Home farming takes root in Lebanon amid shortages

Home farming takes root in Lebanon amid shortages
Rising prices and concerns about food security have encouraged people in Lebanon to go back to their farming roots. (AFP)
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Updated 11 June 2020

Home farming takes root in Lebanon amid shortages

Home farming takes root in Lebanon amid shortages
  • Staple food prices have gone up recently, with the cost of rice rising by 41 percent and sugar by 50 percent between September and February

AMMAN: As Lebanon’s coronavirus lockdown puts further strain on its already shrinking workforce and compounds dire food shortages, insurance specialist Fares Mdawar has invested his free time into converting the patch of land by his home into a farm.

In the mountainous district of Keserwan, north of the capital Beirut, about 400 families have joined Mdawar, 62, to grow vegetables and other produce under a new initiative to promote home agriculture and self-sufficiency.

“I’m from the mountains and my family farmed their entire lives, but we no longer farm,” said Mdawar, one of the beneficiaries of the Ghaletna project, which since March has been giving families seedlings, training and other resources.

“It’s not my profession, but I have this land and because of circumstances caused by coronavirus and job scarcity, we got excited about this project.”

The initiative, which means “our crop” in Arabic, was founded in in March by university professor and former social affairs minister Selim Sayegh, and receives a mix of public and private funding.

With lockdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19 closing borders and stalling transportation networks around the world, people in import-dependent cities are turning to urban farming as they realize how easily their food supplies can be disrupted.

As inflation and unemployment soar in Lebanon — where food accounts for nearly a fifth of total imports, according to data from the World Bank — the movement to promote home-based farming has been gaining popularity.

Oscar-nominated Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki also joined the call to grow-your-own. In May, she launched the “Plant of my Heart” campaign, bringing together several sustainable agriculture initiatives to help prospective home farmers.

By the time the novel coronavirus reached Lebanon in March, a financial crisis exacerbated by months of political instability had already taken a toll on the country of about 7 million people.

More than 220,000 jobs were lost between October and February, according to research firm InfoPro.

Staple food prices have gone up in recent months, with the cost of rice rising by 41 percent and sugar by 50 percent between September and February. As a result, poverty is affecting nearly everyone, said Sayegh of Ghaletna.

“There’s an issue of food security — communities are largely lacking resources that have become more expensive than the Lebanese people can afford,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview. 

“We want to connect people to their land again and motivate them.”

Traditionally, homeowners from previous generations would build multi-level farming basins in small, often steep, plots of land adjacent to their houses, but as a consumer economy flourished, people stopped farming, Sayegh said.

Using its network of about 80 volunteers, Ghaletna reached out to more than 70 villages across Keserwan to recruit families for its pilot project.

In his family’s 50-square-meter (538-square-foot) plot, electrical engineering graduate Joe Daccache, 22, is growing parsley, rocket, zucchini and cucumbers.

“At this point, we’re producing enough just for the household,” said Daccache, who lives with his family of five.

The real value will come from conserving or freezing portions of his harvest to use out of season, when items in the market can cost up to three times their original price, he said.

Sayegh has future plans to expand the project if the results of the pilot are promising.

People have even reached out to Ghaletna offering their land for free to be farmed so that its yield can be distributed to families in need, he said.

As Lebanon eases restrictions and re-opens businesses, there’s a risk people might not have the same time to tend to their land, said Daccache.

But he expects as more people lose their jobs in the long term, they’ll have to turn to more self-sufficient practices like home farming.

“We’re now opening our eyes to the large amount of consumption we had been relying on without thinking of sustainability for the future,” he said.


Turkey bans crypto assets over illegal transaction fears

Turkey bans crypto assets over illegal transaction fears
Updated 19 April 2021

Turkey bans crypto assets over illegal transaction fears

Turkey bans crypto assets over illegal transaction fears
  • The much-criticized move against the digital currency will come into effect on April 30

ANKARA: Turkey’s Central Bank has banned the use of crypto assets in payments as part of the country’s efforts to regulate cryptocurrencies, which have gained huge popularity in recent months.

