Wine from Lebanon growing to new heights
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In Lebanon, the farmers of the Northern Bekaa Valley have due to missing government presence and support often chosen their own paths of development. Without any real alternatives, the farmers have cultivated their fields with illicit crops such as cannabis and poppy, establishing the region into a hot spot for hashish and opium production. This practice often yielded in high profits for the farmers but the income, due to the “non-legal” nature of this business, was often also very volatile, not ensuring a stable livelihood.
But there are people that are working for a change. Charbel El Fakhri is one of the founders of the Coteaux d’Heliopolis, a cooperative that since 1999 has worked together with 11 villages in the region to replace poppy and cannabis with the wines of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo in order to change the living for the people in the region. Today the cooperative includes 250 farmers with 240 hectares of vineyards and produces 700 tons of grapes annually and the farmers of the cooperative are not the only one benefit from this change.
The unique terroir of the region does not only guarantee an exceptionally high quality of the grapes, it also allows the farmers to grow their wine without any pesticides, making the grapes highly desired among some of the best wine producers in Lebanon. The altitude and location of the vineyards make it free from pests and pollution, so taking the step in producing organic was a natural step for the cooperative.
But selling the grapes of the cooperative to other wine producers of Lebanon is not enough for Charbel El Fakhri. Together with an associate form the cooperative, he decided to start producing his own wine under the name Couvent Rouge, aiming important export markets in Europe where organically produced wine is high in demand.
Since 2009, Covent Rouge produce and sell wine under the Fair Trade certification label and help bring together local farmers from Christian and Muslim villages in the region to grow grapes for the cooperative, which are used in the organically produced wine. “For us it is important for us to produce for the local market, however, our main target is to reach the European market as it is more profitable for us and also to show the quality that is available in Lebanon.”, says Charbel El Fakhri .
As part of the EU funded SwitchMed Program on Sustainable Consumption and Production, UNIDO is organizing capacity building activities on Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) methodology to improve the abilities of Lebanese companies to compete in the EU markets where consumers are taking environmental considerations more and more seriously. The EU common label and methodology for green products will enable exporters to maintain a competitive advantage on the European Single Market and to communicate this consistently to the market on same and equal terms as European companies over one common label. At the same time, this methodology might also give a reason for Lebanese producers that are interested in adding value to their products with a benchmark methodology that in the long term can prove to be good for the business, the environment and ensure them a green labelled product ready for export to the EU.
Together with businesses, such as the Coteaux d’Heliopolis, UNIDO will undertake a pilot study to measure the impacts and preparedness of the so far developed framework from the EU PEF methodology within the participating companies and sector.
The findings from the PEF pilot study will eventually provide an important feedback for the EU in the final revision phase of the methodology and also give the participating companies an important assessment on how they perform.
Who knows maybe your next bottle of wine is organically produced from the Beqaa Valley.