In late 2019, the situation in Lebanon reached a boiling point. Protests erupted across the country, as people took to the streets to demand change and accountability from their leaders. The protests were sparked by a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls, but they quickly grew to encompass broader grievances about the government’s handling of the economy, corruption, and sectarianism. The government’s response to the protests only made things worse. Instead of listening to the people’s demands, the government resorted to violence, arresting and intimidating protesters and cracking down on freedom of expression.
The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the economic crisis, as businesses were forced to close and tourism ground to a halt. The government’s response to the pandemic was widely criticized as ineffective and inadequate, further eroding trust in its ability to lead the country out of the crisis. Now, the Lebanese economy is in shambles. The national currency has lost more than 90% of its value, inflation is rampant, and basic necessities like food, fuel, and medicine are becoming increasingly scarce. The country is on the brink of total collapse, and there seems to be no end in sight. The amount of inflation the economy sustained from 2019 till 2023 is staggering. Political instability coupled with corruption and regional conflicts took a toll on the country’s economy, making it increasingly difficult for businesses to operate and for people to make ends meet.
The village of Ain el Delb is a small municipality in the South of Lebanon. With the unfolding calamity, a municipal think-tank was formed ahead of the eminent collapse, bringing together experts from various fields to come up with solutions to the pressing challenges facing the community. We met on a weekly basis to assess the situation and make positive measures to help the people residing within the municipality amidst the chaos and uncertainty. Sensing the incoming calamity I raised the issue of food security within the municipal think tank, and we formed a branch to address this alarming issue, as people’s incomes and savings were running dry. The sustainable development of farm lands committee was formed and was headed by Mr. George Hage and myself.
It was a daunting challenge. The idea was to give as much access to farming and production to those who were most disadvantaged. The plan therefore required a novel way of thinking, and a creative approach to the problem. But, it seemed essential to first come up with an appropriate path that will lead to the implementation of the sustainable development plan. Therefore, a plan was put together that identified the major elements that will have to be overcome for the project to succeed. We broke down the process to nine main steps:
1- Identification of the problem
2- Define the plan parameters
3- Data Collection, analysis and synthesis
4- Sustainable Development logistics
6- Engage the stakeholders, including the local community, the municipality and possible NGO’s
7- Resource mobilization
8- Application Assessment in terms of flexibility, adaptability and resilience
Here, I will discuss a more detailed look at these steps:
1- Identification of the problem:
The village population was comprised of many people from different economic and social backgrounds. As the economic crisis deepened, more and more people in our community were turning to farming as a means of survival. But many of them didn’t have access to land, as farming was not traditionally seen as a viable profession in our area. The impact of the economic collapse, coupled with COVID19 affected the population indiscriminately, but in different measures. The first task was to determine the most vulnerable population. This became our target population to be considered part of the agricultural program. This vulnerable population was not only composed of people in need, but also targeted the younger generation, who were now out of work and without income. The second is that with the amount of agricultural land in the village, the area of arable plots was small, as the village is mainly comprised of olive groves, a large fruit orchard and a difficult topography in general.
The most valuable route of action was if we can give access to the abandoned lots to those in need, even if they did not own these lots. To address this issue, we created a land-sharing program, where people who wanted to farm but didn’t have their own land could use other people’s land with their consent. This allowed people to grow their own food and earn a living through agriculture, without having to invest in buying or renting expensive land or equipment. The land-sharing program would be a win-win for everyone involved. Landowners were able to put their abandoned or underutilized land to good use, while also helping to support their fellow community members. And for those who participated in the program, it provided a lifeline in a time of great uncertainty. There were many abandoned farming lands as farming was not a profession. But with the economic collapse, it now became a survival tactic.
2- Define the plan parameters
This plan required a bit of research. It involved two different groups of people. The first is the population in need, and the second is the land owners. In addition, from this group of people, we had to identify the subgroups that were willing to participate in this program. Not all the disadvantaged population was willing or able to participate in farming, nor all the landowners were willing to submit their lands to other people for fear of long land acquisition. So we engaged the local community by visiting these people, as well as discussing whether they would be interested in such a program, and identifying the main groups that fit both bills.
