Policy and integrated management Environment

Posted July 2000

FAO supports the development of a New Spatial Data Management Unit in Lebanon's Ministry of Agriculture

John S. Latham
FAO Environment and Natural Resources Service (SDRN)

Lebanon is a small mountainous country with an area of 10 450 km2 and a population estimated at about 3.4 million (1994). It comprises six administrative Muhafazats (governorates, namely Mount Lebanon, North Lebanon, South Lebanon, Nabatiyeh, the Bekaa Valley and Beirut), subdivided into 24 Cazas (districts).

Until the mid-1970s, Lebanon was a prosperous middle-income country driven mainly by the service sector, which contributed more than 70 percent of the GDP. From 1975 to 1992, the country, its economy and its population, suffered the destructive effects of a severe civil war. Since then, the progressive recovery of normal economic activities has led the public sector to concentrate its efforts on reconstructing infrastructure and improving population welfare, primarily focusing on the most vulnerable groups.

Agriculture plays a limited role in the national economy, currently accounting for less than 10 percent of the total GDP. Nevertheless, the agricultural sector is still a significant source of income for 20 to 30 percent of the population, particularly in hilly and mountainous areas. More than one-third of the total land area is arable (360 000 ha). Of the 215 000 ha of arable lands cropped at present, 87 000 ha are under irrigation and the rest are rainfed. Tree crops (olives, grapes, apples, cherries and citrus), bananas, vegetables and rangelands make up a significant proportion of the agricultural production. In their quest for higher and more stable incomes, farmers have shifted away from annual crops to fruit-trees and protected high-value crops. As a result, the area devoted to cereals decreased from more than 30 percent in the mid-1970s to less than 18 percent in the 1990s. This type of sectoral change continues to occur, making it difficult for the Ministry of Agriculture to effectively plan without an indigenous capacity to monitor and effect regular sectoral policy changes to the land management practices.

In addition, the agriculture sector accounts for a substantial proportion of exports, even though this share has been decreasing since the mid-1970s. Exports of agricultural products (apples, citrus and vegetables) account for an important source of hard currency. Although the exact value is not known, it is estimated that agricultural products represent 20 to 25 percent of the total exports. However, it should be noted that the basic food commodities (wheat, milk, sugar, and meat) are imported.

A recent FAO report1 has detailed the extent to which Lebanon's environmental and natural resources base is seriously damaged and under threat. The scale and intensity of deforestation, loss of biological diversity, uncontrolled urbanization, soil erosion and pollution, water contamination and associated declines in overall land availability and productivity are unparalleled.

This alarming advance of land cover/use change and subsequent environmental degradation after two decades of civil strife is being pushed by economic and population growth that is placing increasing demands on the renewable and non-renewable natural resource base. Over 35 percent of the Lebanese population depends directly and indirectly on the agricultural sector for its livelihood. In the absence of adequate policies and regulations, the economy is geared towards overexploitation of valuable resources. Land utilization is changing rapidly and new development projects and investment activities are often approved without due attention to their potential negative impacts on the environment. Even when appropriate policies and procedures exist, the Government frequently lacks the resources and institutional capacity to apply them or to monitor effectively the impact at the local level. The integral use of a local capacity to effectively report and monitor these changes through the establishment of this capacity supported by this project will enhance the ability of the Ministry of Agriculture to plan and respond to this dynamic situation.

Issues to be addressed

The negative impact of rapid land cover/use change and subsequent environmental degradation on the economy is very high. The economic cost of decreased agricultural productivity due to soil loss and fertility decline, loss of forests, damage to infrastructure, and the cost of infrastructure redesign and maintenance is estimated at 6 to 10 percent of Lebanon's GNP annually (World Bank, 1996).

Some attempts to institute sustainable management of the country's renewable resource base have been made, but these lacked adequate coordination, local participation, institutional support and, especially, up-to-date information on the nature and extent of changes occurring. A more coordinated and broadly based effort is needed to report on the dynamics of change and the subsequent degradation of the natural resources and at the same time foster ecologically and socio-economically sustainable development. The timely and coordinated collection and analysis of agricultural data will greatly enhance the ability to support this process.

To this end, the Government has requested FAO technical assistance, under the Technical Cooperation Programme, to assist the Ministry of Agriculture in developing monitoring capabilities (through the use of remotely sensed data) as well as to advise on the nature and localities of change and on protective measures for selected elements of the agricultural resource base that are at risk. These would be based on leading-edge use of satellite earth observation and telecommunications techniques, in conjunction with more traditional sources of information. This capacity-building would be valuable both as an independent contribution to spatial data management in the Ministry of Agriculture and also as a component that extends and complements the developing national spatial data infrastructure in Lebanon.

The Directorate of Studies and Co-operation (DAC) in collaboration with FAO aims to bridge this critical gap by proposing the development of an integrated area frame to improve agricultural data collection based on remotely sensed data and the establishment of a spatial information system for operational monitoring and management of the agricultural land area. This system will capitalize on routinely available earth observation imagery. The area frame and the information system will assimilate and integrate satellite and in situ data, as well as information on agricultural land, and report on its dynamics. This information will then be transformed into digital maps and distributed to relevant users. Such an information system would also enhance the effectiveness of new legislation requiring environmental impact assessments by providing necessary base-line data and projections.

The methodology for the development of the new series of high-resolution photomaps, which have formed the basis of the area frame, is described in the presentation "Satellite Digital Data Processing and Map Production for Lebanon" (html format). The new base maps are derived from an integration of Landsat Thematic Mapper data at 30 m and 5-m Indian Remote Sensing Satellite data, ortho-rectified to 5-m pixels.

1 The FAO project "Environmental Information System for Natural Resources Conservation and Use" (LEB/94/01T) was conducted as part of the UNESCO/FAO/UNIDO TSS-1 project "Support to Policy Formulation for Sustainable Development and Environmental Preservation". The TSS-1 was requested by UNDP as part of the Capacity 21 Programme on "Establishing an Enabling Environment for Integrating the Principles of Sustainable Development in Lebanon".

For further information contact:
John S. Latham
FAO Environment and Natural Resources Service (SDRN)

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