WUR is supporting young entrepreneurs in Lebanon who are building up the food sector. The approach is working, and the Dutch cabinet therefore wants to invest a further six million euros in startups in developing countries, says coalition Christian Democrat party CDA.
CDA parliamentarians visited Berytech, a programme at Saint Joseph University in Beirut which supports agricultural startups. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is funding the programme, and WUR is a knowledge partner. The project is successful and should be rolled out in other Arab and African countries, says the CDA – a plan which the other coalition parties would support.
At WUR, Startlife is involved in the Lebanese project. ‘The agriculture sector is functioning badly in Lebanon,’ says Gitte Schober of Startlife. ‘With Berytech – the Lebanese university’s Startlife – we support entrepreneurs who develop sustainable and precision agriculture. We’ve been doing this for two and a half years now, and we’ve already supported more than 50 startups.’ One example is a small company called Cubex, which used Wageningen knowledge to develop an installation that purifies water, produces biogas and makes compost. The installation is already operational in a refugee camp for Syrians.
The entrepreneurial climate in Lebanon is far from ideal because the country is officially at war with Israel and has a Hamas government. The elite has fled the country, corruption is rampant, and tax rates for entrepreneurs are punishingly high. ‘A change of system is needed from the bottom up,’ says Schober. ‘We work a lot with well-education expats who return to try to improve the hopeless situation there. They have incredible drive.’