Dr. Rola Arouni and Eng. Elie Massoud of Lebanon’s Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture

Lebanese horticulture’s future lies in top quality and niche products

A chamber of commerce registers new companies and gives business owners information and advice. In Lebanon, growers can call on the knowledge and experience of people like Dr. Rola Arouni and Elie Massoud. We spoke to both, touching on several topics, including the Lebanese sector’s sticking points and opportunities.

"Lebanon has four chambers of commerce: for the south and north, the Bekaa Valley, and Beirut and Mount Lebanon,” begins Rola. "I head the Agriculture Department for Southern Lebanon. We try to take the country’s agriculture and horticulture to the next level with rural development projects and promoting exports. We do that via workshops tackling innovations as well as obstacles facing Agriculture in Lebanon, trade missions abroad, B2B meetings in cooperation with embassies in Lebanon and especially participation in important sector trade shows."

Preparing for Fruit Attraction
Since 2011, Lebanon has had a pavilion at Fruit Logistica in Berlin, with the exception of the 3 years during covid. However, this is the first year we’ll be exhibiting at Fruit Attraction in Madrid. That event is becoming increasingly well known, so we mustn’t miss it. It undoubtedly offers our growers and exporters opportunities to expand their networks," says Rola.

Elie has been emailing buyers and importers from Spain and other countries for weeks, inviting them to visit Lebanon’s stand, where several companies will represent the country. They, too, have shared their stories with FreshPlaza over the past two weeks. Elie is head of the Agriculture Department for the Beirut region and the four Chambers’ Agriculture Coordinator.

"When we first took part in Fruit Logistica in Berlin in 2011, barely anyone was aware that horticulture was possible in Lebanon. Some didn't even know where the country was," Elie laughs. "Few Europeans know we have very fertile soil and a favorable climate. We’re by no means a desert area. But I understand that because, for years, our exports were almost exclusively focused on the Gulf region."

Small but top-quality volumes
Lebanese exports never needed certificates, branding, or even packaging to enter the Gulf States market. "That’s since changed," adds Rola. "GLOBALG.A.P., Smeta, and BRC certification is increasingly a requirement, even in the Middle East. But that region can now choose from a wide range of import options from South Africa, Europe, and Asia. I think we should, thus, no longer only look to the Gulf States, but also Europe, with mainly top quality and specialties rather than commodities."

"Volumes won’t get Lebanon there,” agrees Elie. "Large European supermarket chains need a container of a given product every day. We cannot handle that pace; our country has too little acreage. But our products have unsurpassed flavor. So I tell growers and exporters to focus on the smaller players looking for products of exceptional quality. I often go overseas and always buy supermarket fruit there. It's not bad but usually can't match our flavor quality. That has everything to do with our wonderful climate that’s very favorable for horticulture."

Certification and traceability
To increase export market chances, the Lebanese Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture hammer the importance of things like certification and traceability. "GLOBALG.A.P. is vital. I took a course to provide training to growers: what are the requirements, what steps should you take? And now, through the CBI, Smeta courses are being organized. Corporate social responsibility is becoming increasingly essential. But traceability is also indispensable for today’s European and Middle Eastern markets. We have Lebanese-developed software that the whole chain, from growers to transports, can easily implement. The system provides track-and-trace data regarding variety, grower, plot, warehouse, operator at the packing station, truck, etc.," Elie explains.

Many young entrepreneurs come to him for advice on how to extract value from the plot they have inherited. "Many know nothing about horticulture but are very enthusiastic. Together we consider all the parameters to make the correct decision regarding cultivation and marketing. How much money and time can you invest? Do you have enough water available for irrigation? Can you hire workers? These are just some of the questions we ask to help us form a picture of the entrepreneur's capabilities and land."

“I recommend to all Lebanese growers to find a market and send products. And focus on quality, flavor, packaging, certifications, and specialties. We have to move away from quantity-oriented cultivation. It brings in too little and Lebanon doesn’t have the space. Our future lies with top products," reckons Elie, who gets a nod of approval from his colleague. "Companies feel they must follow the export road. The current economic crisis in Lebanon hinders development, but once we overcome that, our products will undoubtedly find a place in the European market," concludes Rola.

For more information:
Rola Arouni
Agricultural Department - Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Sidon & South Lebanon

Elie Massoud
Agricultural Department - Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Beirut & Mount Lebanon
Email: agriculture@ccib.org.lb

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