Under the patronage of H.E. Ambassador Jan Top Christensen, Ambassador of Denmark in Lebanon - July 18, 2013
Today, organic agriculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world in terms of land use and market size. The organic market reached around 63 billion USD in 2011. This progress has urged a relatively rapid elaboration of regulations pertaining to the production and processing of organic foods. The number of countries with organic regulations reached 576 certifiers in 2012. At the same time, organic agriculture has been put on the national agenda of several countries, among them Denmark. The Danish experience derives its importance from the institutional support for organic agriculture whereby the government subsidizes organic farmland and discourages conventional farming by levying taxes on agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides.
The history of organic agriculture in Lebanon dates back to many years when the American University of Beirut (AUB) took the lead promoting the “Healthy Basket”, a project that aimed at improving Lebanese farmers’ livelihoods in rural areas, preserving the environment and protecting human health. Several initiatives have followed, the latest being the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU) at AUB. The Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU) serves as a regional interdisciplinary research and development center (www.aub.edu.lb/units/esdu). The ESDU was established in 2001 at the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the American University of Beirut; it fosters action-centered, policy relevant, interdisciplinary and participatory research and development activities linked to community development. ESDU has been working on sustainable development initiatives in the region and the main targets nowadays are food security and eco-village establishment based on the Danish technologies and existing model. ESDU promotes eco-communities, a model that integrates food sovereignty, resource conservation and efficiency.
In Lebanon, the Ministry of Agriculture has issued a number of decrees regulating organic production and processing. It has recently formed a technical and a national committee of agricultural engineers whose mission is to assist in the elaboration of regulations, follow up on the registration of organic operators and certifying bodies, in addition to providing support (technical, advice) to producers and processors. Organic products are certified by two bodies, IMC-Lebanon (a subsidiary of IMC- Italy) and LibanCert, a Lebanese company.
ESDU received from the part of the Danish ambassador in Lebanon, Mr. Jan Top Christensen, an invitation to attend a three-week course on organic agriculture in Denmark. This course was sponsored by the Danida Fellowship Center (DFC) and facilitated by the Knowledge Center for Agriculture. The DFC is a self-governing institution under Danida (the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs) whereas the knowledge center for agriculture provides different types of services, among them, research, advice, training and education. The course was attended by ESDU consultant, Ms. Carine Lteif, who is an agricultural engineer and urban planner. The participants were from African, Asian and South American countries, among them Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Lebanon, Vietnam, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bolivia.
As an outcome of this cooperation with Danish embassy, ESDU organized a workshop at the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at AUB on July 18, 2013. The workshop was under the patronage of his Excellency the Danish ambassador Mr. Jan Top Christensen. Ms. Maria Lindhart, cultural and political officer of the Danish embassy in Beirut was also present in addition to representatives of local and international institutions: Dr. Shadi Hamadeh ESDU director, Dr. Adib Saad Professor of Plant Pathology, Dr. Lina El Bitar, coordinator of education and training at the Mediterranean Organic Agriculture Department of IAMB (Istituto agronomico mediterraneo Bari) or the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari- Italy), representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture’s technical committee for organic agriculture, representatives from the two certifying bodies operating in Lebanon, IMC and LibanCert, individuals from the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (L.A.R.I), Al Cedars Society in Shouf, Agriculture Extension Center in Baaklin-Shouf, Waterfront City Cares Dbayeh, Souk el Tayeb, World Vision Lebanon and experts working in the field of agriculture. The workshop was initiated with Dr. Salwa Tohmé-Tawk’s welcome note followed by a general presentation on ESDU’s role and activities, and the history of organic agriculture in Lebanon. Next, Ms. Carine Lteif presented the situation of organic agriculture in the world, with a focus on developing countries and Lebanon. Following, she presented the Danish experience, focusing on the institutional and policy framework. The workshop ended with a discussion on the role of the represented institutions in the promotion of the Lebanese organic sector, their challenges, as well as ways to increase efficiency of intervention. Participants have demonstrated willingness to make some changes especially when it comes to joining efforts, learning from the Danish experience where farmers’ cooperation has enabled them to increase the scale of production and invest in new technologies. The workshop has mobilized the Lebanese stakeholders, pushing them to propose holding a second meeting to follow-up on their recent achievements and discussions. The Ministry of Agriculture’s technical committee will integrate some of the recommendations to the report that will be presented to the Minister such as the importance of lobbying as a very effective tool to promote organic agriculture in Lebanon. In Denmark, a powerful lobbying from farmers, enterprises and organic NGOs have allowed to put organic agriculture on the national agenda. The cooperation of Danish Ambassador Mr. Jan Top Christensen and the assistance of cultural and political officer Ms. Maria Lindhart will pave the way for successful partnerships between Lebanese and Danish institutions. At this stage, the embassy of Denmark in Lebanon has played, and still is, a very important role in facilitating cooperation and building capacities.