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The Baalbeck Community Farm in Lebanon is a unique hub helping farmers of the Baalbeck-Hermel area at many levels and providing them with the needed support to ameliorate the quality and quantity of their produce.

At the Baalbeck Community Farm, the farmers are provided with in-kind support that includes seedlings growth and taking care of their plants at the nursery and provision of fertilizers and pesticides, only if needed and distributed based on the soil tests that are done beforehand by specialized agricultural engineers. The engineers work closely and directly with farmers with consultations and field visits to check on the progress of the cultivated crops, encouraging farmers to only use the needed amount of fertilizers and pesticides, thus promoting low chemical agriculture. Farmers are also provided with trainings on several topics such as integrated pest management, good agricultural practice, pruning, irrigation, and much more. Demo plots were also established at the Community Farm to showcase new cultivations and techniques to the farmers.

At the core of the Community Farm action is also the introduction of new agricultural technologies in their area of intervention, where the farmers are still using old methods that they inherited from their predecessors. Thanks to the partnership with the Oxfam-led MedUp! project, the Lebanese Organization for Studies and Training (LOST) has started introducing the cultivation through hydroponics as a new method to be used at the Farm. The hydroponics system allows cultivation regardless of the weather conditions, as crops are grown during off-seasons with a low rate of disease and pest infection, and conserve natural resources. This system is created to incorporate new technology methods in agriculture, and LOST is implementing it as a business to further increase the community farm’s income. The goals of this initiative are to increase the community farm income, to teach farmers new technology methods, and to encourage clean irrigation farming methods.

A few challenges were faced during the implementation, which include the current deteriorating economic situation in Lebanon, in addition to the lockdown restrictions due to COVID-19. However, LOST and Oxfam have successfully implemented the first phase of the project, in which a plastic greenhouse with fans was established at the Farm. In the meantime, LOST will be using the greenhouse as a flower nursery, so that the funds already allocated for its preparation do not go to waste. 35,000 different kinds of flowers including tulip, lavender, basil, gazania and many others will be planted in the greenhouse, which will also be sold to increase the Farm’s income.

Once the remaining funds needed to complete the project are available, the hydroponics system will be completed. Through this project, a new local product – strawberry – will be launched, which will encourage farmers and investors to resort to this type of agriculture. It will also enhance the citizens’ confidence in local production through safe and clean production. As for the Community Farm, it will contribute to raising its revenues, increasing the number of workers and attracting new visitors interested in these new products and crops. It will also generate a value chain effect by inducing food processing commercial activities that focus on strawberry production as it has become more accessible and affordable product in the market.

This piece was elaborate with Ahmad Audi, The Community Farm “Project & Farming Unit Coordinator”.