Reviving Agriculture in Lebanon - A MINARET Success Story in Jdeideh Municipality
Lebanon ranked 76th out of 188 countries in the United Nations Human Development Report. It has been heavily affected by the Syrian crisis since 2011 and has the highest number of refugees per capita. The increase in population, decrease in water availability and neglect of the agriculture sector by the government are negatively affecting food production and food security and have forced many farmers to abandon their lands and migrate to cities. Lebanon depends mainly on food imports to secure its national need of nutrients where more than 50% of Lebanon’s food is imported, while food exports only constitute 16.5%. Agriculture is important to the entire population of Lebanon, farmers and consumers, contributing about 5.5% to the GDP, and about 60 % of the population relies directly or indirectly on agricultural activities.
According to an ESCWA report, 49% of Lebanese people are reportedly worried about their ability to access enough food, and 31% of them stating that they were unable to eat healthy and nutritious food over the course of a year. 28.5% of people in Lebanon live in poverty, including 8% that live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $2.4 per day. Food security in the country is a major concern of the Government of Lebanon, but efforts to tackle it are hampered by deficiencies in qualified human resources to lead such efforts.
Jdeidet El-Chouf Municipality: MINARET’s Approach
According to observation by locals, water flow from natural resources at some locations has decreased almost by half in the last 30 years. However, stakeholders who have been consulted as part of MINARET generally believe that the problem lies in the management of the sector rather than resource availability. In the municipality, a major water resource is available from the Barouk river, however, lack of energy availability prevents access to that water.
Agriculture was historically the most significant source of income in Jdeidet El-Chouf but has decreased over the years. Currently, agriculture is a self-sufficient practice constituting only a secondary source of income for most households. Several factors contributed to this regress, the main driver being the war, which lead to the abandonment of agricultural land. Then, due to urban growth, and activity development in the area, the population shifted towards services (commerce, education, banking, etc.) which lead to an ageing of the farmer workforce and a lack of interest of the younger generations in the sector. Water scarcity in the dry season added to the lack of sustainable irrigation methods as well as the vulnerability of this sector to climate change, and unavailability of a market to sell products. Agriculture in Jdeidet El-Chouf became a low-income profession generating low revenues.
MINARET’s Nexus approach aims to address these challenges through the synergy between water, energy, and food, by utilizing renewable energy technologies, a smart water economy, and agricultural best practices. One of the goals of implementing the Nexus approach in Jdeideh is to increase access to water in order reduce the barriers that make agriculture an undesirable profession in the municipality.
One of the completed elements of the MINARET water pilot action in Lebanon involved providing 25 farms with water tanks and a solar water pump to improve their access to water from the Barouk river. In addition to providing the 25 farms with tanks, installing a water pump at the river, and solar panels to power it, a 6-km water canal was repaired through cash-for-work activities. The canal was supposed to improve access to water for some of the farms from the river partially through natural means (gravity), and by using the pump to provide water to the canal in order to reach all of the remaining farms. The results of the project, however, exceeded MINARET’s expectations, as the repaired canal began providing water through gravity more efficiently than expected, and the canal provided water to around 80 farmers in total.
One of the symptoms of Lebanon’s energy crisis can be observed in the increase of independent energy providers who sell electricity on a small scale in different areas of the country. The Baqaata Women’s Organization provides electricity to 22,000 users through diesel generators, emitting 100 kg of CO2 per day while spending around $2,000 a month on diesel. To mitigate this social and environmental problem, MINARET has provided the organization with a 40-kW photovoltaic system that will reduce their dependency on diesel. In addition to the reduction in diesel use and greenhouse gas emissions, using renewable energy has generated a stream of monthly savings, and a revolving fund has been established that will make use of $2,000 a month to benefit the community through relaxed loans. The revolving fund is tied to the farm project in many ways, one of which is that the fund can provide seed money to new farmers who wish to take advantage of the improved access to water in the area. The fund can also finance small environmental and socioeconomic projects that locals wish to implement, to benefit themselves and their community.
MINARET’s other interventions in Lebanon include installing solar panels at a water pumping and filtration station, which will allow it to provide fresh drinking water to 20,000 people 24-hours a day instead of its current 12-hours. MINARET has also replaced 100 of the municipal building’s lights with LED lights, in addition to 100 street lights, coupled with a 6 kW PV system which in total reduces GHG emissions by 45 tons each year.