By Isaac J. Martín
Jeita (Lebanon), Jul 7 (efe-epa).- Jalal Nakad set off for northern Lebanon in search of junipers to manufacture local gin, as the Middle Eastern country grapples with its worst economic crisis in decades amid a collapse in imports.
“We have to encourage all people in all sectors to produce Lebanese products (…) because our economy depends on international products,” Nakad tells Efe as he samples the gin produced by his factory in eastern Lebanon.
Looking onto the Beqaa valley, 39-year-old Nakad says that businessmen have shown interest in his beverage which he has named Areej, meaning aroma in Arabic.
Nakad sees in this crisis an opportunity to export local products and “close the doors to imported ones”.
“We sell Arak (anise liqueur) and other Lebanese products, this is a very important step with which we contribute a lot to the Lebanese economy,” Nakad confirms.
Lebanon has been steeped in a deep economic crisis that started at the end of the civil war (1975-1990).
Inflation this year stands at 17 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund, compared to 2.9 percent last year, which has triggered a hike in the prices of the products, especially imported goods.
The figures of Lebanon’s Central Administration of Statistics show that inflation in June reached 56 percent compared to May.
The US dollar continues to jump against the Lebanese pound as banks face a currency shortage and the exchange rate on the black market remains six times higher than the official one.
Bekhazi Noun, secretary-general of the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafes, Night-clubs & Pastries in Lebanon tells Efe that “90 percent of the raw material that used for restaurant are imported even our flagship dishes,” such as hummus and tahini.
Noun is convinced Lebanon is in a drive to find local substitutes for imported goods.
There has been an “increase in agriculture products” because people have begun to plant more in the countryside and the gardens of their houses, she adds.
The expert warned however that Lebanon could not become a country “that produces exports” overnight because it would take “years” given Lebanon has no infrastructure.
In 2017, Zakaria Alieh, 37, created Cedrus Food in Lebanon after fleeing from war-torn Iraq.
Today, his company’s flagship product is peanut butter.
“Sales are going well and the market demands are increasing,” he says, although he is yet to see the “benefits”.
“We have to buy at a very high exchange rate and we cannot increase the price to the customers,” he tells Efe speaking of the crisis that has shrunk Lebanon’s income.
Lebanon’s exports in 2020 are expected to decline by 16.8 percent, while imports are to shrink by 15.4 percent according to World Bank April forecasts.
“This is a cycle and the disastrous results do not matter because the worse is to come unless a firm decision is taken,” Alieh said of the government’s plans to tackle the crisis.