Home farming takes root in Lebanon amid shortages

Rising prices and concerns about food security have encouraged people in Lebanon to go back to their farming roots. (AFP)
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Updated 11 June 2020

Home farming takes root in Lebanon amid shortages

  • Staple food prices have gone up recently, with the cost of rice rising by 41 percent and sugar by 50 percent between September and February

AMMAN: As Lebanon’s coronavirus lockdown puts further strain on its already shrinking workforce and compounds dire food shortages, insurance specialist Fares Mdawar has invested his free time into converting the patch of land by his home into a farm.

In the mountainous district of Keserwan, north of the capital Beirut, about 400 families have joined Mdawar, 62, to grow vegetables and other produce under a new initiative to promote home agriculture and self-sufficiency.

“I’m from the mountains and my family farmed their entire lives, but we no longer farm,” said Mdawar, one of the beneficiaries of the Ghaletna project, which since March has been giving families seedlings, training and other resources.

“It’s not my profession, but I have this land and because of circumstances caused by coronavirus and job scarcity, we got excited about this project.”

The initiative, which means “our crop” in Arabic, was founded in in March by university professor and former social affairs minister Selim Sayegh, and receives a mix of public and private funding.

With lockdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19 closing borders and stalling transportation networks around the world, people in import-dependent cities are turning to urban farming as they realize how easily their food supplies can be disrupted.

As inflation and unemployment soar in Lebanon — where food accounts for nearly a fifth of total imports, according to data from the World Bank — the movement to promote home-based farming has been gaining popularity.

Oscar-nominated Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki also joined the call to grow-your-own. In May, she launched the “Plant of my Heart” campaign, bringing together several sustainable agriculture initiatives to help prospective home farmers.

By the time the novel coronavirus reached Lebanon in March, a financial crisis exacerbated by months of political instability had already taken a toll on the country of about 7 million people.

More than 220,000 jobs were lost between October and February, according to research firm InfoPro.

Staple food prices have gone up in recent months, with the cost of rice rising by 41 percent and sugar by 50 percent between September and February. As a result, poverty is affecting nearly everyone, said Sayegh of Ghaletna.

“There’s an issue of food security — communities are largely lacking resources that have become more expensive than the Lebanese people can afford,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview. 

“We want to connect people to their land again and motivate them.”

Traditionally, homeowners from previous generations would build multi-level farming basins in small, often steep, plots of land adjacent to their houses, but as a consumer economy flourished, people stopped farming, Sayegh said.

Using its network of about 80 volunteers, Ghaletna reached out to more than 70 villages across Keserwan to recruit families for its pilot project.

In his family’s 50-square-meter (538-square-foot) plot, electrical engineering graduate Joe Daccache, 22, is growing parsley, rocket, zucchini and cucumbers.

“At this point, we’re producing enough just for the household,” said Daccache, who lives with his family of five.

The real value will come from conserving or freezing portions of his harvest to use out of season, when items in the market can cost up to three times their original price, he said.

Sayegh has future plans to expand the project if the results of the pilot are promising.

People have even reached out to Ghaletna offering their land for free to be farmed so that its yield can be distributed to families in need, he said.

As Lebanon eases restrictions and re-opens businesses, there’s a risk people might not have the same time to tend to their land, said Daccache.

But he expects as more people lose their jobs in the long term, they’ll have to turn to more self-sufficient practices like home farming.

“We’re now opening our eyes to the large amount of consumption we had been relying on without thinking of sustainability for the future,” he said.


Pakistan witnesses significant rise in digital banking between July and September — central bank

Updated 03 December 2020

Pakistan witnesses significant rise in digital banking between July and September — central bank

  • Growth in digital payments reflects changing consumer preferences amid the coronavirus pandemic, says State Bank of Pakistan
  • Mobile phone banking users increased by 41 percent while the number people availing internet banking option reached 4.3 million

KARACHI: Digital banking has acquired increasing popularity in Pakistan since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, said the central bank on Thursday, adding that the country had witnessed 253.7 million electronic transactions worth Rs19 trillion during the first quarter of the current fiscal year.
"The most promising uptake was seen in internet banking and mobile banking transactions as the number of registered mobile phone banking users reached 8.9 million showing an increase of 41% over Q1-FY20 and the number of internet users touched 4.3 million with a growth of 26% over the same period," the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) said in its Quarterly Payment System Review (QPSR) for the first quarter between July and September 2020.
During this period, mobile banking transactions increased to 36.4 million or Rs908.7 billion. This implied an increase of 139 percent in terms of volume and 211 percent in terms of value when compared with the same period last year.
Similarly, internet banking transactions increased to 18.9 million or Rs1.1 trillion, registering a growth of 55 percent in volume and 89 percent in value.
"The digital payment transactions in Pakistan have increased significantly largely due to the impact of measures taken by the SBP that created incentives for customers," the central bank said in a statement. "Growth in digital payment infrastructure as well as emergence of new payment aggregators have also been a contributing factor in this increase. Moreover, it also reflects the changes in consumer preferences for digital transactions amid the COVID-19 situation."
The country's total payment transactions increased by 23 percent in volume and eight percent in value when compared to the previous quarter, according to the report.
E-banking transactions comprise real-time online branches transactions, ATM transactions, internet banking transactions, mobile phone banking transactions, e-commerce, and interactive voice response banking.
Another major avenue of e-banking transactions is through points of sale, whereby people make transactions using credit or debit cards for shopping purposes.