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Monitoring the Right to Food in Lebanon

The UN Human Rights Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa held today a webinar on Monitoring the Right to Food in Lebanon: towards empowering the youth for a full realization of the right to food amid current and rising insecurities in the country.

The Human Rights Regional Office organized this virtual roundtable as a part of the UN Food Systems Summit dialogues and in the context of International Youth Day because empowering the youth is essential in promoting food systems that ensure the Right to Food, a fundamental human right that places obligations on states to overcome hunger and malnutrition. 

The webinar joined together, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Dr. Michael Fakhri with experts from UN organizations, namely Ms. Michelle Iseminger and Mr. Marco Principi from the World Food Program and Dr. Maurice Saade from the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Lebanon.  Among the panellists, Lebanese representatives, Caretaker Minister of Economy and Trade Mr. Raoul Nehme and Ms. Wafaa Dika Hamze, Senior Advisor to the Caretaker Minister of Agriculture in Lebanon.

The two-hour meeting tackled the relation between the current crisis in Lebanon in the agricultural and food sector and poor governance, especially poor policy monitoring. It also highlighted the national agricultural strategy as a tool for the realization of the first pillar of the right to food. Additionally, it emphasized the role youth can play as well as the efforts needed to promote youth engagement in facing the current food crisis in Lebanon.

Ms. Dika highlighted that the food crisis in Lebanon is deeply rooted in policies as the country, which is mostly counting on imports for food security, has not yet dealt with food in an integrated and cooperative manner. According to Ms. Dika, if all departments were working together with the Ministry of Agriculture, such as the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Energy and Water, the highest priority would be given to the food file.

H.E Mr. Raoul Nehme stated that politics prevail over a good economic plan or approach. Lebanon currently cannot even export agricultural products to Europe. It is a political issue in essence and the solution is political. He added: “Today, we are seeing a break in the food chain supply due to diesel oil and fuel problems because we politicians are not willing to recognize that we have a problem or to take the necessary hard decisions that may not be very popular. At the same time, we have to educate farmers to go to higher value-added and higher quality agricultural products.”  

Dr. Michael Fakhri stressed in his intervention on the importance of the Human Rights approach saying: “Human rights can provide the preconditions necessary for any plan to work.” He raised a question about the impact of monitoring the right to food on pushing against cynicism and despair and enabling people in Lebanon to mobilise. Monitoring should not only focus on budgets and judicial mechanisms, as Youth for example can also track what is actually working in their local communities. He also affirmed that poor governance is the root cause of food crises around the world. 

All four pillars of food security are gradually collapsing in Lebanon, said Dr. Maurice Saade from FAO Lebanon. These pillars are ‘availability’ through domestic production or imports, ‘access’ implying affordability of food, ‘utilization’ and how nutritious the food is and the fourth pillar is the ‘sustainability’ of the three dimensions. All aspects are being severely shaken by the current crisis but it is not a completely gloomy picture in the medium-term according to Dr. Saade; “Youth are playing an important role and many who have lost their jobs have moved back to agriculture. It will become more attractive for investment and implementation of technical expertise,” he added. 

The current food crisis has been fueled by covid-19 and inflation, said Mr Marco Principi from WFP Lebanon.  The agriculture value chain is fragmented, it lacks legal support and the current food subsidies are not targeting the poorest. He recommended changing the perception of youth towards the agriculture sector, and to develop policies that strengthen youth engagement in agriculture by supporting their access to knowledge and opportunities.

Ms. Michelle Iseminger joined speakers in confirming that the youth need to be at the table to feel more empowered, especially that there are significant youth networks active in Lebanon.

WFP is engaged in rolling out protective safety nets, ensuring the most vulnerable have access to food and monetary support. In their experience, there are existing policies that need to be better implemented and they need budgetary support to be implemented. 

The discussion was facilitated by Dr. Eugene Richard Sensenig, senior professor at Notre Dame University and gathered over 80 participants.