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Grassroots Food Security Initiative Fosters Agricultural Self-Sufficiency

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F
OOD SECURITY‘s article on this new trend is merely a description of the rediscovery of oneself’s subsistence way of living one’s life in the large but empty regions of the MENA. It addresses the particulars of how the Lebanese grassroots food security initiative fosters Agricultural self-sufficiency as if by chance. Here it is anyway.

Lebanese Grassroots Food Security Initiative Fosters Agricultural Self-Sufficiency

A grassroots national food security initiative is working to revive the Lebanese food system through projects that foster agricultural self-sufficiency.

Ardi Ardak—which translates to my land, your land in Arabic—launched in 2019 to rehabilitate abandoned arable lands and decrease Lebanon’s dependence on food imports. The initiative is a collaboration among The Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU) at the American University of Beirut (AUB), the Lebanese League for Women in Business (LLWB), the Food Heritage Foundation, and Zico House.

“The idea back then was to create a mechanism that would link local production to the markets,” Nicolas Gholam, founding coordinator of Ardi Ardak, tells Food Tank. Working with rural, small-scale producers under an agroecological, climate-smart approach is central to Ardi Ardak’s mission, explains Gholam.

The food security initiative formed as “a response to the deteriorating socioeconomic situation in Lebanon,” says Gholam.

In October 2019, protests ignited against government corruption and austerity measures. Prior to the 17 October Revolution, Lebanon faced a massive economic downturn. By the end of 2019, Lebanon’s public debt ballooned to the world’s third highest, estimated at 171 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2020, with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy worsened. During the first six months of 2021, the inflation rate averaged 131 percent, disproportionately affecting the poor and middle class. 

According to a recent report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the U.N. Economic and Social Commission For Western Asia (ESCWA), the loss of purchasing power renders 40 percent of Lebanese households unable to satisfy their basic food necessities.

In 2020, the explosion in Beirut’s port—which handled 70 percent of food imports in a country importing about 85 percent of its food—devastated Lebanon’s food supply. The blast destroyed a major grain silo and damaged 120,000 metric tons of staple food stocks stored at the port, including wheat, soy and other beans. Food prices skyrocketed.

Ardi Ardak emerged in response to these events. The initiative links investors and large landowners with small farmers and rural women, and rehabilitates abandoned arable lands. Almost 89 percent of Lebanon’s population lives in urban areas, while agricultural land comprises 64 percent of the country. According to Gholam, “Those people who came from rural areas still have lands they were not looking after.”

According to a 2020 report from the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture, the agrifood sector remains a low priority from the government. This has resulted in limited public investment in infrastructure and research, and poor organization of the agrifood value chain.

To address these challenges, Ardi Ardak first conducts assessments on the agricultural viability of abandoned lands. The initiative aims to act as a hub connecting large landowners who have left their lands—whether they are “bankers, or restaurateurs, or anything,” says Gholam—with farmers still living in rural areas. Then, the initiative provides technical guidance to promote sustainable agricultural practices for farmers willing to work the land.

“In the first year, we reached 180 assessments, and it’s been steady ever since,” Gholam tells Food Tank.

Ardi Ardak believes it is also important to provide market access and adequate infrastructure for rural small-scale producers. The initiative aims to ease the burden of managing every single aspect of the value chain for smallholder farmers, because, Gholam says, “not all smallholders are entrepreneurs.” Through partnerships with humanitarian organizations and private sector start-ups, the initiative works to create an environment where farmers can focus on production.

Gholam notes that, on average, rural small-scale producers spend two and a half days per week focused on delivery or selling activities. “This time should be spent in the workshop, or on the farm, or testing products,” Gholam says.

The marketing channel Soul aal Souk helps to achieve this goal. A monthly farmers market established in partnership with AUB, it fosters linkages between urban residents and rural producers, offering city residents access to healthy, traditional food. Ardi Ardak supports food trails promoting smallholder Lebanese producers through rural tourism. To further cultivate market access, Ardi Ardak also collaborates with Food and Roots, a company that gathers, packages and sells traditional and innovative products from rural areas.

In the future, the grassroots initiative hopes to complete two projects to transform landscapes, livelihoods, and the Lebanese food system. Ardi Ardak is partnering with a local municipality in the Beqaa Valley to implement an agroforestry model on a large swath of land. They hope to help residents sustain the local forest, work the agricultural land, and enjoy a public park. In Tripoli, Afif Wehbe, an Agricultural Engineer at AUB, says Ardi Ardak is in the early stages of plans to build a small urban garden divided among community members, which would include a section for a farmers market. 

