By Aleksander Esmann
“Forest-based Landscape Management: The Lebanese Context” was the sixth webinar in a series of webinars on “Landscape Restoration in the Arab Region”, organized by FAO (Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations) in collaboration with the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative (LRI).
The first topics discussed were their general strategy and the community-based approach they used for all their projects.
Community-Based Approach for Landscape Management
The first step when working with the communities was the identification of their needs and the establishment of goals that should be achieved through the project. The “communities” were made up of several different parties who had to work closely together to ensure the success of this project. Those parties were the Municipality (the environment committee), the Moukhtar (the community leaders), youth and women groups, NGOs, CSOs, schools, institutions and locals like shepherds, land users, neighboring landowners, etc.
Together with these groups there were four main goals identified:
- Protecting existing reforested sites to become thriving forests
- Protecting and conserving natural resources nationally
- Promoting community-led initiatives that replicate efforts on private and municipal lands nationally
- Supporting a community “multiplier effect” from implemented efforts, i.e., eco-tourism, environmental education, parks, and recreation activities, etc.
The next step was engaging the community. This was done through educating locals, assessing resources, designing plans to overcome challenges together, involving the locals in the implementation of the projects, and preparing the locals to continue and take over the ownership of the projects at some point in the future.
It is important to involve the communities at every step along the way to give them a feeling of affiliation to and responsibility for the project. Additionally, this is a great way to show and teach them certain things firsthand while they are being done.
But the community engagement strategy does not end there. Since 2011 it has been continuously developed with the objective of promoting collaboration between different communities. One concept for this is “twinning”. Here two villages implement forest initiatives together.
This has several benefits. First of all, it allows initiatives to cover a bigger area, thus having a bigger impact, without having to employ much more resources as there is only one plan needed for the implementation. Another benefit is that the border between the two communes can be neglected, which can sometimes be a limiting factor to the impact and effectivity of the landscape management initiatives. Lastly, the two communities can offer each other help and support if needed. The biggest challenge that arises is the need for good communication and coordination between the two villages.
Since then, this concept has been expanded to a corridor concept. Here there are not just two but several villages involved in creating a large corridor that allows for large-scale planning and implementation of projects with an even bigger area and impact. Those can then be used to alter landscapes to fulfill certain tasks e.g., work as fire sheds.
The main challenges faced by the community-engagement strategies were achieving a strong community engagement and commitment, conflict between community and experts and educating and raising awareness needed for communities and organizations.
Most of these challenges can be solved by involving the locals as much as possible. This will develop a strong feeling of affiliation and responsibility in the people which will motivate them to participate in the implementation process. Conflicts will also be easier resolved when the different parties work closely together and communicate more as this will lead to a better understanding of each other and each other´s problems. When locals spend more time working on the projects they will eventually learn about the importance of the projects and how to tackle different challenges that arise.
Through working together with the locals and getting to know their strengths and weaknesses, experts are also able to select the right community members to work on the projects and continue the projects once they leave.
Another challenge is the long time it takes to implement the initiatives. The planning as well as the growing of the plants takes up a long time which means that it can take several years for the initiatives to yield returns.
The benefits of community engagement are the establishment of mutual trust between the individuals, their local authority and experts. This is the most important requirement and the basis for the successful implementation of the initiative.
Every community member is involved and given a platform to express issues and concerns. This is especially important for young people, women or marginalized groups as they usually don’t get a say when it comes to important decisions.
The projects also help to turn the issue of fire prevention from public to personal concern. Throughout the implementation process there is also a lot of capacity building happening which will improve the ability of the villages to carry out other initiatives in the future. Finally, involving the communities prepares them to continue the started project and eventually take over ownership of it.
As it can be seen the involvement of communities is extremely important in creating sustainable solutions as the communities have to continue the project themselves to continue generating revenue. With its community-based approach the LRI combines landscape management, ecological restoration, and the overall planning, implementation, and maintenance of the project.
Several concrete case studies were presented.
Agroforestry: A nature-based approach for sustainable landscape management
The first one was about making the shift from monoculture to sustainable agroforestry practices in the arid area of Makne. The agroforestry used in Lebanon offers key advantages over monoculture as a diverse range of trees and crops as well as a selection of native species that are suitable for the climate are used. Before, the site consisted of abandoned agricultural land with unfertilized soil located in an arid environment with extreme temperatures and was occasionally planted with monocrops.
The concrete goals for the project were:
- Encouraging the investment in abandoned lands through nature-inclusive farming concepts
- Protecting the land production from harsh environment conditions (wind and frost)
- Diversifying land productivity and increase market resilience
- Encouraging free-range poultry production
- Introducing the plantation of native trees on farming plots
This graphic shows how the site was supposed to be planted:
As it can be seen there are many different plants used that are arranged specifically to get the maximal use out of them. The site also contains designated areas for animal breeding. When starting work on the site the different effects and benefits of each plant had to be considered. For instance, all the fruit trees and crops on the inside could only be planted and grown once a working windbreak was established on the outside of the site.
