Byblos, Lebanon – The devastating month-long conflict with Israel in the summer of 2006 had at least one silver lining: it has given Lebanon’s vegetable growers a chance to update their techniques and boost their output – of tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and other local favourites.
An FAO emergency project aimed at helping the horticulture sector bounce back from the war has been working with open-field farmers, farmers who grow their crops to maturity in greenhouses, and wholesale greenhouse operators. With each of these groups the project introduced new ways of growing vegetables that increase productivity and limit the need for pesticides.
Plant grafting technology is the first key. Grafting has been practised with fruit trees for hundreds of years, but it is relatively new in vegetable farming. The principle is to graft a high-performing plant variety (the top) to a strong, extensive root stock (the bottom). The top part of the plant is then trained to branch in two directions, producing double the yield of vegetables.
Shielding plants from insects, worms and disease is the second key. Greenhouses designed by FAO and built under the project leave little opportunity for contamination of the plants inside. They are fully enclosed with heavy-duty plastic above, netting on all four sides, and a small antechamber for entering and exiting. The wholesale greenhouse version is equipped with a fan that turns on automatically every time someone enters the antechamber. Pests and other biotic contaminants are driven back by the blast of air.
Farmers whose greenhouse structures were left standing after the conflict also received assistance, with repairs and upgrades to increase plant production and keep pests and disease out.
In addition to sanitary practices, participating farmers are also learning techniques to keep their plants producing for a longer crop cycle. Open-field farmers received low-lying plastic tunnels that work like miniature greenhouses so vegetables can be grown in cooler weather, and sheets of black plastic that works as mulch to block weeds and eliminate the need for herbicide. In all, some 1 700 war-affected households were helped by the project.