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Introducing No-Till Conservation Agriculture to Lebanon. ادخال الزراعة الحافظة بدون حراثة الى لبنان

Place: lebanon, Asia
Sustainable management of natural resources Sustainable management of natural resources
Total Budget: € 60.000,00 | Period: From July 2007 To July 2010


Food security relates to both availability and affordability of foods. Declining crop yield is therefore a prime concern from two perspectives: limitation in agricultural land size and soil fertility. The major factor causing soil degradation is intensive ploughing which exposes the field’s top soil and reduces its moisture. Dry soil is thus lost to runoffs and wind erosion. Conservation Agriculture (CA) literally aims to conserve soil which is the foundation of this ecosystem, from loss and quality decline. No-Till is a CA method whereby sowing is alternatively done with minimal disturbance to surface soil. It qualifies for Best Practice because it focuses on the bases of Food Production in Arid Regions; soil health and water scarcity. Introduced in Academic settings, No-Till is now adopted by many farmers in Lebanon. Validated by field experiments, it is a promising Food Security practice.

الأمن الغذائي مسألة تتعلق بتوفّر المواد الغذائية كما تتعلق بأسعارها, هنا تكمن الأهمية الأنتاجية للمحاصيل و بالتالي أهمية المساحة المتاحة للزراعة و خصوبة التربة على السواء. ان الحراثة هي السبب الرئيسي لتدهور التربة لانها تعرضها للانجراف بواسطة الأمطار و الرياح. ادخل اسلوب االزراعة بدون حراثة ضمن برنامج الزراعة الحافظة كبديل للزراعة التقليدية لانه بالتقليل من تحريك سطح التربة يحافظ على صحتها و يزيد نسبة الرطوبة. لذا يؤهل كافضل اسلوب لزراعة الاراضي الجافة.و تمت تجربة هذا الاسلوب في الشرق الاوسط من قبل الاوساط العلمية و كانت النتائج ايجابية مما ادى لاعتماده من قبل العديد من المزارعين اللبنانيين و تبين بانه اسلوب ذات اهمية لتحقيق الأمن الغذائي


The American University of Beirut - Lebanon

Lead applicant

The American University of Beirut (AUB) is an institution of higher learning founded to provide excellence in education, to participate in the advancement of knowledge through research, and to serve the peoples of the Middle East and beyond. Chartered in New York State in 1863, the university bases its educational philosophy, standards, and practices on the American liberal arts model of higher education. The university believes deeply in and encourages freedom of thought and expression and seeks to foster tolerance and respect for diversity and dialogue. Graduates will be individuals committed to creative and critical thinking, life-long learning, personal integrity, civic responsibility, and leadership.

Lebanese Agricultural Research Institution - Lebanon

Initiative partner

LARI is a governmental organization under Minister of Agriculture Supervision. The institute conducts applied and basic scientific research for the development and advancement of the agricultural sector in Lebanon. In addition, the Institute keeps close ties to the farmers and tries to develop research activities aiming at solving their problems.


Initiative partner

The main mission of ACSAD is to face the challenge imposed by the arid and semi-arid environments which are characterized by fragile farming systems through the provision of scientific and applied data and advanced techniques in a way that allows the large-scale implementation of the tasks of the agricultural and social development and the optimum exploitation of the renewable natural resources in the arid areas

GIZ - Germany

Initiative partner

"The services delivered by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH draw on a wealth of regional and technical expertise and tried and tested management know-how. As a federal enterprise, we support the German Government in achieving its objectives in the field of international cooperation for sustainable development. We are also engaged in international education work around the globe." From website profile:

Agricultural practices are not mere habits, but a creed, especially in old cultures like the cradle of civilization's. Tilling symbolizes what once made the Fertile Crescent the breadbasket of the known world. Abandoning the plough, albeit urgently needed, cannot make it to farmers’ ethos without hard proof. Ley farming and fallow ground (leaving a field unplanted in order to “rest” and replenish soil nutrients), have long fallen below the threshold of sustainability. Farmlands have become too few, in view of high demand, for these practices to succeed. No-Till partakes in Conservation Agriculture (CA) as a non-extractive production technique that protects fields from water runoff and soils from erosion, both exacerbated by tillage. No-Till validated hypotheses of better soil health and crop yield and saved labor and irrigation costs. Started at experimental school plots and a few volunteer farms it has since been adopted by several other farmers in Lebanon.

