The Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism

Forest and landscape restoration in Lebanon

Year published: 29/04/2016

Improved coordination vital to restore country’s multiple degraded ecosystems

The Republic of Lebanon is a small south-north orientated rectangle of 225 km average length and 48 km width, totaling 10452 km², making it the second smallest country in the Middle East and the Arab World. The mountainous national territory (73 percent of the total area) is cut lengthwise into four parallel and distinct bands: an extremely narrow coastal plain along the Mediterranean shore, a western mountain range called Mount-Lebanon culminating at 3088 m, a central plateau which comprises Bekaa Valley the most fertile farming region of the country culminating at an average 1000 m, and finally the eastern mountain range called Anti-Lebanon form the majority of the border between Syria and Lebanon culminating at 2760 m. Despite its small size, the complex features and the mountainous territory generates an amazing landscape diversity shaped by short distance noticeable variations of land forms, land cover, climate, soils, and vegetation.

Lebanese forests are still a national asset providing valuable benefits to the local communities as well as to the national economy in terms of goods and services. Wars, urban sprawl, forest fires, unsustainable practices led to the eradication of all primary forests, and to the loss and degradation of most mountain conifer forests. The Bekaa valley and the inner slopes of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Ranges suffered the largest deforestation rate during the past five decades, due mainly to overgrazing and overharvesting of forest resources followed by the highly urbanized and cultivated coastal zones.

Nowadays, forests cover 13.6 percent of the country and the other wooded land represents 11 percent. It is widely depleted and shrunk to small and fragmented woodlots which exacerbated poverty, climate change, soil erosion and land degradation. This situation has enticed the public and the civil society to various restoration initiatives. The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), the Ministry of Environment (MoE), the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR), the municipalities, the national reserves, the NGOs, the local communities and the private sectors have made commendable efforts to recover the deforested areas. However these efforts lacked coordination and synchronization.

Improved intersectoral coordination and knowledge sharing between the different stakeholders is needed to really address the challenge of forest and landscape restoration (FLR) in Lebanon.


Towards restored forests and landscapes in Lebanon

During the 1960s and 1970s the MoA undertook major reforestation/afforestation projects in different parts of the country.

After the war, and despite the lack of budget, the Rural Development and Natural Resources Directorate of the MoA continued to carry out some reforestation projects with various degrees of success.

As of the year 2001, the Government of Lebanon has allocated a budget of 5 billion Lebanese pounds (the equivalent of 3.3 million USD) to the Ministry of Environment who prepared a reforestation/afforestation plan for abandoned land.

Later, in 2009, the MoE initiated the “Safeguarding and Restoring Lebanon’s Woodland Resources project”. It aims to develop a strategy for safeguarding and restoring Lebanon’s woodland resources and assist its implementation through capacity building and execution of appropriate sustainable land management policies and practices (SLM).

In 2014, the MoA initiated the process of developing the National Afforestation/Reforestation Program (NARP), also known as the 40 million trees program. It aims at increasing the forest cover 70 000 hectares from the current 13 percent to 20 percent by 2030, adapting the natural ecosystems to the climate change which is already affecting the country negatively. The NARP is closely aligned with the FAO Country Programming Framework (CPF), which works to address the agriculture sector, including forests, from a sector-wide and integrated perspective, since all subsectors are mutually dependent.

In June 2015, the MoA launched the main instrument of the national forest policy for the upcoming decade 2015-2025: the first National Forest Program (NFP). It constitutes and identifies the government’s interventions in the forest sector and beyond it, aiming at sustainably managing Lebanese forest resources, while defining the coordination and cooperation mechanisms among all public and private sectors.

Previously, Lebanon has signed and ratified the UNCCD and is already committed to combatting land degradation and dealing with the root causes of the problem at national and local levels. To fulfill its obligations the government developed a National Action Program (NAP) in 2003 to serve as a guiding framework for the UNCCD long-term implementation. The MoA is currently working to align the NAP with the UNCCD ten-year strategy in the context of the new Sustainable Development Goal 15.


