The cedar forests of Mount Lebanon are extremely valuable to the country and their beauty has inspired poets dating back to Homer. The Forests of the threatened cedar and other rare oak species offer a variety of aromatic and medicinal plants, as well as food for local people, and also act as a buffer against desertification and soil degradation. However, the forest cover has deteriorated as a result of excessive timber extraction over thousands of years and other human and natural causes, including forest fires and overgrazing. It is estimated that more than 40 percent of the country was once covered by forests, but this area has now declined to only 13 percent. Several measures are now being taken to project Lebanon’s forests. In order to reverse the trend, the Lebanon Reforestation Programme (LRP), which has committed to planting 40 million trees and is to be implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), was launched at an event in the Prime Minister’s Palace in Beirut in December 2012, attended by approximately 300 guests including several ministers, high government officials, ambassadors, and representatives of international organizations.
Following a request for assistance by Lebanon’s Minister of Agriculture, a team of FAO officers composed of the Regional Deputy Director for the Near East, Senior Officers from the Forest Assessment, Management and Conservation Division, the Natural Resources Management Division and the Investment Centre Division visited Beirut from 2 to 6 February 2013 to conduct a scoping mission. The findings were presented in a wrap-up meeting where FAO assistance was confirmed in three specific areas: (i) development of a strategy for fund raising; (ii) preparation of maps for tree species and reforestation site selections; and (iii) technical assistance, especially in reducing the costs of reforestation. In addition to these requests, further key areas were identified for FAO’s future involvement in the LRP, which included creating a new planning and implementation body to achieve the goals of the programme, resource mobilization/fund raising, and coordination of key stakeholders to share lessons learned in past reforestation experiences.
In order to fulfill the requests of the Government of Lebanon, the next steps for FAO will be to create a technical working sub-committee, to mobilize an international consultant to assist the MoA in developing an action plan, and to draft reforestation guidelines and a sellable reforestation package to raise funds from donor communities, in-country private sector companies, individuals and Lebanese diaspora. FAO will also prepare a mapping platform for reforestation planning and registry, and provide technical assistance by identifying available technologies to reduce the high reforestation costs that currently pose a major threat to the achievement of the LRP’s objectives.