December 6, 2011

Is Lebanon Food Secure?

The Economics of Food Security in Lebanon

What comes to your mind when we say " food secure"? Do we mean that all Lebanese people have access to food? The answer is not quite positive.
Lebanese might eat everyday, but they might not quite eat good, or adequate amounts of the food.
Food security includes not just the availability of food but also entails the safety and nutrition of the food we eat.

Jane Harrigan, a political economist, consultant to the World Bank and FAO, and professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London presented a lecture on November 30, 2011 on "The Economics of Food Security" which was sponsored by the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS) at AUB.

Harrigan stated that Lebanon's heavy dependence on imported food combined with massive hikes in global food prices between 2007 and 2008 have sparked increases in poverty. She added that the the average Lebanese household spends a large 20 to 30 percent of take-home income on food.

"Yes, domestic wheat production has increased significantly over the last 15 years but so has domestic demand due to population growth, income growth, and changing consumption patterns," warned Harrigan.

In 2009, the World Bank rated Lebanon as vulnerable in food security. The global rise in food prices and the fact that Lebanon is heavily dependent on import had some serious macro-economic effects: it led to inflation, a rising agricultural trade deficit, and a major negative social effect.

Between 2007 and 2008, the agriculture trade deficit as well as the cost of imported food increased 50 percent. Trade data suggests that Lebanon has a very strong revealed comparative advantage in the export of fruit and vegetables as well as wine and tobacco, added Harrigan.

From a purely economic perspective, if Lebanon wants to achieve food security by specializing in those areas where it has an international comparative advantage it should be focusing on exporting fruits vegetables and importing cereals that it doesn't have a comparative advantage in.

One Sentence that caught my attention was when Harrigan affirmed that "The global food crisis is one of the many propellers of the Arab Spring".....

Presentation Abstract

This presentation will look at the economic costs to Lebanon of the sharp rise in global food prices in 2007/08 in light of the country’s heavy dependence on food imports. It will assess the policy response to this in the form of renewed emphasis on domestic food production, particularly of cereals, and will ask whether such a policy is an economically efficient use of scarce domestic resources.

About the speaker

Jane Harrigan is Professor of Economics at SOAS. She has worked and published extensively on the political economy of the MENA region as well as on sub-Saharan Africa. She is currently working on a project looking at food sovereignty in the Middle East funded by Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. She is the author of eight books and has acted as a consultant to numerous international organizations, including the World Bank and FAO.

Publication of the lecture:

Youtube Video:

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