This article is part of an extensive storytelling series delving into Lebanon’s gems, best practices, successes, and unique features with a special focus on environmental issues and protection. The series strives to portray Lebanon through the lens of its places and people.

The concept of agroecology is gaining increasing interest globally, not only because it underpins sustainable agriculture, but also because it addresses the need for socially equitable food systems. The holistic approach promoted by agroecology combines ecological, socio-cultural, technological, economic and political dimensions of food systems, to design and manage sustainable production and consumption.

In countries like Lebanon, where the agriculture sector plays a major role in the economy, agroecology gains greater relevance. In its 2020 report, the International Labour Organization (ILO) states that agriculture is the primary source of income and employment, with the agro-food industry being one of the most important sectors in the country. However, the economic crisis that began in 2019 has heavily impacted the sector, forcing farmers to change their production methods.

An analysis of the agroecology sector in Lebanon, conducted by the social and environmental justice association Jibal, shows how food and farming traditions have shifted dramatically, becoming less sustainable for both people and the environment.

View of Buzuruna Juzuruna (Our seeds, our roots) premises

According to the report, in the past, agricultural practices were adapted to the availability of natural resources, but nowadays market demand drives production.

The extensive use of imported pesticides and fertilizers by commercial farms impacts smaller producers who cannot compete. Large landowners and agro-food businesses dominate the Lebanese market, making agricultural land increasingly profitable for investors. “This dynamic excludes farmers from decision-making processes, negatively affecting food security and sovereignty” as stated in the report.

Despite the sector’s difficulties, some small farms and NGOs pursue an agro-ecological mission. One example is the Buzuruna Juzuruna (Our seeds, our roots) association, based in Saadnayel, in the Beqaa valley. Founded in 2016, Buzuruna Juzuruna applies agroecological principles across a wide range of activities.

The core mission of the association revolves around the conservation of endemic seeds. “Most of the seeds we brought back originally come from the region, but we only found them in seed banks in Europe,” explained Serge Harfouche, one of the founders of the association.

With its over one-thousand seed library, Buzuruna Juzuruna collaborates with informal seed protection movements worldwide, exchanging resources and knowledge. The founders are also establishing a local seed production network, cooperating with other Lebanese farmers and similar initiatives.

On two hectares of land, Buzuruna Juzuruna strives to close the cycle of production and consumption. The farm collects manure from local breeders and produces approximately 30 tons of compost per month. “We have recently installed a biogas machine that works with manure and kitchen leftovers,” Harfouche said, anticipating their first gas production.

The farm limits resource consumption with an efficient irrigation system and relies on rainfall for 95% of its wheat production.

Harfouche emphasized that diversified production reduces costs and increases resilience to climate change, creating a robust system over time based on diversity, good soil quality, and maintenance.

Another agroecology training and educational hub is Eco Khalleh, an eco-village in Baakline, Chouf. “Our motto is: Back to the land!” exclaimed Shady Hamadeh, founder of Eco Khalleh, Professor of Agriculture, and Director of the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU) at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

Despite the current peak in popularity, agroecology is not a recent practice. “Traditional agriculture is agroecology indeed,” Hamadeh said.

Founded in 2018, Eco Khalleh comprises various units: crop and animal welfare, composting and vermiculture, and alternative energy and eco-processing. The facility also hosts tourists interested in rural activities.

“It’s an eco-farm. People live there, growing food for themselves and selling organic products,” Hamadeh explained on the phone. The farm also provides trainings for technical students, food producers, and farmers.

Despite agro-ecology’s growing popularity, challenges remain. “If the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis somehow helped the agroecological sector, allowing the creation of a new movement, it is still fragmented. “The presence of big companies and the absence of government’s support make the expansion of agroecological practices difficult” said Hamadeh.

Both Buzuruna Juzuruna and Eco Khalle are committed to exchanging knowledge and best practices on agroecology. Buzuruna Juzuruna also connects local NGOs, farmers and other stakeholders to create an agroecology coalition.

“There are many small projects all over the country, and our idea is to grow slowly and silently until they [policymakers] have no choice but to talk to us,” concluded Harfouche.

Debora Vezzoli

Seeds store of Buzuruna Juzuruna association