Lebanon looks to sustainable agriculture
Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren developed the concept of permaculture in 1978 as a creative design process bringing together knowledge, culture, habitats, and human and agricultural systems in the creation of a natural ecosystem. In 2014, the organization SOILS: Permaculture Association Lebanon began implementing permaculture in the Lebanese countryside through workshops and other training for farmers and garden lovers. Rita Khawand, a former actress, co-founded the SOILS community after winning a social entrepreneurship competition organized by the nongovernmental organizations Arcenciel and Beyond Reform & Development. Its purpose is to develop a more sustainable environment based on the cohesion of various elements.
Permaculture, which includes agriculture and permanent or sustainable culture, is a design science that brings together knowledge and culture, habitats and human agricultural systems. It employs principles of ecology and knowledge of traditional societies to ethically and responsibly reproduce the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. According to Khawand, permaculture is necessary in Lebanon “to create, through a thoughtful and efficient conception, human communities that respect nature and man.”
Fadi Kanso, a Lebanese agricultural scientist, studied permaculture in Germany. Thinking that Lebanon really needs to reconsider the way it practices agriculture, he became a trainer at SOILS. “Here, farmers use mostly monoculture. They don’t diversify a lot, which can be a management risk in case of a climate shift, for example,” he says. “I know someone who lost four hectares [9.9 acres] of tomatoes in his greenhouses during the Zeina storm in January 2015, which damaged homes, electricity infrastructure, roads, ports and fields, especially in south Lebanon. He basically lost everything, but that could have been avoided if he had invested in different crops.”
He also criticises the “short-term thinking of Lebanese farmers.” He notes: “They need the money fast, so they don’t invest in the future. Diversification might be costly at first, but this is the only way to ensure long-term beneficial production.” Issues involving product quality as well as consumer health are also of concern. For example, the use of some chemicals reduces the natural levels of iron and magnesium in oranges and can cause health problem.
“If we use permaculture and diversify our production, we wouldn’t need chemicals, because insects and pests would face a crop that could kill them. By growing several kinds of crops, you considerably reduce the risks,” Kanso says. “When you do monoculture, you will attract the pest that is specific to your production. It’s like growing food for it! Permaculture is possible in Lebanon, because you have such a nice environment, already so many different plants. It’s possible to diversify very easily.”