Beirut, Lebanon – As the economic crisis worsens, rising prices for basic necessities such as bread have made it difficult for many Lebanese people to suffer.
With Lebanese bakers relying on imported wheat to produce their goods, the price of ordinary bread for high-income – eaten by the rich and the poor as well as food – has tripled since 2019.
Mavia Bakery, a small garment based in Beirut in Gemmayzeh province, is trying to ensure that Lebanon has adequate food security and does not rely on imported flour for baking and a number of useful functions.
Opened in 2020 by Sadalsuud founder and baker Brant Stewart, a baker works in the kitchen of Tripoli and only enrolls women from oppressed areas.
“This space came because I wanted to do something important and necessary no matter who made it, otherwise it won’t work,” Stewart told Al Jazeera. “The number of people who want to buy something because of who made it dries up quickly – there are only a handful of beads that people can buy, but everyone needs bread.”
Currently, 80% of the wheat that Lebanon consumes is exported from countries like Ukraine, which have a high yield in most parts of Lebanon which do not. The less common wheat grown is used as freekeh or burghul (bulgur).
“Wheat as a crop is not good for Lebanon. There are people who grow their own wheat for personal use but, commercially, local wheat does not happen, “Stewart said.
“The flour we buy here at the Bakalian mill, made from imported wheat, costs 1,500 kilograms per kilogram [$1], which is much cheaper than the Bekaa wheat we buy, which is about 5,000 lira [$3.30] kilograms because there is not enough to meet the requirements.
“There has never been a mill to consider local wheat – big mills working for wheat can’t just take a few local things and grind them,” he added. “This machine is big and it is a mill that is missing from the chains. Grinding is a skill and mills that happen slowly are not well dug and not good. “
The price is going up
Because of the shortage of Lebanese lira, imported flour has made the price of bread very high. With the help expected to expire in May, the price is expected to rise.
Stewart’s new jobs are growing on local wheat and laying new stones for farmers to use for free, paid for with support from the Middle East Children’s Alliance, which they hope will help grow more local wheat, making it a cheaper alternative.
The mill, which will be operated in June in Zahle, an agricultural hotspot, will allow local cereals to process high-quality flour.
“I know that one small mill and the amount of wheat we grow doesn’t make it disappear all over the country, but it has to start somewhere,” Stewart said.
“We need to start changing people’s minds about why it is important to grow and eat ordinary wheat, not just to grow and cook it yourself, but to put it in order, then this is our little beginning.”
The wheat ‘is the successor’
He is currently cultivating 50 varieties of wheat in a field supplied to Rachaya, which would give him the opportunity to try different varieties and get Mavia Bakery flour from the July harvest. Many of the species they are trying are not available in this country.
“It will only be for a short time, as the local wheat was not born many years ago to use unleavened bread, unlike the imported ones. But I have found the best varieties where I work,” said Stewart. which grows well, which is sweet.
“There are natural advantages in cultivating local varieties because the ‘landrace’ wheat – similar to the incoming leaves – is adapted to the local climate,” he added. “They are naturally able to withstand drought, fight pests and diseases, so you don’t need a lot of pesticides.”
Reliance on imported wheat and pesticides to grow them is one of the mainstays that farmers cannot produce in Lebanon.
In a field in Terbol, near Zahle, Stewart grows 10 tons of local wheat, half of which goes to a bakery opening in the Marj refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley where they will provide free bread.
Yousra Abdel Khatabiyeh, a Syrian refugee who has been working with Mavia Bakery for several years, will lead the new bakery in place of the previously run, led by another NGO, which had to close due to the economic crisis.
“I have learned to make dry bread at Mavia Bakery and I enjoy it,” Khatabiyeh told Al Jazeera. “I really needed the job and when the bakery at Marj closed, Brant took me here and it has been fun.
“I’m excited to be back at the bakery there,” he added. “It’s important for people there and the type of bread is very important.”
The remaining five tons of oil went into the Stewart program is still in its infancy, with the aim of providing local flour to bakers to try and figure out to change for themselves.
If one day Lebanon could get more wheat in your area, the price of bread would not be linked to economic instability.
“Maybe we will help the flour ourselves to make it possible, as at the moment no one has the extra money to spend,” Stewart said.
“The goal is to make permanent changes to food security. The mill is very clear but I think the idea of changing the habits of the people where they get the flour is important. ”