“We have potential, but we need the infrastructure,” Gholam tells Food Tank. “We’ll start by giving people an option they did not know existed beforehand, and that’s a good enough thing to start with.”

Photo courtesy of Ardi Ardak

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Agricultural Development in Morocco Flourishes

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Today a Borgen snapshot article on how agricultural Development in Morocco Flourishes by Andre Silva would be a good example to follow by its neighbouring countries.

The above image is for illustration and is of Borgen Magazine WORLD NEWS

Photo: The High Atlas Foundation

WESTBURY, New York — The High Atlas Foundation is helping Morocco’s local communities determine how they choose to develop their land and grow out of poverty sustainably. Like those in the northern Atlas Mountains, Morocco’s most vulnerable communities have long suffered from water scarcity, shaky access to land and unregulated grazing rights. These hardships make it difficult for many individual planters to harvest profitable yields on their produce and further strain their labors. Also, their reliance on traditional and overplanted crops like barley, corn and dates deliver low profits. Additionally, they exasperate a low diversity of fruits and vegetables in the poorest of the nation’s regions. While Morocco’s red fruit production saw an increase of 84% last year, many of the nation’s poorest farmers were not included in the agricultural boom. Yet, one organization is working to reverse this in a new sustainable development model, improving agricultural development in Morocco.

The High Atlas Foundation

Peace Corps volunteers who served in Morocco founded The High Atlas Foundation in 2000. They committed themselves to sustainable development through several human development initiatives. These included sustainable agriculture, education, health and women’s empowerment. Working with local and international institutions, the High Atlas Foundation works to facilitate development through participatory planning.

The Borgen Project spoke with Dr. Yossef Ben Meir, The High Atlas Foundation’s Founder and President, in an interview to learn more about the High Atlas Foundation’s approach to sustainable development and advocacy. “I’m a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Morocco in the early 90s, and others, having gone through that two-year experience, were moved in terms of the severe life challenges of particularly rural communities,” said Dr. Yossef Ben Meir. “A number of us founders served in mountainous areas. I served in the south side of the High Atlas region.”

Agricultural Land Struggles

Unfortunately, 70% of agricultural land only generates 10 to 15% of agricultural revenue in rural regions, and 80% of arable lands are located in arid or semi-arid areas. Still, only 15 percent of the country’s lands are irrigated. Ben Meir says the dependence on the traditional subsistence approach to growing barley and corn keeps people down. He says the potential for waterborne diseases, high unemployment and a lack of access to basic government services is a barrier for rural families. The transition from barley and corn to more lucrative fruit trees and medicinal plants may have challenges.

“80% of rural incomes comes from agriculture,” said Ben Meir. “Most people who experience poverty in Morocco are in rural places and overcoming this dependency on or generational reliance on barley and corn. It’s one of many factors that have to be addressed in the agricultural value chain, but one of them is the generation of fruit trees so that farmers and farming families can make that transition.”

Steps Taken

Most recently, the foundation is taking several steps to foster deals to reallocate government land and organize a community-based approach to fruit tree planting, aiding agricultural development in Morocco. Today Ben Meir and his teams help manage 13 tree nurseries that care for over 1.6 million saplings. He says a modest investment into the way planters harvest their crops can profoundly impact people’s lives. It allows more locals to better participate in the local economy.

“It’s also the exposure that we had to community planning,” said Ben Meir. “The beneficiaries of the projects when they determine the project design and form and location and what it is and how it will be managed and evaluated when they’re in control of it, it has a longer life and sustainability if you will.”

Ben Meir says these experiences embody the foundation’s original mission to facilitate participatory community planning towards development initiatives. In this sense, local communities play a crucial role when creating and implementing a project. The foundation uses a process called Imagine, a four-day or 32-hour program of personal and group introspection. Afterward, multiple sessions focus on the community planning of projects. They then implement development initiatives requiring accelerating revenue streams and beneficiaries. For example, the monitoring and certifying of trees to generate carbon offset credits. They can commercialize and reinvest in their projects. Teams like these allow the foundation to generate enough revenue to be financially stable alongside other advocacy efforts.