3- Data Collection, analysis and synthesis:
As the parameters were now defined, a process of data collection and analysis was necessary. We had access to land survey of the entire village, and we identified possible arable lands. We also consulted municipal records to identify abandoned or underutilized land. Once that was done, we created a list of the land owners who owned these lots and we contacted them. Through a filtering process, we were able to identify a set of land owners who agreed to participate in the program. We then reached out to landowners directly, either through personal contacts or by going door-to-door to ask for their participation. This involved providing information on the benefits of the program and addressing any concerns or questions they may have had.
On the other hand, we coordinated with the municipality and the churches in the village to identify the most vulnerable population. As this type of information is usually sensitive in Lebanese villages, it was necessary to approach this item with the utmost sensitivity.
Once the data was collected, we reached out to the various families and individuals and explained the program, and identified those who were interested and willing to participate in the program. Next, there was the logistics of implementation to be determined.
4- Sustainable Development logistics:
In order to achieve sustainable development, the logistics of the land sharing program were categorized into six areas:
a- Land Preparation: This category involved the restoration of abandoned land to its fertile state, including the removal of weeds and plowing.
b- Seeds and Saplings: In order to encourage biodiversity and ensure sustainable agriculture, the program distributed high-quality seeds and saplings to farmers, which required careful selection and acquisition.
c- Water Management: Water is a valuable resource, and the program aimed to manage it sustainably by providing farmers with access to water through the installation of hoses and drip systems for efficient water use.
d- Infrastructure: The program provided infrastructure support for sustainable agriculture, including the installation of water-saving technologies, such as drip irrigation, and the implementation of soil conservation practices.
e- Organic fertilizers: To promote sustainable agricultural practices, the program encouraged the use of organic fertilizers, which are environmentally friendly and do not harm soil quality.
f- Final Product: While the land sharing program was not designed for profit, it encouraged sustainable consumption practices by encouraging farmers to use the land for their own personal consumption.
At that point, the issue of budget became paramount. We handled the various elements of the logistic as follows:
a- Land reparation included weeding and ploughing. Weeding was discussed with the end users and it was determined this is an item they have to provide themselves. For ploughing, the small lots were ploughed by hand by the end users, and for larger plots, the municipality provided machinery and equipment to help in that accord.
b- Seeds and Saplings were acquired via several sources. The first was municipal, the second was donations from private parties, and the third was by the end users themselves. Through a variety of sources, this item was accomplished.
c- Watering proved to be a challenge, and this issue was discussed beforehand with the end users and a double strategy was implemented. The first was to try to choose crops that required a little of water, and the other to try to incorporate a drip system that reduces the amount of watering, especially for larger plots. Access to water for irrigation was a critical component of the land-sharing program, especially given the lack of resources in the region. To address this challenge, we used a variety of strategies to ensure that farmers had access to the water they needed to grow their crops. One of the main sources of water for irrigation was the municipal water source from the municipal well. We worked with local authorities to ensure that farmers had access to this water, either through direct connections or by using water tanks to transport water to their farms. In addition to municipal water, we also selected crops that did not require extensive irrigation, such as drought-resistant varieties of grains, legumes, and vegetables. This helped to conserve water and reduce the need for extensive irrigation systems. For crops that did require irrigation, we worked with farmers to identify low-cost irrigation systems that could be used to distribute water efficiently and effectively. This included systems like drip irrigation, which uses a series of tubes and emitters to deliver water directly to the roots of plants, minimizing water waste and maximizing crop yields.
d- Hoses and infrastructure was also an item to think about, as water hoses are not cheap. Securing funds for the watering systems proved to be most challenging as this required a certain investment that was not available. Through engaging the stakeholder, the community and the municipality, we were able to secure a large portion of the hoses and the drip system, by purchasing some items in bulk at cost, and several hoses were purchased used instead of new to cut cost. This was done primarily through private contributions.
e- Fertilizers were essential. To ensure a successful season the need for fertilizers was essential. One of the key goals of the project was to promote sustainable agriculture practices that would not only provide much-needed food for the community but also help to preserve the natural environment. We worked with local farmers to adopt organic farming techniques and reduce their use of harmful chemicals.
6- Engage the stakeholders:
This included the local community, the municipality and possible non-governmental partners. The collaborative effort required much coordination. This involved engaging all the stakeholders separately, and coordinating the efforts independently, as the sensitive nature of those in need is required to preserve dignity in a community that puts a lot of weight on social conditions.
7- Resource mobilization:
Once all the elements of the plan were in place, we proceeded to mobilize all our resources to achieve the desired results. Timing was of the essence because certain crops had to be planted in certain times of the year to succeed. Before these could be planted, the land had to be prepared and the infrastructure in place. This required us to capitalize on our acquired resources and continuously seek additional funding, which also came from the diaspora.