The innovative aspect of No-Till lies in combining Ley farming and crop production. Soil is replenished in nutrients and protected from erosion while it's being farmed. Tilling erodes the field, so instead of tilling, No-Till mitigates land degradation by planting a cover crop like wheat or vetch, then leaves it unharvested in the field for the purpose of creating an organic cover to protect the top soil from the elements. Almost like placing a Band-Aid over an exposed scrape. Seeds are planted through the organic cover composed of the cover crop husks (using equipment that only drill enough to cover the seeds with soil.) Incrementally the organic cover gets thicker by year and keeps the soil moisture longer into the dry season, releases nutrients into the field due to decomposition, redresses soil compaction, and reverses the loss of biodiversity (earthworms, microbiome). It’s a paradigm shift that will incrementally increase crop yield, cut labor costs, and reduce agrochemical use.

1. No-Till field The No-Till technique covers the field with the husks of previous crops, planted purposely to create an organic cover, made from degradable stubble, providing the field with nutrients, and allowing the soil to revert to its natural state, which conserves moisture and dispenses with fertilizer use.
2. Cover Crop in No-Till Field Protects the Soil keeping moisture In The concept of No-Till avoids disturbing the surface soil and instead aims to restore the natural disposition of the arable crust.
3. Soil Compaction Excessive tilling changes the porosity of the top soil, and under the weight of heavy machinery a phenomenon called compaction takes place. It is a hallmark of land degradation. The water capacity of the field is impacted. It eventually leads to declining crop yield. It is like an inflamed scrape that delays the healing of the skin.
4. Soil Compaction Illustration The Phenomenon of soil compaction inhibits the normal dynamics of the surface soil, which had supported vegetal life ever since it appeared on earth.
5. Runoff Soil Erosion due to loosened surface soil with excessive tilling Tilling causes the structure of the top soil to lose its natural integrity. Rainsplash and runoffs cause the erosion and loss of the ecosystem foundation. It also causes agrochemicals to wash into watersheds and contaminate reservoirs.
6. Soil Structure and Ecosystem Restored in No-Till Surface soil loses the ability to infiltrate water when it's constantly ploughed. No-Till allows it to regain its porosity and to host the insects and microorganisms that are characteristic of the upper crust, and where vegetable life normally thrives.
7. No-Till Seeding Concept Seeding in No-Till takes place by cutting through the organic crop cover and placing the seeds directly into the grove made in the surface soil. The method saves on seeds as well.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Conservation Agriculture (CA) Proposal Dr. Bashour, PI and soil science Professor at AUB, wrote this proposal for a comprehensive CA introduction to Lebanese Farmlands.

Lebanese Produce relies on rain fed Fruit and Olive growing, so our Conservation Agriculture (CA) initiative included orchard-oriented applications. Precipitation is considerable but it’s not spread out (no summer rain). Planting two cover crops (winter/summer) as in CA Continental practice, requires irrigation in summer; a setback in convincing farmers of No-Till’s water saving aspect. After several trial crops, vetch turned out to be a boon for arid zones. We opted to plant vetch alone, as a winter cover crop between fruit trees, and forgo the summer crop step. An early winter crop (November- May), vetch neither requires irrigation nor competes with rain fed trees for soil moisture in summer. It only competes with weeds, which to eradicate, had traditionally necessitated winter ploughing. As a leguminous crop it fixates soil nitrogen and reduces agrochemical use. Vetch also produces seed pods for reseeding; saving seed cost, all intrinsic factors in the food security chain. 