The government has been closely monitoring cryptocurrencies for some time, alleging that extremists might use them to fund illegal activities or facilitate money laundering.

“Their use in payments may cause irreparable damages for the parties to the transactions, and include elements that may undermine the confidence in methods and instruments used currently in payments,” the bank said.

The new regulation will come into effect by April 30, but the legislation’s announcement lowered the value of Bitcoin by more than 4 percent on Friday.

Besides forbidding crypto  payments for buying goods and services, the regulation also bans transferring money to cryptocurrency platforms via fintech systems. But many investors in Turkey view Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a shelter against inflation, with the lira facing a significant devaluation against foreign currencies due to the country’s financial volatility.

The lira has lost about half of its value since the 2018 currency crisis.

Increasing inflation rates, which reached a six-month high last month of 16 percent, as well as official unemployment rates hitting 13.4 percent are making people turn to cryptocurrency to gain money and compensate their losses with stable assets.

The booming business of cryptocurrencies has replaced Turks’ rush for gold and real estate as a hedge against the struggling lira and rising interest rates. This new digital money is mostly used by the country’s tech savvy younger population, which is seeking to protect its livelihood against Turkey’s recent economic troubles.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Turkey bans crypto payments for buying goods and services.

• The regulation also forbids transferring money to cryptocurrency platforms via fintech systems.

• Many investors in Turkey view Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a shelter against inflation.

The government’s crypto asset ban drew anger from domestic investors. About 100,000 tweets were sent from Turkey-based social media accounts in one day criticizing the legislation.

The country’s main opposition Peoples’ Republican Party (CHP) also criticized the government’s midnight move against cryptocurrency use. 

“Rather than issuing a midnight legislation, you should have decided on such sensitive issues after consulting all relevant parties,” CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.

Regulation in the field of cryptocurrencies was not a new debate for Turkey, where the government expected to achieve some political goals from blockchain technology, according to Dr. Mehmet Bedii Kaya, an expert of IT law at Istanbul Bilgi University.

The government, in line with its 11th Development Plan, was set to implement a digital central bank based on blockchain technologies.

“On the other hand, there is a significant number of Turkish citizens who use cryptocurrencies for short and long-term gains,” Kaya told Arab News. “I think that this latest regulation has been prepared with a quick reflex, without considering the potential financial losses it might generate with the wave of resulting misinformation.”

Kaya said that payment institutions were already under the close supervision of the Central Bank. “These fintech institutions, which are active in the cryptocurrency market, are very innovative and dynamic. Therefore the Turkish state considered this dynamism as a risk and source of complexity. However, these key players shouldn’t have been disqualified.”

After Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced it was now possible to buy Tesla vehicles in the US with Bitcoin, an Istanbul-based luxury car distributor called Royal Motors began accepting payments in cryptocurrencies last week.

Crypto trading volumes hit $27 billion between early February to March 24, according to data analyzed by Reuters, while trading gained momentum especially after the Central Bank governor was dismissed by presidential decree and further weakened the lira.

Last week, the Turkish government asked crypto trading platforms to provide it with user information.


France’s Alstom on track to expand presence in Saudi Arabia

France’s Alstom on track to expand presence in Saudi Arabia
Updated 19 April 2021

France’s Alstom on track to expand presence in Saudi Arabia

France’s Alstom on track to expand presence in Saudi Arabia
  • The French technology provider has been part of several other key projects in the Kingdom

RIYADH: French transport technology provider Alstom, which is working on the Riyadh Metro project, is keen to expand its portfolio in Saudi Arabia, as part of Vision 2030 ambitions to expand the country’s rail network and connectivity.

Andrew DeLeone, who is president of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia at Alstom, said the company was a dedicated and long-standing partner of Saudi Arabia.

“We have been active for decades and played an integral role in the Kingdom’s energy sector,” he told Arab News. “We installed the first gas turbine in the Kingdom in 1951. We are one of the largest technology players in the Riyadh Metro program, which is one of the largest public transport systems in the world. We are supplying solutions and the Riyadh Metro’s lines 3, 4, 5 and 6 have been built by Alstom and its civil partners, as part of the FAST consortium, and the system is set to provide comprehensive, citywide, mass-transit coverage.”

The Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper reported in January that the Riyadh Metro would be launched in the third quarter of this year. 

When fully operational, it will comprise six lines with a total length of 176 km, and 85 stations. Once launched, Alstom will continue to provide services for the metro. 

“We will be continuing in Riyadh for many years as part of the O&M (operations and maintenance) for these four lines and (as a) major presence in the metro system,” DeLeone added.

Alstom has supplied 69 trains for the Riyadh Metro and an Urbalis signaling system. 

It has also implemented HESOP (harmonic energy saver) technology in the project. HESOP recovers the electrical energy generated by trains during braking which, in addition to reducing operational costs, will cut about 3 million kilos of carbon emissions and decrease power consumption by 6.6 million kilowatts a year.

Alstom also has a number of other projects in its current Saudi portfolio.

FASTFACTS

• Alstom installed the first gas turbine in the Kingdom in 1951.

• It is one of the largest technology players in the Riyadh Metro program.

• Alstom has supplied the key components for the high-speed trains that connect Makkah and Madinah.

“We will also deliver the transit solutions for the King Abdullah Financial District when the project resumes and completes. We have supplied the key components for the high-speed trains that connect Makkah and Madinah. We will also be delivering the people mover system in the Kingdom, which is now operating in Jeddah airport.”

DeLeone said that Saudi Arabia was already making inroads into driverless technology solutions. 

“We already see it in Jeddah airport as our people mover system is driverless. Our monorail system is also driverless. Riyadh Metro system is also a driverless transportation system. Driverless transport is here in the Kingdom and will be an essential part of the Riyadh Metro system.” 

Andrew DeLeone

With Saudi Arabia committing to developing an additional 10,000 km of rail and metro by 2030, and a key factor in this commitment being its ambition to lead the way in reducing transport emissions, relieving traffic congestion, and improving residents’ health and quality of life, DeLeone was confident Alstom could win even more projects in the Kingdom and wider region.

“Alstom has secured a five-year service contract extension for automated people mover systems at Dubai Airports and to provide comprehensive O&M services. We had a similar contract in Jeddah airport and (an) extended service contract. Despite the pandemic, our technology and services have seen growth. We will supply tram orders for the city of Casablanca.”

Last week, at a webinar organized by the Future Investment Initiative, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) Yasir Al-Rumayyan said that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programs made solid business sense in the Kingdom and worldwide. 

Alstom was already making progress on developing sustainable and greener modes of transport.

“Today is a big day for Alstom, with our first order of hydrogen trains in France, which is really a historic step in our leadership around CO2-free sustainable urban mobility. The dual mode electric-hydrogen train will mark a historic step in rail transport’s reduction in CO2 emissions, and in the development of a hydrogen ecosystem,” DeLeone said.

In January, Alstom merged with Canada’s Bombardier Transportation. 

Reuters reported the deal to be worth around €5.5 billion ($6.7 billion) and the combined conglomerate will have €15.7 billion in revenues with an order book of €71.1 billion. It will also employ around 75,000 staff in 70 countries.

The Kingdom and the wider region was a significant area for the new combined entity, with over 1,500 people delivering major projects in Riyadh, Dubai, and Qatar, according to DeLeone.

“A large percentage of our workers are in Saudi Arabia, delivering the programs, and we look forward to growth. It’s a place where we (can) grow our business, so we are going to grow our employee presence, supplier presence and grow the local impact.”


Saudi unemployment rate drops in Q4 2020

Saudi unemployment rate drops in Q4 2020
Updated 19 April 2021

Saudi unemployment rate drops in Q4 2020

Saudi unemployment rate drops in Q4 2020
  • Unemployment among young people decreased from 34.2 percent in Q3 2020 to 28 percent in Q4

JEDDAH: The unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia decreased to 12.6 percent in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020, down from 14.9 percent the previous quarter, according to the latest data from the General Authority for Statistics (GaStat).

