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Nurturing saplings and skills

Nurturing saplings and skills
Why Syrian refugees are planting Lebanese cedars with the World Food Programme
Anyone who has visited Lebanon has seen the cedrus libani, the Cedar of Lebanon. The iconic tree is everywhere: on the flag, coins, planes, government buildings, shop fronts, signposts, food packaging, jewellery. The cedar cannot be missed.

But the real version — the one that grows up to 40 metres tall — is most frequently seen in Al-Shouf Cedar Reserve. Actually, 25 percent of Lebanon’s cedars are there, on hundreds of hectares of land. And, 100 more of the evergreen coniferous trees are planted each day by participants in one of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) 111 livelihoods activities throughout Lebanon. Participants come from Lebanon’s most vulnerable communities, both Lebanese and Syrian.

“I’m the oldest and happiest participant. The work reminds me of when I used to be a farmer,” explained Ghazi, a 52-year-old Syrian farmer who came to Lebanon four years ago. “Also, it keeps me fit so I can work on my melon farm in Daraa when I go back.”

On the adjacent hillside, a group of women are tending to saplings recently planted by Ghazi and the other seven men and women working on the project. They are mulching, helping to boost the longevity of the new cedars.

The Al-Shouf Cedar Society oversees the entire reserve and allocated seven sites for cedar reforestation and mulching activities.

“Planting the sapling is only the first step,” explained project manager Monzer. “Mulching is really important for water retention, reduced weed growth and protection.”

Symbol of Lebanon

The cedar is also a boon for Lebanon’s tourist industry. With the possibility to ski, eat gourmet food and swim in the Mediterranean all in one day, Lebanon is increasingly featuring on foreigners’ bucket lists. With enhanced nature trails like those meandering through the reserve, hikers are also incrementally attracted to Lebanon.

WFP’s reforestation and mulching participants — be they Lebanese or Syrian — all reside in close proximity to the project sites and are bused there and back home each day by one of the Reserve staff. They are paid by WFP for completing a training course and then for participating in the activities under the guidance of knowledgeable project managers. Payments are transferred through WFP’s e-card system allowing the funds to be spent on food in any of its specially contracted shops across Lebanon.

Participants come from a range of backgrounds, with varying degrees of experience in agriculture. Nonetheless, all have the same potential — like the cedars — to flourish.

“Local knowledge helps,” explained Monzer. “Most people have an agricultural background; either they worked on farms in Syria or they used to cross the border each day and worked in Lebanon before the war.”

Bassima has a self-declared knowledge of all the trees in Lebanon, “It’s the same as planting at home,” she explained whilst crouching down by her sapling. “I love being in nature and this course gave me the confidence to look for a job in agriculture when I go home to Syria.”

WFP’s livelihoods projects like these were designed to provide an immediate income for participants but also to boost their long-term skills and opportunities to find employment. Over one hundred ongoing projects are funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Read more about WFP’s work in Lebanon .