Supporting small and medium-sized businesses in Lebanon’s agriculture and agro-food sectors

A new initiative by the ILO will provide small and medium agricultural and food processing companies with training and technical support to improve their business continuity, resilience and decent job retention in response to the multiple crises that have hit Lebanon.

News | 10 September 2020
Lebanon (ILO News) A new initiative by the ILO in Lebanon will help struggling small and medium enterprises (SMEs) employing vulnerable Lebanese nationals and Syrian refugees to improve their business continuity, resilience and decent job retention as part of efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the on-going financial crisis affecting the country.

During the first year of the programme, the initiative will support 15 small and medium agricultural and food processing companies that employ a total of around 1,300 workers in North Lebanon, Akkar and Bekaa. The programme will provide the companies with training, coaching and financial support.

The initiative is part of the ILO’s immediate response to help mitigate the impact of the economic crisis and COVID-19 on workers and small and medium-sized businesses in Lebanon. It is being implemented under the ‘Partnership for improving prospects for host communities and forcibly displaced persons’ (PROSPECTS), a four-year partnership between the ILO, International Finance Corporation (IFC), the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF and the World Bank. With financial support from the Government of the Netherlands, the programme seeks to improve sustainable living conditions for refugees and host communities in Lebanon.

“Under PROSPECTS, the ILO has been paying close attention to the changing context of Lebanon which has recently witnessed a series of crises, including the financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently the Beirut explosion,” said Shaza Jondi, ILO’s Chief Technical Adviser for PROSPECTS in the Arab States region. “These events have had a big impact on the business environment where SMEs operate. We have therefore designed this programme to respond to the specific needs of SMEs in the agriculture and agro-food sectors, which need to be promoted today more than ever, while enhancing decent work amongst vulnerable Lebanese nationals and Syrian refugee men and women, to break them out of the cycle of poverty and vulnerability.”

A rapid needs assessment with participating enterprises was conducted to examine their status, vulnerability to the current crisis, and potential coping mechanisms. It found that half the enterprises had reduced operations due to a decrease in demand and suspension of exports, and foresee a reduction in their workforce over the coming two years as a result of the financial crisis and pandemic. It also found that the majority of enterprises did not have any source of financial support and lacked business continuity plans to help them cope with the current situation.

The ILO will provide targeted enterprises with business continuity and business resilience training as well as on-site coaching, advisory services and other technical and financial support. A vital element of this programme is to train a pool of trainers who will support SMEs through the process.

“We are conducting a series of workshops which aim to build the capacity of experienced business consultants on concepts and training and coaching techniques to help small and medium-sized business owners sustain their operations in the face of on-going crises and retain the workforce, in line with ILO decent work standards,” said Rayann Koudaih, SME Technical Officer. “We have just completed the online Training of Trainers (ToT) on business resilience and it has been a very successful experience. We look forward to the ToT on business continuity taking place later on this month.” 

The programme will also address a range of other business development needs, such as improving finances, human resources, enhancing productivity, improving decent working conditions and Occupational Safety and Health.

The number of participating enterprises will increase in the second year of the programme. Efforts are also underway to adapt the current programme to support businesses to recover in the aftermath of the explosion that ripped through Beirut in August.

The global PROSPECTS partnership focuses on education and learning; jobs and social protection; and protection and legal status. In Lebanon, PROSPECTS is implemented as part of the ILO’s and the other agencies’ response to the Syrian refugee crisis to promote economic opportunities and decent employment, skills development, entrepreneurship, and social protection for both Syrian refugees and host communities.