Sustainable Projects

The High Atlas Foundation understands the importance of creating sustainability projects. For instance, technology like renewable solar pumps helps power the 13 nurseries, facilitating a zero-waste version of sustainability. Ben Meir says the foundation takes zero waste extremely seriously, not only in terms of energy but also in biomass. For example, something as simple as renewing wasted walnut shells could further progress the foundation’s goal.

Recently The High Atlas Foundation implemented the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Program in Morocco. The program helps create opportunities for cooperatives along the agricultural value-chain by using local and U.S. experts, improving agricultural development in Morocco. Additionally, it created the Religious and Ethnic Communities project, an interfaith community organization that shares stories and narratives that capture the human experience of intercultural exchange and interfaith relationships. Ben Meir says these experiences are an inescapable aspect of Moroccan history and life. Alongside their development projects, they can pave the way for interfaith and intercultural narratives to flourish like their trees.


Africa’s “Green Wall” also makes economic sense

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It is about Africa’s “Green Wall” that not only makes economic sense but is also an important contribution to combating climate change.

However, a study by the University of Bonn shows that this does not apply to all regions in the Sahel.

Fifteen years ago, the African Union decided on an ambitious program: degraded ecosystems in parts of the Sahel are to be successively restored in order to secure food for the people living there and to protect the soil against further degradation. At the same time, the African Great Green Wall is an important contribution to combating climate change. A study by the University of Bonn and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) now shows that it also makes economic sense – although not everywhere in the Sahel. The analysis also shows how much violent conflicts threaten the success of the program. It has now been published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

The Sahel extends south of the Sahara from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east of Africa. Vast areas of the formerly fertile region are now virtually uncultivated. Reasons are droughts, poor agricultural cultivation methods as well as overuse due to the growing demand for food and firewood.

The “Great Green Wall” initiative aims to compensate for and reverse this loss through mass planting of native trees and grasses. 100 million hectares of land are to be restored in this way. So far, however, this ambitious goal is very far from being achieved – partly because of a lack of financial resources.

However, this could change in the future: Earlier this year, various donor countries pledged nearly $15 billion to the project at the One Planet Summit for Biodiversity. “In order to use these funds efficiently, we now have to ask ourselves where and for which measures they should be used most sensibly,” emphasizes Dr. Alisher Mirzabaev of the Center for Development Research (ZEF) at the University of Bonn.

Every dollar invested yields a 20-cent of net returns

The agricultural economist has led a study that provides an answer. The researchers divided the Sahel region into 40 million plots of 25 hectares each. For each of these, they then analyzed which land restoration measures would be possible and how much they would cost. They compared this calculation with the economic benefits that could be achieved.

“On the one hand, these include the so-called provisioning services,” explains Mirzabaev: “These are the things that are produced by the ecosystems: Food and drinking water, raw materials such as wood or medicinal plants.” There are also other effects, such as a better climate, less wind erosion or pollinators services, which in turn increase the farmers’ crop yields. They, too, can have a price tag attached to them today.

The results show that building the “Green Wall” is also economically worthwhile. But how much depends on a number of factors. As a rule, reforestation would be the most advantageous economically and ecologically. But it takes decades for a few hundred seedlings to grow into a forest. The investment therefore only bears fruit in the very long term.

The situation is different when degraded areas are converted into farmland. “Ideally, the first harvest is then possible after just one year,” says Mirzabaev. Cropland restoration can thus pay for itself comparatively quickly, with many poor smallholder farmers also preferring quick returns from their restoration activities. However, the profits that can be achieved as a result are significantly lower, as are the environmental effects.

“In our analysis, we work with different scenarios, some of which are aimed more at short-term benefits, while others are more long-term,” explains the agricultural economist, who is a member of the Transdisciplinary Research Area “Sustainable Futures” at the University of Bonn. The so-called baseline scenario, for example, includes a mixture of both short-term and long-term returns. In it, every dollar spent yields an average net return of 20 cents.

Half of the profitable regions are too uncertain for action

However, there are huge regional variations in this. The most positive economic balance is for parts of Nigeria, Eritrea and Ethiopia. This is where the investment in the “Green Wall” is most worthwhile. To finance all the proposed measures in this scenario, a sum of 44 billion U.S. dollars would be needed. This would allow 28 million hectares of land to be restored.

