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 - LebanonLead 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 - LebanonInitiative 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.
ARAB CENTER FOR THE STUDIES OF ARID ZONEES AND DRY LANDS (ACSAD) - SyriaInitiative 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 - GermanyInitiative 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: http://www.giz.de/en/aboutgiz/profile.html
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.