“My Land Is My Life”

Human Wrongs Watch

Promoting equal access to land and livelihoods in Lebanon


Afaf Qaddouh has taken advantage of an FAO project in Lebanon designed to make land more productive and improve land management practices. ©FAO/Ralph Azar

18 September 2020 (FAO)* — Afaf Qaddouh had assisted her father in working their land in Zawtar El Sharkiyeh in the South of Lebanon ever since she was a little girl. When he passed away, it became hers. She didn’t know then how important this land would become to her.

In 2019, Afaf was laid off from her job working at the municipality of her village. As a single woman in Lebanon, it was hard to find another one. Farming became crucial for her income.

However, Afaf knew she was going to have to invest in enhancing her farm’s productivity if it was going to become her livelihood. Unable to finance it from her own pocket, she looked for help from an FAO project.

The project, funded by the Kingdom of Netherlands and implemented by FAO, works across Lebanon to support farmers in making their land productive and investing in their agricultural infrastructure, including building irrigation reservoirs.

As Lebanon houses a large number of displaced Syrians, the project also seeks to create work opportunities for them as well as for the Lebanese in these host communities.

Female farmers are few and encounter more challenges than men, so applications for funding from women were given priority. So far, 254 women have taken part.

After an FAO project’s help to improve her land, Afaf has started growing melons and other vegetables. ©FAO/Ralph Azar

With the funding she received, Afaf was able to make necessary improvements to her land and add in more sustainable water management practices.

This process is called land reclamation, and includes taking out stones, levelling and terracing the land on slopes to make the land more productive. Afaf also built in retaining walls, which are necessary in many areas of Lebanon where there are loose soil structures and steep slopes.

Land reclamation methods like this are considered a cultural heritage in Lebanon’s hilly areas and are an important inherited knowledge.

These methods help conserve soil and water and involve building infrastructure to control soil erosion and land degradation on mountain slopes. Usually, however, this traditional form of land development is out of reach for most farmers due to the high costs involved.

Through these investments and improvements, Afaf significantly increased the productivity of her land. She has started growing melons, oregano, haricot beans and other vegetables. The water reservoir successfully manages the irrigation of these crops to increase yield, but also improves the health of her olive trees, which previously had to rely on rainwater.

Walking next to her silvery-leaved olive trees, Afaf looks happy and satisfied. “I come here not only to work, but also to enjoy my time in nature so I can come back home relaxed,” she says.

Land reclamation methods like those used on Afaf’s farm are considered a cultural heritage in Lebanon’s hilly areas. ©FAO/Elie Harfouch

Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent restriction measures, including closed borders and weakened trade, have compounded the impact of the severe economic crisis that Lebanon has been enduring since late 2019.

For Afaf and many others, some of the biggest problems have been the soaring prices of food and agricultural inputs, as well as the overall hyperinflation driven by the sharp devaluation of the local currency.

However, Afaf remains optimistic. She finds solace in her work and is relying on her land to get her through this time of crisis. She is now planting more olive trees, tomatoes and melons, benefitting from the water reservoir and retaining walls that the project’s grant helped her build, and she is currently preparing her mouneh, a stock of preserved food for the winter.

Equal access

Afaf is also an advocate for women empowerment and financial independence, especially given the particular challenges that female farmers in Lebanon face.

It is harder for women to access land rights, credit, agricultural inputs and markets. Only 9 percent of farms are headed and operated by women, and although women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force, they are paid 43 percent less than their male counterparts.

Afaf believes that sustaining women producers is crucial to the survival of agriculture in Lebanon.

“I love my land and I can never sell it. My land is my life.” In vulnerable rural communities, women often don’t have access to the same opportunities. A central aim of FAO and the Sustainable Development Goals is to empower women and enhance their position, in society, at work and in agriculture– so more women can access the opportunities they deserve.

Note: This story was written before the explosion in Beirut on the 4 August 2020. FAO is continuing its work to support Lebanon during this difficult time. Please visit the FAO in Lebanon country web site or twitter account for more information.

Learn more


2020 Human Wrongs Watch

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