Originally published on February 21, 2019.
How a USAID-funded project is supporting Lebanon’s emerging food industry
Apricots. Cherries. Greens. Citrus. When it comes to food, Lebanon is the land of plenty. For Land O’Lakes International Development Chief of Party (COP) Celine Melki, food has always been an important part of her life in Lebanon. “Lebanese cuisine is internationally known – our food and cooking have something special,” she says. “Despite the instability in Lebanon, our love for our country, family and culture is always there. Food is a big part of culture here – it is the heart of a thriving community,” she says.
This is why Celine has dedicated her career to improving Lebanon’s food sector. With a master’s in food technology, twelve-plus years of private sector experience in food manufacturing, and an impressive background in food quality and safety development programs, Celine is driven to feed human progress by making Lebanon’s food – and the sector that supports it – even better.
Celine has been a part of the Land O’Lakes International Development team since 2013. She’s currently Chief of Party for the Lebanon Investment in Quality (LINQ) program, funded by USAID. This project is focused on working with farmers and businesses that handle some of Celine’s favorite food products – fresh produce. For both farmers and business – LINQ is focused on improving food quality and safety. This improves farmer income and creates more market access opportunities for both farmers and supporting agribusinesses. LINQ also supports these agribusinesses, like processors, exporters and packers, to promote innovation, increase domestic and export sales, and improve product quality and safety to meet global certification requirements. Inevitably, these improvements not only help the business, but also their farmer suppliers.
“Through technical assistance and co-investment grants to about 80 partners, this project’s goal is to help improve the lives of farmers by strengthening their market access to agribusiness inputs and services. Through this work, our goal is also to increase incomes, create employment opportunities and improve women’s participation in the agri-food sector – all with environmental sustainability in mind. I truly believe in this work,” says Celine.
One of Celine’s primary roles is to facilitate customized technical assistance for each partner agribusiness. This involves assessing an agribusinesses’ need, then finding and coordinating with paid consultants and expert volunteers who can help turn these challenges into opportunities. Celine is no stranger to working with technical volunteers – in her previous role with Land O’Lakes International Development, Celine served as Country Director for the Farmer-to-Farmer program in Lebanon. Celine’s role was to identify ag businesses in Lebanon that could use technical support, then connect them with U.S.-based ag expert volunteers – many of them Land O’Lakes, Inc. employees and cooperative members – to advance food safety and increase access to finance.
This backing from Land O’Lakes, Inc. is one of the reasons Celine has enjoyed working with Land O’Lakes International Development for the past six years. “Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in our country and it still has great potential to grow. Our relationship with the farmer-owned cooperative, Land O’Lakes, Inc., gives us access to food sector experts who know firsthand how to advance agribusinesses. The private sector in Lebanon sees Land O’Lakes, Inc. as a huge value add to LINQ – they want to work with us.” says Celine.
Having officially started in September 2018, LINQ is still in its early days, but progress is well underway. “Whether it’s helping a business invest in new machinery, identify opportunities to access new markets, or get GSFI certification to export – we will be making a positive impact on people’s lives and supporting the overall health of our economy,” says Celine.
To Celine, Lebanese food is something that makes her country special. She’s excited to be part of team that is making it even better.