Agriculture in Lebanon needs a revolution, and we should all be part of it. The sector is facing major challenges: Land is less farmed, younger generations are increasingly uninterested in farming, and national support for the sector is limited mainly to international donors’ programs, with little coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture to develop a national strategy. We’ve all heard about the apple crisis, precipitated by the 2015 closure of the land trade route via Syria for product exports to the Gulf. In addition, issues related to poor traceability practices, irrigation challenges—given the country’s contaminated waterways—and inefficient practices in most small and medium farms are ravaging our environment.
It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a country to revive a sector. Agriculture is a national matter, and Lebanon can play a role in the food security of the region, given the microclimates it has, as well as its human capital and entrepreneurship mindset. As we see around the globe, agriculture is no longer half science-half art; it is half science and half engineering. Precision agriculture is what will take the sector to new heights.
Lebanon has the human capital to combine science with engineering to save and grow the agriculture sector. What we currently need, as an investment in research and development, is a group of engineers and computer scientists, agricultural engineers, scientists, and business professionals working together under a national strategy to revive the country’s faltering farming industry.
Urgent solutions are required for Lebanon to improve agriculture and feed its growing population. We need to apply sustainable practices, following the water, energy, and food (WEF) nexus; meaning that the three sectors—water security, energy security, and food security—are inextricably linked and that actions in one area more often than not have impacts in one or both of the others. Some of the most crucial reforms required are solutions to optimize the use of water in irrigation, to implement renewable energies to energize the sector, and to employ science to breed crops that are resistant to drought and disease.
Adapt to survive
Innovation in the sector is needed, whether it is implemented using science and technology, or through innovative business models. We also need to look at the entire value chain, from the supply of seeds, to farming, harvesting, and post-harvesting practices. Much of the innovation in developed countries is focused on large-scale farming practices. However, in Lebanon, it would be more feasible to adopt solutions found in many developing South Asian, African, and South American markets, where the challenges are similar to the Lebanese context, in terms of bottlenecks, fragmented value and supply chains, and low educational levels of farmers.
We also need to look at developing a national strategy for innovation in the sector. This plan would involve multidisciplinary academic faculties, researchers, and the private sector working with regional and Mediterranean partners to develop innovative ways to accelerate growth in the sector. Many programs already in place, including PRIMA, an initiative by the EU, partially fund such research initiatives. Agrytech, a program by Berytech funded partially by the Netherlands, is supporting the creation of startups in this field and the creation of an agri-food innovation cluster to strengthen and accelerate the sector.
In addition, Lebanon possesses many microclimates, and is therefore capable of producing different varieties of fruits and vegetables. This advantage should be fully utilized using innovative business models, which could identify specific produce that could be channeled into the export market, particularly during the off season. We have seen the high potential of this approach in avocado production as part of the LIVCD program funded by USAID, the potato export plan supported by the Netherlands, and the production of new varieties of table grapes and stone fruits supported by the EU. These opportunities should be complemented by helping producers adopt the best farming practices to ensure quality, high yield, and efficient production with proper traceability.
The agriculture sector and agri-food innovation in Lebanon have the potential to increase exports from Lebanon to the world. However, this will only be realized through a concerted effort bringing together academia and the public and private sectors. Agriculture is no longer a nostalgic connection to the country’s rural roots—it is an economic driver, an opportunity to innovate, and a crucial sector for the survival and sustainability of future generations.
Let us all take part in this agri-food revolution.