Addressing the increasing pressure on Lebanon’s scarce water supplies

Published Date
July 05, 2019
Published By
From Left to right: Aly Abousabaa, ICARDA's DG; Michelle Afram, ICARDA's board member; Matahiro Yamaguchi, Japanese ambassador to Lebanon.
From Left to right: Aly Abousabaa, ICARDA's DG; Michelle Afram, ICARDA's board member; Matahiro Yamaguchi, Japanese ambassador to Lebanon. Photo credit: Dina Ashraf/ICARDA

An ICARDA initiative that helped Lebanese farmers better manage their scarce water supplies and cope with the increasing pressures and demands of a growing Syrian refugee population concluded recently.

‘Social Stabilization Through Comprehensive Agricultural Support for Refugee Host Communities,’ supported by the Japanese government, targeted farmers in Qab Elias, a municipality in the Bekaa Valley, which is close to the Syria-Lebanon border and hosts an estimated 45,000 Syrians.

The initiative’s conclusion was marked by the visit of Japan’s ambassador to Lebanon, Matahiro Yamaguchi, who visited project sites in late June with representatives from the municipality, ICARDA, the Lebanese Agricultural Research Center (LARI), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

The project, responding to the increasing demand for irrigation water, exacerbated by the worsening impacts of climate change, implemented modern irrigation systems and provided technical support to farmers in host communities. Construction of the irrigation systems also created short-term employment for local Lebanese and Syrian workers and enhanced longer-term employment potential through the expansion of agricultural lands and increased production.    

Rainfed Irrigation System Package

ICARDA introduced a ‘package’ of innovations tailored to rainfed conditions in Qab Elias and implemented on ten farms following an agreement with farmers and the municipality’s mayor. The package combined improved varieties of faba bean, barley, chickpea, and wheat, and modern agricultural techniques to help farmers increase their yields. With the support of LARI, farmers were able to plant some 49 dunams of improved crop varieties. 

The techniques included: improving land preparation for seedbeds; planting seeds at appropriate depths and beds; applying fertilization according to soil properties; and monitoring plant health and other requirements.

Implementing Irrigation Systems 

The farm irrigation systems that were installed and tested consisted of a reservoir of 50-60 m3 lined with special polyethylene sheets to prevent seepage; a head unit, including a pump, filters and fertilizer tank with necessary controls and connections; and a drip irrigation network, including main and sub-main lines and drip lines with controls and connections. ICARDA implemented the durable irrigation systems on 38 farms growing fruit and vegetables, including peach, cucumbers, and zucchini, across an area of 149 dunams. 

Talal Al-Mahant, a farmer benefiting from the irrigation systems, said, “I am so grateful for the drip irrigation systems ICARDA implemented. They are durable, and we can use them for the coming 3-4 years.” He also welcomed the fact that the “irrigation systems have filters that do not allow sand or stones to pass through.”

Upscaling farmers’ skills and mitigating social instability

Training is central to ICARDA’s mission, and the project provided three workshops, training some 120 farmers on modern water techniques, including raised bed technology and drip irrigation for higher efficiency and production. One farmer, Tawfik Hatoun, expressed his gratitude to ICARDA and its partners for providing the training opportunities: “They provided support to small-holder farmers in our community. With the new modern techniques ICARDA trained us on, we were able to increase our yields and boost our income.”

Throughout the project, ICARDA was able to mitigate social tensions between Syrian refugees and their Lebanese neighbors, by addressing underlying causes, primarily the increasing demands for scarce water supplies. The workshops also played a vital role, strengthening team unity and building trust.

Speaking at the closing ceremony, H.E. Yamaguchi stressed "the importance of the project in the development of the agricultural sector,” which he described as a “major source of employment for thousands of families, especially in the Bekaa region." He also declared Japan’s continuing support to Lebanon: "Japan will continue to support development projects throughout Lebanon to help alleviate the refugee crisis and improve the living conditions of Lebanese communities."

His visit ended with a field trip where he witnessed the implementation of drip irrigation systems and improved rainfed cropping techniques.

Watch the beneficiaries to learn on how the project enhanced their livelihoods:

Read more about the project:

ICARDA Initiative Supports Syrian Refugees Host Communities in Lebanon

Improving Livelihoods Among Farmers and Refugees in Lebanon

Related reads:

Working paper on Enhancing the Livelihood and Food Security of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon


For more information about the project, please contact:

Theib Oweis, senior researcher

Mira Haddad, senior research assistant