Adopting innovative approaches to tackle Lebanon’s unprecedented challenges
The WFP Innovation Accelerator joins forces with the WFP Lebanon Country Office to establish a groundbreaking grant to save businesses and strengthen the future of Lebanon’s food systems.
By Nicolas Umuhizi & Tina Madsen
“The support I received from WFP came at the right time. It was much needed. I was able to restock the store and include new items that I could not afford before,” says Dalida Khalil, the owner of a mini market in Achrafieh, Beirut which was severely affected by the Beirut blast.
Lebanon is mired in one of the worst economic crises in its history with increasing unemployment and poverty, and rapidly rising inflation on food and household goods. The Lebanese pound has lost around 90 percent of its value since October 2019. This has had a huge impact on Lebanon’s import-dependent economy and has eroded people’s purchasing power. Since March 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated Lebanon’s economic decline.
While Lebanon was already struggling from health and economic crises, the blast at the port of Beirut in August 2020 pushed the country further into economic abyss. The disastrous explosion killed more than 200 people, injured more than 7,000, and damaged or destroyed the homes of more than 300,000 people. Agriculture and the agri-food sector — including their micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), producers, processors, suppliers, and retailers — are among the most affected sectors by the multiple crises.
Leveraging the expertise of the WFP Innovation Accelerator
In the wake of the blast at the Beirut port, WFP Lebanon Country Office realized there was a clear need for using a different approach in its humanitarian response to businesses affected by the explosion and the worsening of food security in the country. Businesses in the agri-food sector affected by the explosion were struggling to stay operational, urgently needing support for rehabilitation, restocking, paying salaries and rent. To keep businesses from closing and thereby mitigating job loss and maintaining services to the community, WFP launched a new initiative — the Food Systems Grant Facility (FSGF).
The FSGF has two main objectives:
(1) to initiate short-term crisis response efforts to support businesses affected by shocks such as the Beirut port explosion; and
(2) to address longer-term food system development through innovative transformational support to key agri-businesses that have the potential to address root causes of the challenges affecting Lebanon’s food systems.
Many businesses were not able to reopen after the blast and the few that remained operational were on the brink of going bankrupt. As a result, the WFP Lebanon Country Office approached the WFP Innovation Accelerator to jointly work on setting up the FSGF in record time to match the urgency of the challenge; leveraging the Accelerator’s strong experience in implementing similar initiatives.
Within a period of four months, the FSGF with its local partner Al Majmoua, launched a call of applications to interested businesses, and received and reviewed 280 applications. Of the applications received, 222 businesses (out of which 25 percent are owned by women) were awarded grants of up to US$ 5,000 to rehabilitate their stores, replace damaged equipment, retain employees and restock raw materials. WFP Lebanon Country Office intends to evaluate the FSGF’s grants towards the end of 2021. The evaluation will assess how many of the supported businesses will be operational, look at their employee retention and/or hiring, as well as study their business turnover change before and after the grants were awarded.
An early assessment in July 2021 — just one month after most businesses received the grants — was very promising as many businesses were busy completing rehabilitation of their stores, and restocking raw materials.
Identifying long-term solutions through the Food Systems Grant Facility
After providing grants to 222 businesses that were affected by the Beirut port explosion, the WFP Innovation Accelerator and the WFP Lebanon Country Office are developing the FSGF further to address some of the root causes that are affecting Lebanon’s food systems and making the country dependent on food imports (about 85 percent of the country’s food supply is imported). The WFP Innovation Accelerator is supporting the WFP Lebanon Country Office in the roll out of the Food Systems Challenge — a grant making mechanism that identifies promising, innovative SMEs, onboards them and provides them with the financial and business development support they need to succeed. For the next 18 months, WFP and its local partner Berytech, will select 30 innovative businesses to receive a package support worth up to US$ 100,000 each (covering business development services, technical assistance, in-kind support and cash grants).
“The economic crisis today is destroying everything. Whatever we sell, we wake up the next day with [new] unbelievable prices. But the business will stay. We are going to keep working and trying, so that we move forward. We have no other choice,” says Rony, the owner of Petit Pain, a bakery in Mar Mkhayel, Beirut.
The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.