Back to Basics for Lebanon’s Farmers
By: Rameh Hamieh
Published Saturday, April 28, 2012
Newly-introduced farming techniques in Lebanon, based on maintaining the soil's natural capacity for self-recuperation, promise lower costs and higher yields as well as a positive environmental impact.
Lebanese agriculture has suffered a severe decline and is in dire need of reinvigoration.
The answer could lie with farming techniques currently being promoted by the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI), which if widely adopted have the potential to transform the country’s ailing agricultural sector by reducing farming costs, improving crop yields, and providing major environmental benefits in the process.
Known as Conservation Agriculture (CA), or no-tillage farming, this approach was applied by LARI on experimental plots at its main station in Tal Amara in the Bekaa valley last year, as a prelude to extending it to farmers.
It “represents a great leap forward in terms of agricultural techniques” says Chafic Stephane, the head of LARI’s crop production department. It enables farmers to save on labor, fuel, water, and fertilizer, improve the quality of their soil, and improve their earnings.
CA entails, among other things, refraining from burning crop residues or ploughing the soil after a harvest. Instead, the residue is retained as an organic cover for the soil, protecting it from both evaporation and erosion, and retaining its moisture. It also feeds organisms such as worms, which improve both the soil’s structure and nutrients, and prevents weed growth. During the next planting, seeds are sown directly into the soil with no tillage, and a crop rotation system is used to avoid pests and diseases.
LARI began demonstrating this technique to farmers at the start of this year, after its test plantings in a number of plots in the Bekaa valley proved successful, especially for rain-watered winter wheat and barley. This encouraged farmers in several nearby areas to adopt it for the current season. Stephane hopes many more will follow once they see the results for themselves.
While new to Lebanon, CA is a long-established method that is currently practiced on about 98 million hectares of farmland around the world, and even in parts of neighboring states such as Syria and Jordan, Stephane points out.
Studies of the economic impact of the technique show that farmers would save both time and money by employing it. Taking the higher expected yields into account due to the improved soil quality and moisture, it has been estimated that the cost of producing crops by CA in Lebanon could be as much as US$150 per hectare less than when using conventional farming methods.
Stephane notes that CA does not completely eliminate the need for chemical inputs. Herbicides, in particular, may still be required, especially during the period of transition from conventional farming before a new balance has been achieved in the density of the plant cover.
However, because of the importance of maintaining the organic balance of the soil, any chemical inputs in CA, including fertilizers, are applied carefully and very sparingly in accordance with strict criteria. Moreover, any need for them becomes progressively reduced and eventually possibly eliminated with the passage of time, as farmers perfect their use of crop rotation and the organic soil cover used in this new method to combat weeds and plant diseases.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.