

“In the Arab region, we need to change our traditional diet depending heavily on subsidized items, such as oil, wheat, sugar,” she said.

Nejdawi added that countries in the region also need to look into reducing food loss and waste estimated at around 30 percent by the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Nejdawi also noted that Arab countries must take measures to reduce their vulnerability to shocks in times of crisis, including enhancing domestic production, using futures and other tools to hedge against commodity price risk, ensuring storage capacity for commodities, as well as diversifying grains sources. ■

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