8- Application Assessment in terms of flexibility, adaptability and resilience
The Ain El Delb sustainable farming project was implemented with a strong focus on flexibility, adaptability, and resilience, which are critical elements of sustainable development. As with any development project, the team faced numerous challenges and unexpected obstacles along the way. This included adopting a position that could be easily modified ant any of the stages of plan implementation, to adapt to unforeseen conditions, such as water shortages which were overcome by providing water cisterns to fill standby water tanks to ensure that water is available even if there is a cut in the water service, and to develop a backup plan in case part of the plan faced an unforeseen obstacle.
One of the most significant challenges that the project team faced was the lack of water for irrigation. While they initially planned to rely on municipal water sources, they soon realized that this would not be sufficient for the needs of the project. As a result, they had to purchase and install an irrigation system that would bring in water from other sources. This was a significant departure from their initial plan, but it was necessary to ensure the success of the project. Similarly, the team had to be flexible and adaptable in their approach to providing technical assistance and training to farmers. They quickly realized that not all farmers had the same level of knowledge or experience in farming, and therefore, they had to adjust their approach to ensure that they provided the right level of support to each farmer.
Another critical element of the project’s flexibility was its ability to respond to changing market conditions. The team regularly monitored market trends and adjusted their marketing activities accordingly. They worked closely with local retailers to identify the most popular products and made sure that farmers were growing those crops. The project team also demonstrated resilience in the face of unexpected challenges. For example, the team faced difficulties in securing funding for the project, but they were able to leverage their relationships with local government officials and development partners to secure the necessary resources.
9- Ensuring sustainability of the plan:
The sustainability of the project was not difficult to assess, because as soon on the infrastructure was made available, and the path was crossed the first season, much of the dependability of several items were cut down, such as buying seeds and saplings. The farmers, through the farming process could grow their own sapling from the seeds of the season and gather seeds for the upcoming season. As long as all the elements were functioning properly, the project remained sustainable. The longevity of the project required a continuous collaboration between all the involved entities. The farmers also took from time to time part of the crops to the landowners and the donors as a sign of appreciation. These activities ensured the
One of the key outcomes of the project was the restoration of abandoned farmlands, which were transformed into productive agricultural land. The land-sharing program encouraged landowners to allow farmers to use their land for agriculture, and as a result, there was a significant increase in the amount of land used for farming, and the abandoned lands were cleaned and cleared.
The triple bottom line of sustainable development was addressed as follows:
Economic Aspect: The plan’s economic aspect involves creating a sustainable and resilient agricultural sector that can support the local economy. The land-sharing program provides people with access to land without having to invest in buying or renting expensive land or equipment. This approach not only supports the local economy but also encourages entrepreneurship and innovation. It helps people to create their own food security and reducing the village’s reliance on imported food. This approach could be a model for other municipalities facing similar challenges, thereby contributing to the national economy.
Social Aspect: The plan’s social aspect aims to support the most vulnerable population in the village. By providing people with access to food through agricultural production, we aim to reduce poverty and improve the health and well-being of the local community. The program also encourages community involvement and helps to build social capital. By bringing people together to work towards a common goal, we can create a sense of community, belonging, and social cohesion. The program also empowers women and youth, who are often the most vulnerable groups in rural areas, by providing them with opportunities to contribute to their families’ well-being and become more self-sufficient.
Environmental Aspect: The plan’s environmental aspect involves promoting sustainable agriculture practices that protect the environment and support biodiversity. The plan includes using organic farming practices that reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers, which can be harmful to the environment and human health. It also includes promoting the use of local seeds and reducing dependence on imported seeds. This approach supports the preservation of local biodiversity and reduces the carbon footprint associated with importing seeds.
Overall, the Ain El Delb sustainable farming project was successful in achieving its objectives and promoting sustainable development at the time. The project demonstrated the potential of sustainable farming practices to provide food security, promote economic development, and support environmental sustainability. The Ain El Delb sustainable farming project is a good example of sustainable development in action. The project demonstrated how local communities, government officials, and development partners can work together to promote sustainable farming practices, provide food security, and promote economic development in a region. Today, the challenges have multiplied. People that were in positions to help are claiming their lands again as they are now facing economic difficulties. This in turn is putting pressure on the disadvantaged section of the society.