These are worrying times for all of us. In April the lockdown in Lebanon was extended for a second time. It is possible it will be extended again. On a global scale, our lives have been disrupted en masse in a way in which many people have not experienced in their lifetimes. People are anxious, anxious over their health and that of their loved ones, but not just that, over their jobs, over the bills still piling up while savings dwindle. The brutal reality is that for many, missing one paycheck was enough to push them below the poverty line. People are scared.
Here in Lebanon, it is as if we are living in a nightmare. Already suffering under an economic crisis that had cost many their jobs at a time when access to money was curtailed and prices were rising, many Lebanese had already been pushed past breaking point and others were teetering at the brink—all while our politicians continued playing the game as if people’s lives were not dependent on them getting their acts together. It seemed as though things could not get worse: Enter the coronavirus.
It would be easy to give over to despair in times such as these, where challenges seem insurmountable, and the human solidarity needed to overcome them is fractured by our imposed distance from one another. But this too will pass. And now, more than ever, is the time to be thinking of the future. Because the world will change. That is a given. Whatever path we were on before the coronavirus swept over the globe has been altered. A new future lies ahead, and it is the decisions we make now that will shape it.
What does that mean for Lebanon? On the most basic level, this crisis has shown us that our overreliance on the outside world is a vulnerability that can and must be addressed. Increasing numbers of Lebanese are struggling to afford the food they need for themselves and their families. In the short term, we need to band together and look after each other, fill in the gaps left by the state—as we always have.
But looking to the future, now is also the opportunity for us to focus our attention on developing our agriculture and agro-industry sectors and to ensure those working in them have the support they need to succeed. To date, these vital sectors have been neglected and overlooked, with no steps taken toward their improvement other than those of social entrepreneurs utilizing design thinking to solve individual problems. But these are not national programs, nor at the scale at which we need.
Agriculture works on a cycle of 21 weeks, investments in it will pay off fast. We need to start strategizing now, not just because of the coronavirus crisis but because our own home-grown economic crisis was already putting tremendous pressure on imports—imports that we rely on to a dangerous degree. What do we need to produce locally to secure a higher level of food security in this country? These are fundamental questions that we need to address. Now more than ever, there is a public need for affordable local produce, and we have to develop an agriculture industry capable of addressing this need.
Our eroding purchasing power is gnawing away at us as these crises drag on, and there is little sign that our local currency will regain its previous value. The day-to-day supplies that each Lebanese needs to feed themselves and their families are only going to be available and affordable in the coming years if they are locally produced and sold in the local currency.
Now is the time to look inward for change, to work together in these most difficult of times to secure the best future for our country.