1. Soil Moisture Decrease in Summer Rainfall is concentrated between October and March in Lebanon. Ploughing exposes the field to loss of moisture during the dry season, into the summer.
2. August Soil moisture in non-irrigated plot August shows minimal soil moisture content. In non-irrigated plots it is essential to avoid water competition with fruit trees. summer cover crops will either require irrigation which defeats the purpose, or compete for the remaining soil moisture which leads to declining yield.
3. Olive Grove in No-Till No-Till in Olive orchards saves labor costs and provides a substitute for fertilizers. The soil moisture is preserved longer when vetch is used as cover crop, because its harvest time is in May, so it doesn't compete with the rain fed trees.
4. Cover Crop in No-Till Orchard The loss of soil moisture is a reason for yield decrease in fruit and olive orchard. Rain fed trees benefit of No-Till when moisture is higher into the summer.
5. Vetch's harvest is in May, a non-competitive crop for rain fed trees Cover cropping requires planting two cover crops in winter and summer, which requires irrigation. Grains when used as cover crops can compete with rain fed trees for water. Vetch is an early winter crop, it provided a suitable cover crop for rainless summers in Lebanon.
Conservation Agriculture in Orchards - Lebanon Describing No-Till application in fruit trees, adapting the new farming system to the traditional cultivars. Includes testimonies from farmers and agricultural engineers showing the orchards' new look without the ploughed terrain. Undisturbed top soil is protected by the cover crop from weeds and regenerates the ecosystem that was disrupted upon the turning of the surface which composes the habitat of many useful organisms
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Report on the No-Till trials between 2007-2009 The introduction of the No-Till to farms within a trial format started in 2007 with the partnership of AUB, the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD) and (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit-GIZ). (then known as GTZ), and the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institution (LARI). The report details the results and progress of No-Till implementation.

The success of experimental No-Till farms led to a dramatic rise in CA adoption by Lebanese farmers: from 4 to 560 hectares by 2009, relinquishing the plow. The introduction of No-Till to fruit and olive orchards was another success considering the importance of these crops to Lebanese agricultural exports. This initiative instills a sense of capability in the face of imminent threats to agricultural self-sufficiency. Lebanon had been increasingly neglecting the development of the agricultural sector for more lucrative commerce, and importing most of its needed crops. The precariousness of farmers’ livelihood led them to override warnings about exhausting natural capital. Overdrawn aquifers and soil loss were the lesser evil compared to economic ruin. The going policy was a “laissez-faire” and further dependence on imports.  Along the Sustainable Development Goals, the No-Till initiative sought to breach the downward spiral by restoring the foundation of this ecosystem: soil. 

1. Plots at initiation phase 40 Dunums only in 2007. No-till started in experimental plots at the Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC) at AUB, and the Lebanese Agriculture Research Institution (LARI). With demonstrated success it continued to grow in popularity.
2. Plots in second year increase to 5600 Dunums by 2009 in 2008-2009 the No-Till plots increased from 4 to 560 hectares. All these plots were seeded using No-Till devices.
3. No-Till seeding machine users sample Two seeding machines were used in the No-Till trials. The specialized seeder drills along a narrow slit of soil, with minimal surface disturbance. The process saves on seeding costs as well, because the efficiency of the dill method requires less seeds for a higher yield. Two such machines were used during these trials. This is a table showing the farmers names and the plots where one of the machines was used.
4. satellite image of plots in Bekaa by 2009 the Bekaa valley plots increased to 5600 by 2009 dunums after the successful trials in 2007-2008
5. Satellite image of plots in Bekaa specifically Ammik plots The Ammik area in Beqaa has become a pioneer in CA, this is a satellite imagery of the plots in 2008-2009
6. Soil Health Restoration The No-Till aims at breaking the cycle of unsustainability by targeting the basic level where it starts. Loss of soil to rain and wind erosion only adds to the panoply of factors that contribute to food insecurity.

