Regenerative Agriculture for Lebanon
In 1975, a civil war raged in Lebanon for fifteen years. It was followed by thirty years of a corrupt and ineffectual government, which lead to an economic crisis that exploded on October 17th, 2019 in a revolution (Thawra) demanding reforms. The currency devalued by 85%, inflation rose by 150% setting the stage for a severe food crisis, with no reforms in sight. Three months later, the shroud of COVID-19 casts its shadow and a famine was predicted. A country unable to feed itself reliant on food imports and an unsustainable
agricultural system, created a humanitarian crisis. Six months later, on August 4, a blast at the port of Beirut destroyed three neighborhoods, with sound waves heard across the Mediterranean Sea as far as Cyprus.
It is important to note that beneath the layers of Beirut lies thousands of years of ancient history. Phoenician, Egyptian, Assyrians, Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Medieval Muslims, Christian Crusaders, Ottoman ruled the land in succession, until the modern colonial occupation and finally, Lebanon’s independence in 1920.
On the commemorative stelae of
Nahr-el-Kalb, carved into a limestone
face North of Beirut, you will find ancient
hieroglyphics of conquering armies,
soldiers marking their passage,
from Ramses II, to Roman and Greek
inscriptions, to the first colonial memorial
to Napoleon III, all the way to the celebration
of the independence of Lebanon, in 1946.
Today's inscriptions have morphed into graffiti: messages of political discontent alongside a rising Phoenix, mythological symbol of rebirth.
In less than a year, Lebanon sustained three disasters. To say that the Lebanese have endured pain and suffering would be an understatement. Months later, Beirut braced itself for a mental health crisis from the trauma sustained by the victims of the explosion. And yet, out of rubble, a movement for change has rippled through the country, like the blast’s powerful shock waves which shattered windows and destroyed houses for miles. Despite deeply embedded sectarian divisions, a sense of unity and a spirit of regeneration rises in opposition. “Cities are not made of buildings; they are made of people”, said Kamal Mouzawak, founder of Souk el Tayeb.
Sadly, six months after the blast there is still no justice in sight for the culprits of the August 4th blast HumanRightsWatch and Lebanon, once again, enters its second week of protest "in light of increased power cuts and the local currency's unprecedented decline."TheDailyStar
Despite mounting crises, environmental grassroots initiatives are well on their way to forge ahead–collaborating together to create a network of positive change for the health of the people and the land.
Stores of ammonium nitrates ignored by government officials were the cause of the catastrophic explosion. Ammonium nitrate is used for the production of explosions and fertilizers, the Nitrogen found in the common NPK agricultural formula. It is hard to ignore the crude irony that Lebanon’s food crisis hinges on a broken agricultural system caused by degraded soils, which are depleted in part by the overuse of fertilizers. These pervasive practices are degenerating the world’s soils at an alarming rate and threaten the carrying capacity of the land, of our global food supply.
How does Lebanon’s history relate to regenerative agriculture? When we speak of transitioning away from a chemical mechanized agriculture, we can only do so by mimicking nature’s complex network of interdependence between organisms working together to benefit the whole. Stressed environments engender competition, non-stressed environments encourage cooperation, this is true for soils as it is for societies.
“Organisms sometimes benefit each other, too, and according to the Stress Gradient Hypothesis, their “positive interactions” become measurably more influential when ecosystems become threatened by conditions such as drought.” (Brown University)
The spirit of cooperation by the Lebanese in the face of adversity, mirrors that of the soil microbiome. Billions of organisms work together to their mutual benefit. Feed you soils, feed the people, help them prosper, and perhaps a broken system can be mended.
A paradigm shift:
How do we trigger a paradigm shift? Sadly, it may take a global pandemic to make us heed past warnings to re-examine our lives and purpose. The UN’s prediction of 60 harvest left worldwide, ignored by most governing bureaucracies, has moved many to action. Can a cataclysmic event like the August 4th explosion trigger a shift? No sooner had the dust settled, out of the ashes and the rubble, citizens took to the street to clean up their city. The spirit of cooperation, the instinct to repair, to rebuild had begun.
Degenerative system can be regenerated, for even deep within barren soils, lay dormant seeds and the promise of fertility. If we transition our agriculture to regenerative practices, we can grow abundant nutrient rich crops, essential to human health and to the health of ecosystems we depend on for our survival. We can feed humanity.
Well managed soils produce crops able to resist pests and disease. Consume these crops and that resilience gets transferred to us, to our immune system. Chronic diseases have been on the rise and they parallel the introduction of a synthetic mechanized agriculture. Conventional agriculture and tilling practices have stripped the soil’s complex world of fungi and microorganism, which partner with plants to supply them with water and the essential micronutrients plants need. These micronutrients are essential to our guts and to our immune system. With nutrient density of the food we are producing is a fraction of what it was 70 years ago, the future of our health is at stake. No wonder COVID-19 has had such a virulently effect on the world’s population.
Soil degradation is endemic across the planet. Nature is screaming at us to pay attention, to change our course. Step into a forest and deep beneath your feet, all the way up to the topmost leaf of the tree canopy, lies an invisible thread.
We are embedded in that thread.
Bob Rodale, from the Rodale Institute, coined the term ‘regenerative organic (Rodale Institute) describing, unlike a sustainable model, an expandable one which grows and feed itself. In a recent interview, Allan Savory reminds us that “at the same time, Bill Mollison was developing Permaculture, Wes Jackson was developing perennial grains, Fukuoka was promoting his work, Bob Rodale was focused on organic crop production and of course we had the great minds whose shoulders we were standing on – Albert Howard amongst them.”(Making Permaculture Stronger) Allan Savory is the founder of the Savory Institute, whose mission is “to facilitate the large-scale regeneration of the world’s grassland and the livelihoods of their inhabitants, through holistic management.” (Savory Institute)
Transitioning to regenerative grazing practices has transformed deserted landscapes into lush prairies. Large scale regenerative farms across the world have been able to rebuild their soil, increase yields, decrease input, become prosperous, while cleaning up and reinvigorating ecosystems.
These practices are not new. Agroforestry, crop rotation, multi species inter-cropping, polyculture have been practiced around the world for centuries and these practices form the basis of regenerative agriculture and are key to our planet’s biodiversity’s survival. “There are 370 million indigenous peoples in the world occupying or using up to 22% of the global land area.” (Resilience)
Prehistoric humans impacted tree island lifecycles in Florida’s Everglades.(Science Daily) As far as 10,000 years ago, indigenous people cultivated and planted trees, changing entire regions of the Amazon forest. (The Atlantic) North America was a big garden, managed by American Indians with fire ecology and intentional tree plantings. Their traditional ecological knowledge of botany and science was passed down as stories by their ancestors.
We now have the shared knowledge and skills of regenerative educators, farmers and ranchers, as well as the latest in soil and plant science to help us repair a broken system. It requires a collective acknowledgment and a willingness to embrace new knowledge and practices.
Regeneration is up to us.
Additional links of interest:
· Rodale Institute: The Power of the Plate
· The cultural politics of water in the Everglades and beyond.