Because the war in Syria deprived so many families of their livelihoods, MERATH has been supporting sustainable agriculture projects in Syria since 2016, that have helped over 900 families of farmers to get back to their fields, cultivate their land, increase their yield, meet their own food needs and plan for the future.
Encouraged by such holistic impact and faced with the brutal worsening of the economic situation in Lebanon, which led to massive unemployment and food insecurity, MERATH was inspired to initiate, in 2021, sustainable agriculture projects through three local partner churches in Lebanon. The goal was to provide much needed jobs and income to farmers and local agriculture workers and to provide fresh organic vegetables to vulnerable households. Bahaa, who oversees this project in one location, explains why it was very much needed:
“The village where our church is located is in North Lebanon, very far from Beirut. Residents mainly live off agriculture. However, the economic crisis has put such pressure on farmers that they are no longer able to pay for fuel to turn on generators to water plants or to purchase seeds, pesticides, and the necessary ingredients to make preserves. As a result, farmers are seeing a decrease in yield and are no longer able to sustain their livelihoods.”
In a country that is so heavily reliant on conventional agriculture, the first step was to train partners in sustainable agriculture practices. During the training and with the help of a specialized consultant, partners were able to design and plan their own agriculture project, each in a way that was tailored to their vision, capacity, and available resources.
Then came the implementation phase. Our partners began working the land and planting summer and winter vegetables, only using biopesticides and organic fertilizers. Our partner church in North Lebanon also wanted to include livestock, and got chickens and goats. The team was hoping they could sell the eggs and the milk to cover other project expenses. They also planted wheat – at a time the repercussions of the war in Ukraine were causing severe shortages in Lebanon – and learned to make their own biopesticide and compost. During this initial phase, our partners faced several challenges and learned by doing. Bahaa recalls:
“During the first year, we faced several challenges, as we were still new to sustainable agriculture. Our yield was smaller than expected and it felt a bit discouraging. We ended up thinking maybe our dream was too big. But we persevered and MERATH continued to support us and showed a great deal of understanding. Thanks to them, we were able to add a cow farm to our project, and we feel like the pieces of the puzzle are all coming together. After all our hard work, what a joy to start reaping the fruits of our labor!”
This year, our partner in North-Lebanon took additional steps toward self-sustainability. First, they replanted vegetables with seeds they collected from previous crops. Second, they got cows to produce milk and to have their own manure, which they previously had to buy to make their compost. Finally, they decided to grow their own livestock feed to reduce the costs of having cows.
Meanwhile, their hard work started to pay off: pest and diseases have been better prevented and controlled and the projects’ yield and harvest are increasing, chicken are laying up to 25 eggs a day, and some of the goats are pregnant and will soon be able to produce milk. Our partners are also harvesting and processing the wheat that they grew last year, replanting some, keeping some to feed the livestock, and using the hay inside the chicken coop.
Last and not least, because these projects are run by churches and the vegetables are distributed by them, it gives the churches an opportunity to further respond to God’s calling to love their neighbors and to show God’s love to those in need in their communities.
Bahaa says the project has enabled his church to build strong relationships with new people in the community. He also shares how the project made him grow closer to God and taught him valuable lessons:
“Before being involved in this project, I didn’t really believe in this type of ministry. I was convinced that our only duty as Christians was to share the gospel with words. But as I grew closer to Jesus, I remembered that His own ministry was twofold. Jesus used to have empathy and show mercy, and He would help, heal, and feed people from many different religious and social backgrounds, without showing partiality. Just as our God shines His light on all, we likewise need to show God’s love to all, without discriminations. We pray that we can always have empathy and serve others the way Jesus did.”