Through CEDARSplus, which builds on predecessor program CEDARS to expand rural economic opportunities with various entities from the private, government, academic, and non-profit sectors, Global Communities has worked closely with the Moawad Rene Foundation since 1998. Working with marginalized groups such as fishermen, small farmers and rural practitioners, this partnership supports sustainable agriculture by training them with new farming techniques, as well as reducing intermediaries for farmers. These efforts help farmers keep costs down, reduce their losses and pack and export their own products.
We assisted local farmers with treating their agricultural waste more safely and affordably. Previously, many farmers in the area would have burned their waste since other options seemed too expensive (organic waste collection is about three times the price of non-organic) and prohibitive (organic fertilizer requires more land). We worked with them to open a facility to produce organic, high quality fertilizer for their own lands and to sell to others. We worked with the communities to alert them to the benefits of organic fertilizer; farmers were excited about regenerating a new kind of species that sustains itself. Additionally, not only is organic compost healthier for crops and farmers, but traditional spray insecticides are costly and increasingly tough to sell because of their chemical content.
The new facility served as an all-in-one center where all the products are sorted and packed on-site, thereby reducing additional handling, cooling and storing costs that would be incurred by using another vendor. And because the crops (including citrus, grapes, cherries, bananas, potatoes, olives and tobacco) are difficult to export because of closed borders in the Middle East, we worked to ease exportation by identifying and broadening the network not only of customers but by consolidating transportation mechanisms as well.
The program has benefited nearly 3,000 people, in part because Global Communities helped introduce and reinforce good farming practices and worked with farmers to cut production costs, and in turn they were very responsive. The practices we introduced to them, they continue to implement today. Says Nabil Moawad: “When you help the market you create more jobs and sustainability and contribute to the economy,” adding that these experiences help them develop other relationships far beyond what previous networks would have made possible.
The lack of government regulation for decades, coupled with ongoing instability that kept investors away, have hurt Lebanon’s fishing industry. These factors have also prevented the development of safer, more advanced fishing techniques, and boating regulations have not kept pace with today’s environment. The result has been limited opportunities in the fishing business as well as the destruction of sea life.
Global Communities partnered with local fisheries on a number of projects to address these problems. We worked with local fishermen to discourage these practices and provide rewards for employing legal fishing methods. We helped fishermen get the right equipment, boost their sales and maintain safer, more efficient systems.
Ali Kawtharani, who has fished the waters of Beirut since his youth, also wanted to provide fishermen with a way to lift their boats out of the water smoothly and safely. This process, which is essential to clean the boats properly (especially the bottom, thus increasing their speed) should be done twice yearly to keep boats in good shape and prevent them from being damaged. The fishing season is year-round, and cleaning a boat usually takes three to four months. He and fellow fishermen needed a crane, which is the only way to raise a boat from the water, but given the cost, they could not afford one. He contacted Global Communities, and we helped obtain funds for a crane, which is made of steel and lasts a lifetime. Now locals bring their boats to Kawtharani’s marina for maintenance, and he employs many local fishermen who were formerly jobless.
Also, with help from Global Communities, Kawtharani helps pass on technical assistance to fishermen, along with equipment and fish. Together with members of his community he has built a full-service factory for making and repairing ships. He also maintains a small shop for supplies including bait and other materials, all of which are sold at what he calls “fisherman’s prices” – meaning, prices they can afford. And because each boat is usually shared by more than one family, at least 500 families directly benefit from this project in Beirut alone.
Global Communities works with the Hariri Foundation, which opened its doors in 1992, to grow many commercial varieties of avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives in specially designed greenhouses near Beirut. The 1,000-metre greenhouses are fully equipped with ripening stations and high-tech equipment like fans to offset humidity, and newer fertilization methods. Global Communities started out in 2003 with 5,000 square metres of greenhouse, and today they have 15,000 square metres in in greenhouse and land.
As part of CEDARS+, the Hariri Foundation plants and grows various seedlings with more than 400 farmers throughout Lebanon; after they develop to the grafting stage, the plants are handed over to local farmers to complete the growing process and then introduce them to the commercial market.
Previous efforts to grow large-scale crops did not succeed since farmers did not have the knowledge and experience to manage a project like this. Farmers would work in isolation in their own orchards, without the benefit of collaboration with others in the farming business. But Global Communities enlisted the help of agricultural experts from the U.S. They offered expertise on farming practices on shared plantations, irrigation, fertilization, increasing overall production at lower cost, and growing and selling healthy crops most effectively.
Investing in modern greenhouses is more economical, provides better ventilation and therefore fewer fungicides, higher ceilings (which allow taller, more ample plants), better lighting and therefore better quality. Previously, a lack of ventilation in the winter killed most crops. But now, in addition to better air circulation, the greenhouses allow year-round planting and growing, and farmers are able to provide crops that are in high demand, depending on the season. The result is doubled production and double the profit.
The approach to getting farmers on board with greenhouses required proof of quality, sustainability and affordability; and free consultations to create awareness of the benefits of greenhouses. “Farmers always requires something proven – they will not just look at a study,” says Ibrahim Hariri. Encouraging them to improve their businesses by investing in them takes time, patience and a promising outcome. While it took some farmers more convincing than others, the relationships we have built with them over the years have strengthened their trust in our projects, and this project only enhanced those relationships further. Global Communities has also been proactive about partnering with other NGOs in the area to supplement other approaches and ensure that the farmers are fully supported. Additional training labs and more advanced approaches are already being developed for the farming communities.
Hariri keeps a constant eye on the market and on how he can work with farmers to offer the best of what people want. For example, he saw that fruit was oversaturating the market. At the same time, farmers were not growing avocados because the Lebanon climate was too cold. But the high-tech greenhouse provided a way to grow and market them successfully. “We are sustainable now. This project has been copied more than 100 times, and it benefits this community and this economy. The Foundation is here to serve everyone – you forget about politics and religion,” says Hariri, noting that the usual divides these issues cause in the region.