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Georgette proudly displays the cheeses and cold drinks with her own company label

Her village of Halba is now successfully producing its own dairy products - cheese, milk, yogurt, and its own meat, which are sold in all parts of the region, and in major cities including Tripoli, Sayda and Beirut.

Milk for health and wealth

REHABILITATING THE SMALL DAIRY SECTOR IN LEBANON

The project is considered a victory for the participatory approach to sustainable development. It is also a victory for the Ministry of Agriculture which was fully involved from the start. It represents a good example of effective cooperation between the Lebanese political authority and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

In the wake of widespread devastation caused by the war in 2006, emergency projects were swiftly approved and Lebanon received 45 million U.S. dollars as financial assistance for its reconstruction. In the first two years, horticulture and animal husbandry projects targeting the South were so successful they paved the way for wider development of the agricultural sector and a deeper focus on rehabilitating dairy farming.

To meet these expanding needs, the Lebanese government requested support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for the development of the dairy sector in Northern Lebanon and Bekaa Valley. And the FAO project to save assets and sustainable livelihoods for smallholders in collaboration with the Fund for the Advancement of Lebanese and the Italian Cooperation Agency was launched.

The price of milk is a punishment for the breeders

"In the past, we have been working for about 20 hours a day to earn enough money to survive the following day. We sold raw milk to plants at very low prices, prices that only suited them, which forced us sometimes to cry with tears, but today, thanks to the project our lives have changed."

This is the positive outlook of Georgette, a farmer in Lebanon who is building up her successful cheese and dairy products line as a result of the intervention enabling the recovery and rehabilitation of the livelihoods of vulnerable small farmers battered by several years of conflict.

The project was implemented after consultations with thousands of farmers that revealed some surprisingly things: milk prices were so low and milk in such poor supply, that it was badly affecting the health of small producers and risking the health of consumers on the whole.

In the past farmers transported milk in inappropriate non refrigerated trucks or vans exposed to heat and air. Because of the high risk of spoilage, farmers were forced to quickly sell it to the nearest factory, accepting low prices. Faced with this situation, the project team helped farmers form into associations to strengthen their negotiating skills in the commercial markets.

To deal with poor hygiene and food safety issues, the project trained breeders on good practices, providing them with all the necessary modern equipment including stainless steel containers and refrigerated trucks to keep the milk cool until sales.

But there were more hurdles to overcome. Milk collectors who enjoyed a monopoly in the market, continued to impose high prices, and so work began to strengthen the bargaining power of the dairy associations. Since then women began manufacturing and marketing traditional dairy products, using modern health and hygiene standards and guidelines.

Georgette and the other farmers formed into cooperatives, now process more than 80% of the milk from collectors and street vendors who are also now part of the project.

Today everything became better

Nowadays the milk is transported in refrigerated trucks after being quickly analysed in the laboratory. This means factories are no longer able to impose prices, as they are acutely aware that milk collectors are now properly equipped to ‘shop around’ for the best prices for their milk. It is gratifying that all farmers and animal breeders in the area who are direct or indirect beneficiaries of the project are now able to fulfil their family needs.

Due to modern methods introduced by the project, at the levels of collection, preservation and processing, carried out in tandem with local factories and under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture, the price of milk today is fairer.

“We will now be able to enrol our children in schools very soon. Not only that, but we no longer know how to meet the milk requests that come to us from nearby cities and the capital, as people come to us from everywhere demanding the good cheese we produce, "says Georgette."

"Pascal should get rid of the pickup truck that is no longer capable for mountain narrow roads that are covered with snow. If he is not home by dark, I start to pray. We would like to buy a refrigerated truck for the distribution of milk. Hence, he can then move safely in the region and even go to Beirut, “she adds with a smile.