However, the analysis also shows that this will probably only work in theory. The reason is that, due to violent conflicts, many of the regions where it would make sense to build the Green Wall are simply too unsafe for such measures. “If we take out these areas, we are left with just 14 million hectares,” Mirzabaev points out. “This shows how much such disputes not only cause direct human suffering, but also prevent positive development of the affected regions.”

Funding:
The study was funded by the European Union.

Publication: A. Mirzabaev, M. Sacande, F. Motlagh, A. Shyrokaya und A. Martucci: Economic efficiency and targeting of the African Great Green Wall; Nature Sustainability; DOI: 10.1038/s41893-021-00801-8
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-021-00801-8 Preparation for restoration – of the “Green Wall” in Burkina Faso© FAO, http://www.fao.org/in-action/action-against-desertification/en

A Sahel village – near Timbuktu on the edge of the “Green Wall”© FAO,
http://www.fao.org/in-action/action-against-desertification/en

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Climate change threatens jobs of Tunisia’s wetland farmers

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MEMO Published this article informing on Tunisia has been affected by Climate change and how it threatens the jobs of Tunisia’s wetland farmers.

The above image is for illustration and is of the UN News.

Climate change threatens jobs of Tunisia’s wetland farmers

A picture shows a view of planted agricultural land near the sea in Tunisia on 31 March 2021 [FETHI BELAID/AFP/ Getty Images]

Reuters: Dotted among wetlands on Tunisia’s coast, a patchwork of tiny man-made islands stretches out towards the Mediterranean.

Ploughed in neat furrows and shored up by sandbanks inside a lagoon, they are home to a centuries-old system of agriculture that climate change threatens to wipe out.

Ali Garsi has farmed a 0.8 hectare (two acre) plot in the Ghar El Melh wetlands, which lie some 60 kilometres north of Tunis, for 20 years. Relying on a layer of freshwater that feeds his plants above a saltwater base, he grows mainly potatoes, onions and tomatoes.

But with sea levels and temperatures in the area rising and rainfall below average, his yields are dropping.

“There is a shortage in the quantities of rain, and this definitely negatively affected the quantity of our product in general,” the 61-year-old retired teacher told Reuters as he looked across the lagoon plots, collectively known as al-Qataya.

“Production is weaker, compared to years when the quantities of rain were respectable.”

Invented in the 17th century by North Africa’s Andalusian diaspora, the Ramli – meaning “sandy” in Arabic – agricultural system used by Garsi irrigates crops entrenched in a mix of sand and manure via their roots.

Its water-shortage resistant methods gained global renown last year when the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation added Ghar El Melh to its list of agricultural heritage systems of global importance.

But the system’s reliance on a fragile balance of rain and sea tides means it faces unprecedented challenges.

“Al-Qataya has a traditional agricultural system that is now threatened with extinction due to several climate factors,” said environmental engineer Hamid Hached.

In August, a heat spike across northern Tunisia brought temperatures of 49 degrees Celsius, the highest since 1982, and the northern provinces, including Bizerte where Ghar El Melh is situated, witnessed their hottest summer ever.

Meanwhile, rainfall fell to below two thirds of its long-term average, a shortfall that climate modelling suggests could become permanent, Hached said.

Globally rising sea levels as temperatures increase pose a further threat to Ghar El Melh.

“The sea water level in the Mediterranean Sea will rise and… seep towards the areas surrounding Al-Qataya, which can … salinise the soil,” he said. “This could end this unique system.”

Read more:

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Harvesting sustainable bioresearch

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Qatar University investing in Harvesting sustainable bioresearch demonstrate that it pays to go down this road regardless of the country’s physical attributes to its contrary. So here is how it is being implemented.

Harvesting sustainable bioresearch

The innovative cultivation of important crops has reduced the impact of food production on Qatar’s environment

It’s essential to Qatar University’s vision and mission to be a catalyst for sustainable development, helping the country to diversify away from its roots in oil and gas. Research into bioresources plays an important role in achieving that goal, whether that is by investigating alternative sources of fuel or ensuring that the population has a secure supply of food in the long term. 

The university’s Centre of Sustainable Development aims to ensure that Qatar makes the most of its natural resources in a sustainable way. The centre performs research into food and water security, renewable energy, the governance of natural resources and waste management. Because of water scarcity, limited arable land and high temperatures in Qatar, securing a sustainable food production pipeline is challenging. Consequently, this is a high priority for the centre, and a new plant is currently under construction in the north of Qatar for the production of food, fuel and health products.

