A growing movement in Lebanon has shown that community collaboration can resolve food insecurity and poverty. Community gardens in Lebanon help people to meet their food needs amid a struggling economy.
Issues in Lebanon
The economic crisis in Lebanon became apparent in October 2019 and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic only worsened this. The 2020 Beirut port explosion compounded the crisis as did the impacts of the invasion of Ukraine. In particular, the explosion that struck Lebanon’s primary port in Beirut severely impeded the country’s food import capabilities, impacting the food security of about 6 million people, as reported by Reuters.
Human Rights Watch reports, “Rising unemployment, a depreciating local currency, skyrocketing inflation and the removal of subsidies for medicines and fuel have made it harder for many people to meet their basic needs.” The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia estimates that multidimensional poverty rates in Lebanon rose dramatically from 25% in 2019 to 82% in 2021.
Additionally, Lebanon stands as the host for the highest number of refugees worldwide, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency — 1.5 million Syrian refugees as of 2019. The influx of refugees has only increased the pressure on Lebanon’s dwindling resources.
According to an the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification analysis, by December 2022, about 2 million Lebanese people and Syrian refugees in Lebanon endured acute levels of food insecurity.
However, amid this escalating economic crisis and against the backdrop of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict and the surging refugee population, a movement emerged. This movement aims to tackle the increasing poverty rate and guarantee equitable access to cost-free or reasonably priced agricultural products for all through community gardens in Lebanon.
The Rise of Community Gardens in Lebanon
Growing food is a reliable means of ensuring greater food security by placing the power in the hands of the people and creating a culture of collaboration, green spaces and nourishment.
What started as small individual home gardens grew into a national movement, as reported by Executive Magazine. The most notable example began in the neighborhood of Kon in Furn el-Chebbak where community members developed a community garden project in early 2020, coming together to address food insecurity by growing food as a community.
Slowly, with the help of the internet and time at home during the COVID-19 lockdown, these gardening practices to address food shortages grew. People developed online sharing platforms, tutorials and advice groups to share tips and educational information and build comradery.
In January 2020, agricultural engineers in Lebanon created a Facebook group called Izraa to provide agricultural advice and tutorials — by April 2020, the group had 14,500 members.
From struggle came possibility; a range of new gardens sprung up across Lebanon and continue to do so. From rooftops to reclaiming unused land, this movement only continues to grow. Most households utilize natural resources and methods due to the high price of chemical fertilizer. Many communities work together, dividing the work up depending on location. For example, allocating the care of sun-loving plants to south-facing households and vice versa and going on to share the produce among the community.
An unexpected advantage of this movement arose as collaborative projects cultivated a sense of unity. Specifically, gardening transformed into a vehicle for nurturing harmony among Lebanese communities that had previously grappled with cultural differences and tensions arising from the convergence of diverse individuals in shared spaces due to migration.
University of Bath student Tara El Assad tells The Borgen Project about the impact of her family’s vegetable garden in Lebanon. “My family started growing most of their fruit and veg in their garden in the south of Lebanon a few years ago to save money during the economic crisis. It’s definitely a sense of community coming together to pick our food and cook together. It’s fulfilling to have natural ingredients to feed ourselves and the children.”
Community gardens in Lebanon not only serve as examples of how independent solutions can address national problems but also show how addressing food shortages in fertile areas suited to growing food is as simple as spreading the right information and tools to those who need them. Even with no land of their own, so many impoverished communities can come together to grow their food and provide for their communities through urban gardening.
– Rhianna Cowdy