Lebanon is among the countries in the region that have achieved the FAO’s development goal of cutting hunger rates by half by last year, though food security has become a far more serious issue due to conflicts.
Graziano da Silva praised Lebanon for its "great commitment and solidarity towards the displaced Syrians, as well as other refugees”.
The country currently hosts almost 1.5m refugees—a third of its own population—and many of these live in rural areas where public infrastructure and natural resources are under strain.
"The degraded food insecurity situation today in the Near East and North Africa is not only constrained by the food production index or the increased dependency on imported goods, but it is also linked to conflict, migration and the increased refugee influx," said Akram Chehayeb, Lebanon's agriculture minister.
Conflicts have a "tremendous effect" far beyond their national borders, he added.
To support the countries that are taking in the lion's share of refugees, the FAO is opening a new sub-regional office for the Mashreq countries, which also include Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Syria. Chehayeb and Graziano da Silva signed the agreement to set up the facility at an event in Beirut this week.
The office will serve as a technical centre in support of food and nutritional security, and sustainable agricultural development, as well as food safety, trade and rural development initiatives in the region.
It is not surprising that conflict has been singled out for the precarious food-security situation in the region, given the devastating conflicts taking place there. In June, the International Food Policy Research Institute published a stark outlook that suggested little improvement without the support of “richer” Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which Ifpri called on to reform their food-aid policies for the benefit of their neighbours.
The FAO is already working in Lebanon as part of a broader plan to boost regional resilience in the face of the Syrian crisis. It has vaccinated the entire national livestock population against major transboundary animal diseases, strengthened veterinary surveillance and control systems, distributed seeds and farm tools to 20,000 people and helped set up 500 semi-intensive poultry farms.
The UN agency said that strengthening local capacity and improving water management were central to tackling climate change, Graziano da Silva said. "Climate action offers the triple-win of tackling extreme poverty, hunger and climate change at the same time," he added.
The Dutch government also recently agreed to fund two new three-year projects. The first, worth US$8.25m, will support 1,220 farmers in reclaiming degraded lands and establishing water reservoirs to establish irrigated fruit orchards.
The second, US$5.2m project, will rehabilitate seven technical agricultural schools “to give Lebanese youth and displaced persons an opportunity to acquire necessary skills to access career opportunities in farming and related agribusinesses in Lebanon and Syria”, the FAO said in a statement.