The windbreak consists of several layers of trees, namely cupressus sempervirens, celtis australis, pomegranate and crataegus azarolus. Apart from redirecting and slowing down the airflow, it moderates soil and air temperature, balances relative humidity, provides wildlife habitat, reduces evaporation of water, improves snow distribution, increases soil moisture, decreases soil erosion and enhances the aesthetics of the site.
For the selection of the fruit trees a big emphasis was placed on the suitability of them to the climate. For alley cropping almond, jujube, fig and olive trees were used. To ensure a consistent and even level of sun exposure for the trees the alleys ran from north to south. Also, the space between the trees in the same alley was small to provide more shade at noon while the space between the rows was big to increase sun exposure in the mornings and afternoons at low positions of the sun.
The other plants planted were a mixture of barley, oats, vetches and alfalfa that were used as forage for the animals and also medicinal and aromatic plants like lavender, thyme, sage and rosemary.
In order to prepare the land, deep trenches were filled with organic amendments to increase the fertility of the soil. This was applied especially to the windbreak to boost its growth and provide better protection for the other plants.
Due to water scarcity the windbreak was mainly irrigated with water drip systems. Because most crops were rainfed there was no necessity to use the same system for them. Instead, the soil was fixed with nitrogen to increase its fertility.
Sustainable Use of Forest Products
Another thing LRI does is forest management. The conservation and maintenance of forest systems is important to preserve biodiversity, keep ecosystems intact, and combat climate change.
But there are also many economic benefits to it. Forests and forest products are an important source of income for many people. However, the shrinking of forests threatens the livelihoods of these people. To combat this reforestation initiatives have to be implemented. Planting a new tree costs on average 22$, the maintenance and improvement of an already existing stand on the other hand costs only 8$. This shows how cost-efficient the protection, maintenance and improvement of already existing forests is.
After compiling a list of eligible forest sites, the ones with reliable local authorities and partners and with a diverse tree population were selected. One of those sites which is located in Miziara was presented.
The activities implemented were the management of 15 ha of forests, improving the stands and the pruning, and conducting capacity building training to teach the best forest management practices. This resulted in an improved governance of the sites and the creation of 16 seasonal jobs.
The main objective was to improve the stands through pruning and thinning of certain parts of the forest. The municipality also wanted to improve the oak forest to provide a sustainable supply of fuelwood for the town’s inhabitants and improve the aesthetic of the area.
Several opportunities were created by the initiative. The forest management residues like branches had to be dealt with e.g., through shredding and people could look if it was profitable to sell the harvested wood.
The LRI advocates for the use of forest management in Lebanon for all public forests to assess natural resources and identify economic potential. Forests can provide several different services like tourism or watersheds if used correctly. Additionally, forestry and forest products are big industries and locals can earn a lot of money if they use their resources efficiently.
Even the residues can be used to produce briquets, compost, wood chips and many other products. Before any forest management project is implemented the feasibility of such circular economy concepts should be investigated and their use should be promoted.
Non-Wood Forest Products and Gender Considerations
LRI places a big emphasis on promoting women. They aim to include women in the planning, design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the projects to consider their issues, concerns, and ideas and to provide them with valuable experiences.
Currently there are many problems holding back women in the forest sector. A lack of skills, interest, or time due to having to take care of children, unequal pay, a lack of inclusion strategies and conservative cultural and social norms that are holding back women are just some of them.
However, there are also several opportunities for women to actively participate in the forest sector. One of them is the production of forest products, especially non-wood products.
These are for instance medicinal and aromatic plants (MAP). In order to produce MAP several steps have to be taken. After an initial assessment of MAP available in the region they have to be planted and locals have to be trained to grow and process. They also need to learn how to market and price them properly and how to take care of the business side of things.
This addresses issues on the social, economic, and environmental level. The lack of skills, knowledge and interest is eradicated and stereotypes are broken down. Women are provided with enough time and access to land resources to produce and sell products and earn money themselves. Diversifying the species in the restored landscapes also improves biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems. The planting decreases pressure on harvesting already existing MAP growing in the wild.
The last point on the agenda were forest ecosystem services, the positive side effects of functioning forest systems. Those were forest honey, forest tourism, the enhancement of air quality, and carbon sequestration and storage. However, carbon sequestration and storage were presented as a tool that could help support certain policy decisions and not as a way to sell carbon offsets and finance the projects and communities.
The key to success in these projects were once again the participatory approach and community involvement. However, there are many other interesting things to learn like the different methods used in the agroforestry case study or the many different uses of forests and forest products. The LRI has also done a very good job when it comes to empowering and involving women in the forest sector.
One shortcoming however, is that the ecosystem services aren’t being used to their full extent. Especially carbon sequestration and storage could be used to sell carbon offsets and use the returns to finance future projects.