The immediate beneficiaries of the No-Till initiative are the farmers, saving on mechanized field preparation be it as fuel cost or as services. Irrigation cost is reduced in terms of water consumption, although the drip system installation costs more. Another gain in food security is the complementarity of the food chain whereby a new method of high harvest (stems are left in the field to form the organic cover) has the advantage of providing nutritious forage for local cattle. Net gain in crop yields was shown in a trial mixture of Barley and Vetch, usually export crops. Feed imports have been a crucial obstacle in the way of self-sufficiency in cattle. The extra yield can be used locally. The cover crops also suffocate weeds, avoiding weed seeds' risk in grazing manure. As the organic cover gets thicker, the need for herbicides will decrease, saving that cost too. The community as a whole stands to gain the most due to environmental benefits and food security improvements. 

1. List of cost savings ($/Dunum) on field operations in No-Till The introduction of No-Till starts with cutting seed preparation costs. Ploughing, sometimes done twice, is eliminated.
2.Tilling process costs more fuel and labor, and is soil erosion risk The traditional tillage consists in plowing at least twice, and requires more fuel and labor. The weight of the machinery causes soil compaction and predisposes the soil to runoff and wind erosion.
3. Yield Comparison in Corn Production between No-Till and Conventional Several trials demonstrated the efficiciency of No-Till Conservation Agriculture. Corn is a cash crop where No-Till proved a better method in terms of yield, in addition to the effect of other CA methods like drip irrigation instead of traditional irrigation methods.
4. Cost comparison in corn No-Till Irrigation cost comparison between different methods in corn production
5. Corn Field No-Till Corn is an irrigated summer crop. Drip irrigation may cost more to install, but it saves on water usage and has a higher yield. When No-Till is used, the difference in irrigation cost is offset by the fuel and labor cost, and the environmental benefits on the long run are set.
6. Fruit Tree Orchard in No-Till Vetch makes a nutrient rich forage, and with proper grazing schedule, to avoid losing the soil cover, orchards can benefit from manure in No-Till grazing. The organic cover, composed of the crop stubble effectively suffocates weeds, and reduces the side effect of grazing which results from weed seeds in manure causing a weed infestation.
7. Increase in No-Till equipment users showing high acceptability The number of farmers adopting the No-Till system was shown by the increase of specialized seeders use. Customized equipment was made available to farmers. This graph shows the rate of use of one of the two machines used in the trials.

Dr. Isam Bashour, Primary Investigator (PI), professor of soil science at AUB, first validated the No-Till results with experiment manager Eng. Nicolas Haddad at AUB’s experimental plots of the Agricultural Research and Education Center (AREC) and the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture’s Lebanese Agricultural Research Institution (LARI) in cooperation with Eng. Chafik Stephan and Eng. Sleiman Skaff. The second step was to train fieldwork directors Eng. Roula Bashour and Eng. Kasem Jouni, by organizing a No-Till workshop. They proceeded to contact and recruit the farmers willing to participate. The funds provided by the German Government’s Association for International Cooperation (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit-GIZ), were administered by Msc. Berthold Hansman, liaison to the related ministries and GIZ. Mr. Stefan Minder, a machinery specialist, helped customize the seeders to local soil. Dr. Kurt Steiner is a consultant to GIZ on the application of No-Till to the area. 

1. Team Chart at The American University of Beirut (AUB) The No-Till initiative in Lebanon started as a Sub-activity of the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD) under the wing of (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit-GIZ). ACSAD, represented by Agronomist Dr. Ayman Oudah, is a part of the Arab League and was sponsored by GIZ in the region to spread No-Till Conservation Agriculture (CA) in the Middle East.
2. Partners Lebanese Agricultural Research Institution (LARI) Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) [Association for International Cooperation] Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD)

The biggest hurdle that faced our initiative was the incredulity of the farmers. The plow had become synonymous with crop success and livelihood. The fragile economic status of Lebanese farmers was further confounded by the lack of subsidies, making the slightest yield increase a worthy venture. The agrochemicals' lure for instance made more sense especially that the first year of No-Till is almost a sure decrease in yield. The Beqaa valley, where most of the experimental plots were posed the added challenge of illicit crops, now illegal, but which had sensitized the farmers further to the economic factor. Any decrease in profitability meant a certain fail. Cost savings in No-Till luckily start early. Field preparation cost, which normally necessitated a payment regardless of crop success, is waived. Another helpful element was the vetch-barley mix; it produced a higher yield from the first year of No-Till. A leguminous crop, vetch turned out to be symbiotic with barley, a grain.

