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

Photo: WFP/Lebanon Country Office

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.

The destruction at Beirut’s port following a huge chemical explosion that devastated large parts of the Lebanese capital. In the background the destroyed grain silos are visible. The explosion in Beirut ruined about 1 month’s worth of grain for Lebanon. Photo: WFP/Malak Jaafar

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.

In 2015, after 40 years of closure, Dalida managed to reopen the family-owned grocery store in Gemmayze. However, five years after opening, the Beirut Port Explosion destroyed her family’s shop. “We found everything outside. All of the goods were scattered on the ground” she explained. Despite having been injured in the blast herself, Dalida began renovating the shop the next day. In 2021, she received WFP support enabling her to refurbish the shop and stock up again on various food products. The photo above shows Dalida in her shop in Gemmayzeh, Beirut. Photo: WFP

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 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.

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WFP Innovation Accelerator

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.