According to a report by the Lebanese Daily Star, Lebanon’s dairy farmers are facing difficulties related to market demand and distribution. If these are met successfully, Lebanon could be self-sufficient in the dairy products, experts say.
Following is the full text of the report:
Abu Youssef keeps five cows in a small shed under his house in Beit Shabab. They each produce an average of 20 liters of milk daily, half of which is sold as fresh milk and the rest as yogurt and cheese.
The conditions are cramped, animal feed is expensive, and production costs are high. But milk-product demand continues to outstrip supply, making Youssef's work profitable.
Five years ago, Lebanon produced 28 percent of its dairy needs. Today the figure is 33 percent. "In five years' time we will be self sufficient," said Mansour Kassab, director of the Ministry of Agriculture's animal resources directorate.
If Lebanon meets this ambitious target and produces all the milk it needs, small dairy farmers are worried that their milk will no longer have a guaranteed market.
The solution, said Kassab, is co-operatives. "Small farms won't disappear if they sell their milk to collecting centers," he said. "Maybe they don't like to work on a co-operative basis, but they will be obliged to do so, and this will save them."
The first milk-collecting center, which buys from farmers at about LL500 a liter and sells it to dairy factories for pasteurization or processing, was set up in Bar Elias near Zahle in 1997.
"This was successful," said Edmond Choueiri, chief technical advisor to the Smallholder Livestock Rehabilitation Project, which aims to boost rural incomes. "The price of milk has become more stable, and the quality can be controlled.”
Choueiri said a second milk-collecting center will be opened in September in the northern Bekaa village of Hermel.
"We are waiting for more milk-collection centers," said farmer Ali Shreif, owner of 15 cows in the Bekaa. "Feeding the cows is very expensive, and we need stable prices to cover our costs.”
The Ministry of Agriculture has no clear timetable for the new centers. Last year it said three more milk-collection depots would open in the Bekaa and two others one in Abdeh and one in Tyre, which used to operate before the war would be restored before 2000.
None of the plans has materialized. But it hasn't stopped the ministry from considering two more centers for Nabatieh and Khiam. "The South is a priority now," said Fakhr Helou, head of the Animal Products processing and marketing department at the ministry.
"Money and will is the problem," said Kassab. He doubted any new milk-collection centers would be opened before the end of this year.
The delay in setting up the milk-collection centers is not worrying all small dairy farmers yet. Abu Youssef gladly sells his produce directly to consumers because he gets LL1,000-1,250 a liter, more than double that paid by wholesalers or the milk collection center.
Other farmers who have good quality milk and refrigeration facilities sell directly to dairy factories, which pay more than the milk collection center.
Tighter government regulations implemented over the past two years mean factories use fresh milk, rather than powdered milk, whenever possible, said Fakhr Helou.
He said the regulations were introduced to improve the quality of dairy products and as well as support local dairy farmers. "Over the next five years before we join the World Trade Organization, we want to strengthen the Lebanese dairy industry," said Helou. "When the market opens up, then the farmers will be ready."
On the surface, the move sounds like good news for small farms, especially as there is not enough fresh milk for the factories at present. But the arrival of mega-dairies over the last four years means market share is quickly being swallowed up by bigger players with lower production costs.
Liban Lait's cows produce an average of 25 liters of milk per cow per day. Edmond Choueiri said this compares with an average of 19 liters for the small dairy farmers.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Liban Lait, Daliah, BonJus and DairiDay now control 60 percent of the domestically-producing dairy market. "Their production could double over two years," said Kassab. "Protecting the market from imports also helps them grow.” – Albawaba.com
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