April 08, 2014

BEIRUT: Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb stressed Monday the importance of developing agricultural infrastructure and solutions to deal with a decrease in rainfall, which is set to affect the quantity and quality of both surface water and groundwater in wells.The decline in rainfall this winter has sparked drought fears in Lebanon, as well as warnings of a water emergency and urgent calls for new solutions to combat scarcity and conserve water at home.

During a meeting with ministry Director-General Louis Lahoud, a delegation from the World Bank headed by Maurice Saade and representatives from the Food and Agricultural Organization, Chehayeb stressed the “united efforts between the different ministries and institutions and departments concerned with agriculture, infrastructure and donors.”

Chehayeb also noted the importance of what has already been done in terms of establishing hill lakes and guiding farmers toward more advanced methods of irrigation.

The minister called for afforestation projects – planting trees where there were none before – to be expanded to include additional areas on both sides of Mount Lebanon, which would include municipality- and government-owned areas.

The meeting was called partly to congratulate Chehayeb on his new post and to brief him on the Sustainable Agricultural Livelihood in Marginal Areas project, which is funded with $20 million from the World Bank and $7 million from the Global Environment Facility.

The SALMA project includes three main components.

First, it outlines the creation of agricultural and rural infrastructure, including approximately 13 sand reservoirs and rural roads up to 40 kilometers long for farming and forestry purposes.

Second, it encourages afforestation, reforestation and forest management projects, conducted in close cooperation with municipalities, civil society and national non-profit organizations.

Third, training and developing technical expertise within the Agricultural Ministry, farmers and the Beirut Green Project, which aims to promote awareness and use of public parks in the capital.

Chehayeb expressed his satisfaction with “the World Bank’s readiness to consider the participation of municipalities who express their desire to participate in afforestation operations according to the technical standards put in place by experts.”

The delegation from the World Bank said the areas chosen as the launching point for the Sustainable Agricultural Livelihood in Marginal Areas project had been picked according to biological and ecological standards, the willingness of municipalities to participate according to their previous experience in afforestation, and requests by civil society groups across Lebanon.

The participants in the meeting also stressed the importance of working to lessen the risk of forest fires, and it was agreed that the FAO would provide technical assistance in this respect, as well as taking into consideration the livelihoods of residents of rural areas and Syrian refugees staying there.

Also Monday, Parliament’s Agricultural and Tourism Committee held a meeting headed by MPAyoub Humayed that was attended by Chehayeb, the committee’s rapporteur Neamatallah Abi Nasr, and several other MPs.

The damage caused by climate change was discussed at the meeting, and the committee decided to issue two recommendations to the government: to hasten the commissioning of the Lebanese Army and the Higher Relief Committee to survey the damage so far and compensate farmers accordingly, and to allow the Agriculture Ministry to provide assistance in kind.

Humayed also said it was agreed, with the cooperation of Chehayeb, to hold another meeting next week.

Chehayeb said his ministry was working on organizing a conference with the Energy and Water Ministry to find ways to deal with this year’s lack of rainfall and its consequences for agriculture.

He said he had surveyed the damage caused by the recent drought and last week informed Cabinet of the issue’s gravity, adding that he hoped farmers would receive the necessary compensation.

“We have started to survey the damage and specify its proportion, and I hope the Cabinet will issue a decision,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 08, 2014, on page 4.

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