Lebanon food security in peril after Beirut explosion

20 August 20203 min reading

The World Food Programme (WFP) has expressed serious concern about food security in Lebanon after stockpiles of food were lost in the devastating explosion in Beirut on August 4. The blast has destroyed a port facility where the country's staple food stocks, such as wheat, were stored.

The WFP said that food imports account for up to 85 percent of the country's food needs. The UN agency also said that damage to Beirut's port will significantly exacerbate the already grim economic and food security outlook in the country. Lebanon imports 80 percent of its food supplies and the Port of Beirut was a vital lifeline for the country’s grain imports, storing 85 percent of its cereals.

The 4 August blast killed more than 200 people and left parts of the city in ruins. It also destroyed 15,000 metric tonnes of wheat as well as Lebanon’s main grain silos, meaning ships bringing in the estimated 65 to 80 percent of the country’s food that comes from abroad may – at least for a while – have to dock at other ports, like the northern city of Tripoli. This will likely contribute to already rising prices.

Significant damage was dealt to its largest grain elevator and a number of national wheat silos situated in the port, which is likely to impact the country’s already precarious food security. Lebanon imports up to 80 percent of its food needs and has been suffering from bread shortages. The Port of Beirut is Lebanon’s main sea port, and one of the busiest harbours in the Eastern Mediterranean. It consists of a general cargo terminal, a container terminal, a passenger terminal, a free zone and a silo area. The total capacity of silos at the port are 120,000 metric tonnes (mt). The silos consist of 48 big cells, with a capacity of 2,500 mt/cell, and 50 small cells that hold 500 mt each. “75 percent of the country’s grain imports come through the port and 60 percent of all its cargo overall,” Elena Neroba, a market analyst at Maxigrain, told TRT World.

The silos contain essential grain reserves including wheat, corn and barley, and serve as strategic storage for about 85 percent of the country’s cereals, while the other 15 percent are received directly by private firms. Neroba states that the total grain demand for 2020 has been about 2 million mt: 1.2 million mt for wheat, 700,000 mt for corn and less than 200,000 mt for barley.

Domestic wheat production covers only 10 percent of consumption and Lebanon relies on private mills for its wheat imports, sourced mainly from European countries. According to Neroba, half of those volumes are supplied by Russia, and 30 percent comes from Ukraine. Last year, Ukraine was the country’s top wheat supplier.

“Lebanon’s demand of wheat for domestic consumption is up to 40,000 mt per month,” she said, adding that given the country’s dire financial straits and currency exchange problems, it will be difficult to meet that demand. The country’s dependence on a single unloading port for its wheat trade has long posed a significant supply risk. In the event of any disruption there, severe bottlenecks and acute shortages have always been bound to occur.

With the port of Beirut out of operation, maritime traffic will now be diverted to Lebanon’s second largest port in Tripoli, said the Minister of Public Works, Michel Najjar.Lebanon has enough wheat stockpiled to last 45 days - the silos at Beirut port were mostly empty at the time of the explosion, said Ahmed Hatteet, head of the wheat importers union.

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