Good morning everyone. I am very happy to be here today on this special occasion. I am happy to join all of the distinguished guests: The president of the Union of municipalities of Jezzine, Mr. Khalil Harfouch, the mayor of Roum Municipality Mr. Haddad, the mayor of Lebaa Fady Romanos, all our distinguished guests from the religious community, our distinguished guests from the cultural community, Director Generals, Mr. Michel Mouad, Dr. Anne Patterson, our other AID representatives even from Washington DC here at this event. Thank you all for coming. This is very special today.
I am pleased that I was able to do this for the Ambassador. She sends her greetings. She is in Washington right now, you may have heard; a few things have been happening in Washington lately. So she is back there meeting with the State Department and with officials in Congress, and talking about Lebanon, and the partnership we have with the Lebanese people, the many good things that Lebanon is doing in the region – a beacon of peace, stability, prosperity, for all of the neighbors around.
This facility today is just one of many examples of the things that the Lebanese are able to do in their country: To promote economic prosperity, to support their communities, to support the families, the children.
This facility will be the first table olive processing facility in the Jezzine district. It will provide opportunities for more than 250 olive farmers in the region, to increase their income, and improve their economic well-being in the communities. The U.S. Government has been very happy to partner, over many years, with the local communities and municipalities here in Lebanon. We believe that the most effective way to support these wonderful local communities and these hard-working energetic people is to help them promote their own development. Over the past ten years, USAID has invested more than 70 million dollars, supporting municipalities throughout Lebanon, to improve public services and stimulate economic growth. We do this because of our local partners here, who we know, are good stewards of anything that they have entrepreneurial and will use our resources in the best way possible.
The partnership here today for this table olive processing facility, has grown stronger through the Baladi program, which has been here since 2012. Through this program, 59 municipalities around the country are involving citizens in their own decision-making to address the priorities of the community. Here we have table olive processing, but in other cases, AID has worked with the local communities on irrigation canals, cold storage facilities, nature trails, and health services. All injecting new life in the communities and improving lives of more than 100,000 Lebanese people.
Agriculture is a key focus of the U.S. Government. It is a powerful engine for economic growth and employment creation. Our own country has actually been built based on an agricultural economy for many years. We are an agricultural country as well. Abraham Lincoln established the Department of Agriculture in 1862 and he called it the People’s Department. Even today, if you go to Washington, on the mall, sitting right there in a prominent position, is the Department of Agriculture, because this is the people’s department. This is what our country was built on; the farms, the farmers. Agricultural activity covers the whole of the United States, but it is especially concentrated in the great plains. This vast expanse of arable land has been an economic driver for the rest of the country.
Improvements in mechanization of farming has been a major theme throughout U.S. history. Improvements such as John Deer’s steel plow, Cyrus McCormick’s mechanical reaper, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, the Fordson tractor, which became combine harvesters.
Modern Agriculture in the U.S. today ranges from small farms, cultivated as hobbies, all the way up to the large commercial farming having thousands of acres of heartland. Therefore, we feel a special kinship to projects like this, agricultural projects using the products from the land.
This table processing facility that we are celebrating today will process the wonderful fresh olives that you can get from Jezzine, that are suitable and appropriate to be table olives, because of their taste, because of their high quality, because of their appearance. With these olives, people are able to make the green olives, black olives, tapenades, and other delicacies that are in such high demand in the Lebanese market. The sale of these delicacies will help local farmers generate higher incomes and build brighter future for their families, and as a result the whole community will prosper. This project is a striking example of municipalities and communities working together to identify priorities for local development and setting up plans for action. Those groups recognize the importance of the olive industry in the Jezzine region, and work closely with USAID’s implementer, the Rene Mouawad Foundation, to design an activity that helps the olive farmers. Of course the contribution of the Union of Municipalities of Jezzine was critical. Its support, valued at approximately 268 thousand dollars, included donation of land, engineering designs, legal permits, construction work, and electric and water connections.
I commend all of you for your perseverance and for your teamwork in making the table olive processing facility a reality. The U.S. Government is steadfast in our support to the Lebanese people in making your communities even stronger and more resilient.
Thank all of you for your warm hospitality today and always, and I wish you great success in all of your endeavors. Thank you.