In parts of Lebanon, local communities are absorbing tens of thousands of refugees from the crisis in neighboring Syria. USAID is on the ground helping these communities mitigate changes by developing avenues of opportunity in stagnant local economies.
Lebanon’s olive sector has been one area of focus, particularly in the north where 50 percent of the country’s total olive production is concentrated and constitutes a source of revenue to over 100,000 producers.
Agricultural practices in Lebanon’s olive sector had remained fairly traditional, including labor-intensive manual harvesting, which can incur over half the costs of the already expensive production process. These excessive costs negatively affect the competitiveness of Lebanese growers domestically and in export markets where, compared to olive oil from other countries, Lebanese products can be 15 to 30 percent more expensive.
In September 2012, USAID created the Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development (LIVCD) program to help improve Lebanon’s economic stability, particularly in rural areas, to improve food security, decrease migration to urban areas, and provide increased economic opportunities for women and youth over the following five years. In October 2013, the program kicked off a pilot project focused on increasing the competitiveness of olive oil producers by decreasing the cost of production through new technology and by developing the skills of farmers and cooperatives.
At the beginning of the harvesting season, LIVCD distributed battery-operated mechanical harvesters, harvesting nets and crates to six agricultural cooperatives in northern Lebanon that co-invested in the project and manage revenue-generating activities. A total of 120 olive growers benefit from the project.
The Dar Bechtar Cooperative, which has 31 members and is located in the Koura district, partnered with LIVCD on this co-investment scheme and received five mechanical harvesters. By the end of 2013, the cooperative harvested 61 tons of olives for 90 growers.
“In total, we have reduced harvesting costs by 40 to 60 percent compared to previous years, with about a 25 percent reduction in overall production costs," said Georges Rizk, one of the beneficiary farmers. "Initially, many of us were skeptical since we had been using traditional harvesting and labor methods for generations in our families, but this innovative new technology proved its effectiveness in the field.”
Along with the new technology, labor saving measures also reduced production costs. Experienced manual laborers, who are not easy to secure during the season, harvest at best 110 pounds of olives per day at a cost of approximately 75 cents per pound. In comparison, with the mechanical harvester, an average of 881 pounds can be collected per day, for about 33 cents per pound. The mechanical harvesting method also reduces tree damage during harvest time, thus preserving them for following seasons.
The mechanical harvesters at the Dar Bechtar Cooperative are already booked for the entire season. According to Georges Alam, the cooperative's program manager, all the growers intend to enroll in the program next season. “We hope to further expand the program by offering additional harvesters for the village’s growers, enabling them to better sell their olive oil and achieve increased profit margins,” he says.
The project has also encouraged the younger generation of villagers to return to their families’ orchards and use the handy new equipment. “Youth from the village are now willing to work as operators of the mechanical harvesters and manage harvesting teams,” says Alam.
Last updated: September 22, 2014