Today Ambassador David Hale and Lebanese Minister of Agriculture Akram Chehayeb participated in a conference to highlight the improvements in the honey industry in Lebanon with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Over 100 stakeholders involved in beekeeping gathered to attend the conference organized by the USAID-funded Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development (LIVCD) project at the Lebanese University Headquarters in Beirut. For the past two years, USAID has played a key role in modernizing Lebanon’s honey industry through providing equipment, training, and technical assistance to local beekeepers.
The USAID-funded LIVCD project works with the private sector at different levels of the honey value chain to make honey production and processing more efficient and innovative. The project improved technology and beekeeping practices of over 1,700 beekeepers in more than 70 villages across Lebanon.
With funding from the presidential initiative “Feed the Future,” the Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development (LIVCD) project is a five-year, $41.7 million USAID project to improve Lebanon’s economic prosperity. It generates income for small businesses while creating jobs for the rural population, in particular women and youth. The project creates ties between farmers, producers, suppliers, processors, service providers, traders, transporters, retailers, packers, distributors, exporters, and consumers.
Below are Ambassador Hale’s remarks as delivered.
Good afternoon and thank you very much. Good afternoon also Your Excellency Minister Shehayeb, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is especially a pleasure for me to be here at Lebanese University. I am eager to listen, to learn from our partners, and reflect on the key milestones achieved so far on our path towards sustainable economic growth in Lebanon through this program.
Lebanon is a beautiful country, as you know, endowed with picturesque landscapes and inventive, warm, friendly people. The Lebanese are also master entrepreneurs who have used their knowledge and skills in arts and trade throughout history to create successful business ventures. Lebanon has long served as a trade center and a bridge between Europe and the Middle East with its strategic location, its multicultural background, and its entrepreneurial spirit.
Yet, we also know that recurring periods of political unrest have challenged prosperity. Economic activities outside Beirut, in particular, such as agriculture and rural tourism, have not kept pace with international competition or with other sectors of the Lebanese economy. This is why, for the past 10 years, the United States has worked with local partners to promote economic opportunities in the rural, agriculture areas so that all Lebanese can prosper.
Agribusiness is one of the most important sectors of Lebanon’s economy, so we have been helping farmers, processors and merchants for over a decade. About half of the citizens outside of greater Beirut rely on agriculture—directly or indirectly—for at least part of their household income. The United States government has helped build connections between more than 650 farmers, packers, processors, and distributors to expand exports of Lebanese processed agricultural products. We upgraded the certification, capacity, and quality of Lebanese agricultural laboratories to ensure food safety. In 2012, the American government launched a $42 million program to strengthen competitive value chains and provide income-generating opportunities for small businesses. This venture has created jobs for the rural population and, in particular, for women and youth.
Beekeeping and honey production have been a particular focus of the American government’s assistance. Our goal is to help rural communities maintain a secure and steady source of income, and specifically to afford beekeepers the opportunity to make a comfortable living without the need to own land. Through beekeeping, we reach a large number of people in rural areas throughout all regions and all communities of Lebanon.
Our assistance to the beekeeping and honey industry covers everything from providing equipment and introducing innovative agricultural practices to training and market access. For example, we helped establish the first queen breeding center in the country. We enhanced the competitiveness and productivity of 1,700 beekeepers by providing them with equipment, training, and support. Most importantly, we connected local beekeepers with buyers and exporters and have been working with Lebanese authorities to establish regulations to govern the quality of honey. Honey exports doubled and the number of beekeepers has increased by 14 percent.
These statistics bode well for the growth of Lebanon’s agriculture sector. And American-Lebanese collaboration in this sector does not end here. We will work with Lebanon’s agricultural sector to continue to spur innovation by providing new technologies and trainings. We will continue to explore new markets for high-quality Lebanese honey. Agriculture is well placed to boost economic growth and jobs in Lebanon’s rural areas.
And I’ll mention in this connection. Earlier today, I was with economy minister Hakim and we announced together a decision that President Obama made a few weeks ago to extend duty free status to a vast majority of Lebanese products. So I very much hope to see Lebanese honey in the United States. I am no experts like Dr. Moudawar, but I do know one thing, which is that Lebanese honey is very delicious. So I think it will do very well in the American market. I especially want to commend the efforts of Minister Shehayeb for his positive and energetic approach to injecting new vitality into Lebanese agriculture and to our partnership together. And, thank you all for your commitment to Lebanon’s stability. We are here today full of determination to make agriculture more productive and efficient. No goal is too high for you, the farmers and resilient people of Lebanon. I am confident that you will attain this goal through your drive and expertise and significantly contribute to Lebanon’s prosperity and, therefore, to its stability. Thank you very much.