The dairy sector is one of the main sources of income for rural families in Lebanon, particularly in the Northern region and in the Bekaa, where nearly 70 percent of the dairy cows are concentrated. A survey conducted by FAO in 2011, showed that around 70 percent of the small farmers in these two regions were poor or very poor with salary levels among the lowest in the country. To help those small farmers rehabilitate their livelihoods, which had been heavily affected by the war in 2006, FAO and the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture joined hands and, with the support of the Lebanon Recovery Fund, launched two projects to rehabilitate the dairy sector in Lebanon, with specific support to the small-scale farmers in the Bekaa Valley and Hermel Akkar Uplands. The collaboration has contributed to a significant quantitative and qualitative improvement of the milk produced not only in the two regions but also all over the country. The enhanced quality and hygienic standards of the milk eventually led to more competitive milk prices and contributed to sustaining the livelihoods and incomes of many small breeders in the Bekaa Valley and in Hermel Akkar Uplands.
Georgette comes home and sets the table. She brings out a large variety of cheeses and cold drinks, all labelled with the name of the company she owns. Her husband, Pascal, has invited neighbours to join them at the dinner table and taste the foods from their own production.
However, this has not always been the case.
In the wake of the widespread devastation caused by the 2006 war, the Lebanese dairy industry was brought to its knees: a very high number of livestock perished during the conflict and many dairy farms were forced to shut down their activities. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, in the Bekaa Valley only, the total number of dairy cows had dropped from 25,000 heads to about 18,000 heads after the war.
Lebanon received from the international community US$45 million for reconstruction.
The dairy sector, which is one of the main sources of income for rural families in Lebanon, was targeted by many interventions, particularly in the Northern region and in the Bekaa, where nearly 70 percent of the dairy cows are concentrated and a large number of the smallholders relying on livestock for their livelihoods are very vulnerable.
Through a multi-year program funded by the Lebanon Recovery Fund, FAO, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture of Lebanon, ramped-up its support to the small-scale dairy sector across Lebanon.
Milk quality and standard of production
All small dairy farms targeted by the program lacked milk storage and cooling facilities. After milking, the milk was kept in metal or plastic open containers, exposed to direct sunlight and road dust. The low hygienic standards in the production and distribution of milk were placing at risk the health of producers and consumers alike.
“With our trucks that were not refrigerated we were not able to distribute the milk very far. If the milk is not refrigerated after milking, it spoils in a few hours. Our milk did not reach far and its quality was not very good. This is why dairy factories were controlling the price of milk,” says Georgette.
To help farmers sort out of their dependence on dairy factories, the program set up a network of dairy cooperatives that helped them achieve economy-sized products, and strengthened their power of negotiation on the milk price.
Forty primary milk collection centres were built in different villages and located in places that farmers could easily access. Farmers were provided with different tools and equipment for milk testing, processing and storage – filtering, pumping and laboratory machines, stainless steel containers for transportation, refrigerators and refrigerated trucks – and were trained to use them.
Three hundred women-headed households and women cooperatives were supported with small and medium dairy processing units with accessories for home dairy processing. As a result, the quality of their products significantly improved generating an immediate increase in demand.
After two years…
Some 350 villages are now covered by a network of 35 Village Dairy Producers’ Association that give small-scale producers much more negotiating power. Larger factories are no longer able to impose prices.
The milk collection centres are currently collecting more than 150-200 tonnes of milk per day from some 3,000 farmers and FAO is preparing to set up another 10 centres.
Farmers now know how to analyse the milk and test its quality before distributing it to factories inside and outside the region.
“In the past, we used to work for about 20 hours a day to earn enough money to survive the following day. We sold raw milk to factories at very low prices, prices that only suited them. Today, thanks to the projects, our lives have changed. I am so glad I will be able to enrol my kids in school! Now, at times, we don’t know how to meet the demands that come to us from nearby cities and the capital, as people come to us from everywhere. They like the cheese we produce”, said Georgette.
Thanks to these two projects, the quality of milk and dairy products of the smallholder farmers went through a major improvement. This brought an increase in milk prices at the farm gate from LBP 650 – 850 to LBP 950 – 1100, with a premium of LBP 100-200 per kg for refrigerated milk. The introduction of modern equipment and cooling centres is benefiting over 3,000 farmers, especially women, and has increased their production capacity by some 50 percent.