1. Barley (a cash crop) decreases in the first year of No-Till The economic factor is a main obstacle when it comes to convincing farmers into switching to No-Till. The first year of No-Till decreased the barley crop yield, a cash crop, sold as feed, and burdened with the challenge of proving legal crops worth the while instead of traditional illicit crops in this area.
2. Barley yield decrease vs. Vetch increase in CA No-Till (AREC plot) Vetch contrairily to barley, thrived in No-Till Conservation Agriculture (CA) compared to Conventional (CV). Being a leguminous crop, it required different soil conditions to thrive, and proved a symbiotic cash crop along barley.
3. Vetch, a leguminous crop, fixes soil nitrogen (like fertilizers) Vetch yield increased from the first year of No-Till application. It provided an incentive to the farmers because it is a cash crop, sold as feed, and makes a suitable organic cover to the field.
4. Barley Vetch mix showed a clear advantage in No-Till (AREC plot) A mixture of barley and vetch proved symbiotic, and increased both yields, possibly due to the complementarity of these crops. One being a leguminous crop and the other being a grain, their mixture enhanced both crops in a No-Till field. It proved crucial in showing the advantages of No-Till.

Environmental benefits are intrinsic to No-Till. The sustainability of the ecosystem in Conservation Agriculture (CA) starts from its basic resources: water and soil. The physical properties of the surface soil which sustained the earth flora since time immemorial depend on minimal disturbance, biodiversity, and compensating for nutrient and water exhaustion. Soil loss to runoffs and wind is curtailed in No-Till, and the top soil's structure is restored. The water cycle, a common element between the agricultural and human ecosystems is also protected from contamination of reservoirs, which result from agrochemicals washing into watersheds. The organic cover keeps the soil and rain water in place. The restored soil structure, allows water deeper in, due in part to macropores that induce infiltration. These macropores result from earthworms normally partaking in the ecosystem. The saved fuel on tractor plows and decreased pollution from burning stubble are yet another environmental gain.

1. Agroecosystem Foundation: Soil Soil structure restoration in Conservation Agriculture (CA) improves runoff resistance, and erosion levels.
2. May Soil Moisture in a non-irrigated plot The Lebanese Agricultural Research Institution (LARI) participated in the No-Till initiative, with 18 Dunums, mostly non-irrigated rain fed plots. It provided a good indicator of soil moisture difference between conventional and conservation agriculture. This table shows the difference in soil moisture at the beginning of the summer season in May. Higher soil moisture in rain fed fields is an environmental gain because it favors the natural trend in the ecosystem.
3. June Soil Moisture in non-irrigated plot Soil moisture decreases as the summer advances on. No-Till keeps a higher water content. This table shows the increasing difference in soil moisture between conventional and No-Till, the same plot of the May table in the previous picture, it also conveys the importance of a non-competitive crop like vetch whose harvest in May allows for suitable company to fruit trees.
4. The biodiversity, Earthworm count picture The loss of earthworms in excessive tilling may be related to the inability of the creatures to restore the habitat at the same rate of the needed tilling, and possibly the effects of agrochemical use, needed to replenish lost nutrients. Both practices are dispensed with in No-Till Conservation Agriculture.
5. Benefits of No-Till: The biodiversity, Earthworm count comparison Earthworm presence is indicative of soil health. Biodiversity in the surface soil affects yield and nutrient quality. Soil's structure is also a consequence of providing a habitat to many organisms. No-Till restores this lost aspect as shown in the earthworm count difference.
6. Benefits of No-Till: The biodiversity, Earthworm count The Ammik plot Another earthworm count comparison at a less irrigated plot in Ammik, shows that No-Till can make a real difference in terms of soil biodiversity.
7. No-Till combined with Drip Irrigation The organic cover crop keeps moisture longer into the dry season, and the water requirements are less. Allowing the gradual replenishment of aquifers.