One of the most important research initiatives is the Algal Technologies Programme (ATP), led by Dr Hareb Mohammad Al-Jabri and his team. Qatar’s environment offers a unique biodiversity in terms of the presence of microalgae and cyanobacteria – a type of microorganism that thrives on sunlight and CO2 – and ideal year-round growing conditions due to its hot and dry climate. “We want to take advantage of the high temperatures, abundant sunlight and saline water we have here in Qatar,” explains Dr Al-Jabri. “All these conditions make cultivation of traditional crops challenging, but microalgae can thrive under our conditions, and can be a great alternative source of food and feed.”

The ATP covers five key areas of research: culture collection (comparing different algae species); biofuel (converting biomass into carbon neutral fuel); environment and bioremediation (carbon capture and wastewater treatment); health (utilisation of algae in health foods or supplements) and animal feed. Microalgae are being investigated as a source of feed for both poultry and fish (aquaculture), because researchers believe that they have the nutritional potential to provide necessary proteins, lipids and carbohydrates without requiring arable land or fresh water to grow.

In 2011, researchers at the centre began investigating different strains of algae from the local environment – their growth patterns, biochemical composition, the types of conditions in which they grew best. The ATP now houses more than 200 different algae isolates sourced from the Qatar environment in its Culture Collection for Cyanobacteria and Microalgae. Among its discoveries are “super strains” that contain higher levels of protein, fatty acids and carbohydrates, as well as secondary metabolites such as omega-3 fatty acids, beta carotene, and phycobiliproteins, which carry a higher market value. “To grow these, we need lots of sun, seawater, carbon dioxide, and any type of land,” he adds. “We can also recycle certain compounds from industry, such as urea, which is typically regarded as waste and so can’t be sold on, but can be used as a source of nitrogen.” Urea can be supplemented to algae as a fertiliser, and is necessary to support its growth.

“This type of project is good for the diversification of the economy in Qatar because it’s not dependent on oil and gas, and mitigates carbon emissions,” says Dr Al-Jabri. “We help the environment by recycling damaging chemicals, and we’re using seawater so as not to impact the scarce fresh water supply.” The department has previously looked at producing affordable and sustainable biofuels that could be used by the airline industry to reduce its carbon footprint – however this became less feasible economically because of a fall in oil prices. “Our research outcomes were good, so when this does become feasible again, we’ll be ready. But at the moment our focus is on food security for Qatar rather than fuel,” he adds.

Qatar University has been working with students and research departments in universities globally, including Murdoch University in Australia, the University of Liege in Belgium, University of Nantes in France, Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and the University of Texas in Austin. International students can visit the campus in Doha to get to know the desert environment at first hand. “Students are the main wheel of our research, they make it active,” says Dr Al-Jabri, “this is so important for knowledge exchange and to spread our networks and collaborate on different projects.”

The university has also garnered financial and research support from both the private and public sector in Qatar. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has helped the centre fund a number of start-ups focused on algae-based products, and there are numerous corporate partnerships with companies such as Total and Qatar Airways. Total is working with the university on research into biofuel made from microalgae as well as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS). Such partnerships are not only financial sponsorships, but also explore intellectual property sharing and will help the corporations involved reach their own sustainability goals. 

Another key partnership is with Japanese company Chiyoda, a specialist in agricultural and vegetable production technology. Working with Chiyoda, the university has designed and constructed a designated vegetable factory plant located on campus. The aim is to build a facility where the conditions can be controlled easily with LED lighting so that leafy crops can be produced at any time of the year. This means that the harsh desert environment in Qatar does not have to influence production, so there is continuity and consistency in how the products are grown.

The plan for the ATP is to scale up the production of microalgae and cyanobacteria as part of the university’s forward strategy. This year the cultivation will increase to two hectares of land, and by 2025 it’s hoped that production will cover as much as 100 hectares. “We have a concrete strategy to start producing this on a commercial scale, and we’re moving in the right direction,” says Dr Al-Jabri. Together with a new food production plant in the north of Qatar, this research has the potential to harness sustainable food production for years to come.

For more information, please visit www.qu.edu.qa.

Original Story by the Times Higher Education.