According to a report by Riyadh-based investment management advisory Jadwa Investment, the decrease in joblessness was due to more women and young people joining the Saudi labor force at the end of 2020.

“The recovery in the labor market has proceeded quicker than we anticipated (with Saudi unemployment at 12.6 percent at the end of 2020, versus our forecast of 14 percent). At the same time, however, the swift recovery reinforces our view that Saudi unemployment will decline to 12.1 percent by the end of 2021,” the Jadwa report said.

Unemployment among young people decreased from 34.2 percent in Q3 2020 to 28 percent in Q4. Among men it declined from 7.9 percent to 7.1, while for women it was down from 30.1 percent to 24.4 percent, across the same period. 

According to GaStat’s numbers, 200,000 new private sector expatriate work visas were issued in Q4, compared to 46,000 in Q3. The sharp increase was largely due to a big increase in female expat visas, which increased by 181,000 in Q4 compared to just 4,000 in Q3.

Across the various sectors, public administration and accommodation and food services recorded the largest increase in employment among Saudi nationals and expat workers.

“That said, with the ongoing roll-out of vaccines in the Kingdom, we are expecting a more vigorous economic recovery in the second half of 2021, which, along with ongoing localization efforts (such as the recent
Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development decision to raise the level of Saudization in shopping malls, supermarkets, restaurants and coffee shops), will help create more employment opportunities for citizens,” Jadwa said in its report.


PIF’s Noon launches Ramadan drive to help poor families

PIF’s Noon launches Ramadan drive to help poor families
Updated 19 April 2021

PIF’s Noon launches Ramadan drive to help poor families

PIF’s Noon launches Ramadan drive to help poor families
  • The project runs until May 12

RIYADH: Noon, an online platform backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Dubai businessman Mohamed Alabbar, have teamed up with a charity to let online shoppers donate food to needy families during Ramadan.

Noon Daily, which is Noon.com’s grocery website, will partner with Bunyan Women’s Charitable Association for the initiative. 

The project runs until May 12.

Kaushik Mukherjee, senior vice president of customer experience and seller operations at Noon, said: “We’re proud to work with Bunyan to help our customers and team more easily contribute to people in need. Noon Daily will pack and ship Ramadan donation bundles purchased by customers and our own employees to Bunyan throughout the holy month. Thousands of families and frontline workers across the country will benefit from the food parcels distributed by the charity, and we couldn’t be happier to provide a service that helps bridge the donation process between customers and the community.”

Bunyan Women’s Charitable Association was established in 2011 with the aim of improving the physical and social conditions of poor families by assisting them through significant charity initiatives.

Noon was launched in the UAE and Saudi Arabia in Dec. 2017, and in Egypt in Feb. 2019. 

With an initial investment of $1 billion and working from headquarters in Riyadh, Noon said in 2016 that it aimed to expand online sales in the region from 2 percent of the total retail market ($3 billion) to 15 percent ($70 billion) within a decade.


Chalhoub Group organizes Ramadan initiatives

Chalhoub Group organizes Ramadan initiatives
Updated 19 April 2021

Chalhoub Group organizes Ramadan initiatives

Chalhoub Group organizes Ramadan initiatives
  • Employees from the group will also be able to participate in the “mychalhoub” Eid initiative for orphans

JEDDAH: Luxury retailer the Chalhoub Group has launched a number of initiatives for Ramadan.

The company launched the Chalhoub Impact program before Ramadan, in which about 200 food packages were distributed to the poor through the office of the mayor in Old Jeddah District.

Employees from the group will also be able to participate in the “mychalhoub” Eid initiative for orphans. 

Level Shoes, the group’s designer footwear and accessories operation, will run a social media campaign to donate Ramadan meals. MUSE, the group’s loyalty program, in collaboration with the Al-Ahyaa Centers Association, will donate 1,000 iftar meals to those in need.

“The holy month of Ramadan is the season for giving and an important opportunity to make a difference to the community,” Bachar Sabbagh, managing director, KSA, at Chalhoub Group, said in a press statement.