The sustainability of the project was achieved by providing the farmers with access to the necessary equipment, as well as cost saving and capital generating methods. Cover crops, once planted, provide a return which offsets the rental of specialized equipment. The Barley-vetch mix, a No-Till initiative innovation, is now the norm in most fields in the area. No-Till seeding machines were customized for Lebanese soils and field type though agreements with service providers. Several extension workshops with farmers were completed between 2007 and 2009 leading to an exponential rise in No-Till adoption. This led the Ministry of Agriculture to dedicate a special committee on CA. Pamphlets, posters, and online video were available to get the message through to both top tiers and grassroots alike. The coordinates and satellite imaging of the No-Till plots were made public, news coverage and magazine interviews in specialized and lay public also covered the initiative.

Conservation Agriculture Fact Sheet Several Fact sheets were designed in collaboration with the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD) on several aspects of Conservation Agriculture (CA)No-Till
Fact Sheet on Cover Crops Cover Crops benefits, and No-Till facts, in another fact sheet designed in collaboration with the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands (ACSAD)
No-Till Poster designed for Outreach purposes Dissemination material, poster containing the main characteristics of No-Till conservation Agriculture.
Poster for Outreach on No-Till in Orchards Conservation Agriculture (CA) in Orchards is particularly important in Lebanon because national produce rely heavily on fruit and olive production.
Specialized No-Till seeders were customized for Lebanese fields The No-Till replaces the plow by a cover crop and adopts a special seeding technique cinsisting of cutting a narrow grove in the soil, through the cover crop, enough to insert the crop seeds and the fertilizer
Conservation Agriculture in Lebanon Video The video is an Online resource to Specialists and Lay public on the different aspects of No-Till Conservation Agriculture and the different applications and benefits of the new system. The main idea being "Conservation Agriculture in Lebanon: a System to promote Sustainable Crop Production Intensification."

Two innovative approaches were adopted in disseminating this initiative: one was to share the planting costs with farmers. The second was to spread the message at the national level, through the Ministry of Agriculture’s outreach program. Seeding alone cost 12$/Dunum, in addition to another 12$/Dunum for plowing. Willing farmers were offered 6$/Dunum on planting. The pitch was that the yield will at least equal the traditional methods, so the savings on plowing are a sure bet (total savings of 18$/Dunum). The discount on seeding was devised as a direct transaction between farmer and service provider, avoiding the lengthy go-between and refund process.  The Ministry of Agriculture, based on the experimental results and the high rate of No-Till adoption, formed a commission on Conservation Agriculture (CA) and issued a decree facilitating the import of specialized machinery, as well as devoting 28 outreach sites (3 farmers/site) throughout the country, to spread the No-Till technique.

1. Ministry of Agriculture's Decree to form a CA Committee The Minister of Agriculture formed a technical committee from specialized and technical experts in Lebanon to supervise the promotion of Conservation Agriculture (CA) in Lebanon. The members of the committee include the Ministry of Agriculture's Extension Department staff, AUB and LARI technical staff and Team Leader of the CA program, in addition to Lebanese University Professors and progressive farmers.
2. Pamphlet on No-Till in Arabic for Dissemination purposes Pamphlet designed for farmer outreach and extension, explaining quick points on Conservation Agriculture (CA)
3. Article on No-Till initiative in Lebanon in KUNA Another article in the Kwaiti News Agency on the NoTill initiative in Lebanon
4. No-Till Article In AUB News Article on the No-Till Initiative in AUB Media!
News Segment on the No-Till Initiative Television is the best method to reach farmers, especially on the national News as this segment did.
../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf Names of Farmers Adopting No-Till and Coordinates of Plots. This list contains all the plots that have switched to No-Till Conservation Agriculture. Coordinates of the plots, previous crop, and type of equipment is also listed. It provides a valuable proof of the acceptance of this new technique, and allows a continued followup and cooperation with the farmers.
../file-system/small/ppt ../file-system/small/ppt Power Point Presentation in Arabic as part of Dissemination program The Presentation is given to farmers during workshops, by Dr. Isam Bashour, PI in the No-Till initiative.