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Filling Healthy Baskets

Lebanon, August 8, 2005

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    Mohammed is reaping the benefits of higher prices for organic vegetables. Photo: Albana Dwonch/Mercy Corps. Photo:

Wearing a light-blue baseball cap to shield his face from the sun’s summer rays, Mohammed trudges off towards his garden by the sea, where ripe eggplants, green peppers and zucchini await his firm tug. A handmade wicker basket swings from his left hand, ready to be filled with the day’s harvest.

For generations, Mohammed’s family has tended olive, lemon and nectarine trees on this plot of land in the small southern Lebanon town of Sarafand, which lies along the Mediterranean Sea. Today the 36-year-old farmer is carrying on the family tradition - and breaking with it.

“This land has been planted and harvested for at least 100 years by my forefathers,” he explains. “But they used it just to survive and keep their families alive. I’m using it to do that and much more.”

Mohammed is one of 20 participants in a Mercy Corps program, funded by USAID, designed to help southern Lebanese farmers diversify their crops to bring in more income. Most significantly, the program has steered farmers toward growing organic vegetables that fetch a premium in today’s markets. Mercy Corps has teamed up with the American University in Beruit to consolidate these new organic farmers under a unified label, Healthy Basket, and ship their products throughout the region.

As a result, Healthy Basket farmers like Mohammed now earn higher and more reliable incomes. “Now, because of Healthy Basket, I have three guaranteed results,” says Mohammed. “First, my income has doubled, and above all is stable. Second, I know how to better package and market my products because of the trainings I attended. And third, Healthy Basket helps us by offering transportation services to get our products to consumers.”

Mercy Corps gave Mohammed the support he needed to convert his conventional garden plot to organically farmed land, where his eggplant, okra, green beans, peppers, sweet corn, squash, basil and radish now grow. Recently, some of these crops were among Healthy Basket’s first shipment to the United Arab Emirates - a testament to the high regional demand for organic vegetables.

With those faraway customers in mind, Mohammed will head back to his fields tomorrow, eager to fill another basket.