Constraints and barriers

The key constraints for implementing these programs/action plans at country level, besides the inexistence of a global assessment of the degradation and restoration options at the national level, are mostly related to : (i) overlapping responsibilities between different related institutions, (ii) lack of coordination between public and private sector, (iii) land tenure problems, (iv) dispersion of the scientific and technical knowledge between multiple partners, (v) limited involvement with the local stakeholders, (vi) limited financial resources, and (vii) an instable political situation.

The lack of effective cross-sectoral cooperation and knowledge dissemination at almost all levels among related administrations, NGOs, educational sector and institutions is one of the major constraints for implementing FLR programs/initiatives. The existence of conflictual land-use related issues in the multiple laws among various sectors of the Lebanese legal framework, regulations and national programs leads to negative impacts (including in terms of public and private investments) on the protection, sustainable management and restoration of landscapes.

Lebanon has currently many laws, decrees, and ministerial decisions applicable to the designation, protection and management of forests. The most important documents that are enforced by the MoA related to forest and range management are Forest code 1949, Law No.85 1991, Law No.558 1996 along with other laws related to environment applied by the MoE.

The possible barriers of current land-use related issues in the multiple laws and regulations needs to be identified in order to cope better with emerging integrated approaches, challenges and concepts. Within the existing land tenure regulation, forested lands in Lebanon belong to three main stakeholders: the state, villages and private owners. Most of the state forests are not mapped and the limits of the state and communal forests are in general ambiguous. In some of the state forests, the user right, granted for the collection of wood and non-wood forest products, is still recognized and in some regions part of it is used illegally for agricultural or living purposes. It requires a vigorous plan by the MoA, involving all relevant stakeholders, especially local stakeholders, to identify and assign suitable lands for restoration, afforestation and reforestation initiatives. The limited financial resources, the unorganized involvement of the private sector and other diverse potential public/private investors (including the Lebanese diaspora), in addition to the nonexistence of any related national fund, is another constraint to the implementation of large scale FLR initiatives in Lebanon.


Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism to address challenges in Lebanon for 2016-2018

FAO’s Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism (FLRM) will contribute to the implementation of restoration initiatives and programs in Lebanon by promoting an integrated approach of landscape management, with the aim to restore a well-balanced package of goods and services provided by the landscapes.

Increasing the forest area and reducing the degradation of other forested landscapes are not the only issues. FLR principles need to involve all the relevant stakeholders and build on multiple economic options in order to create jobs, reduce the rural exodus and keep a good standard of living based on a sustainable use of all the good and services provided by Lebanese landscapes.

This FLRM support, by facilitating a regular intersectoral coordination, harmonizing related legal frameworks, identifying restoration options and indicators, disseminating knowledge and enabling regular sharing processes between the different stakeholders, will secure the sustainability of the national forests and landscape diversity. The sustainable use of the goods and services provided by such an approach will increase the resilience of people in case of crisis.

The work plan 2016-2018 of the Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism in Lebanon is focused on three outputs and 12 activities (See detailed work plan here). It was formally adopted during a workshop held in Beirut on January 15, 2016, and it aims to lay the ground for a country-wide transition towards restored and sustainably managed productive landscapes over the coming years.

The three outputs are focused on:

  1. Governance, institutional support to the Ministry of Agriculture and enabling environment of forest and landscape restoration with actions focused on Intersectoral coordination, compared legislative analysis, knowledge dissemination and identification /mapping of restorations options
  2. Facilitate the access of  national institutions to sustainable financing for Forest and Landscape Restoration
  3. Pilot actions focused on the implementation of innovative models potentially replicable in other Lebanese regions with a focus on: restoration of abandoned terraces (Kadisha Valley and Shouf Biosphere Reserve) and restoration of landscapes affected by erosion in the bio corridor of Bkassine iconic pine forest and Mhaidseh. This work plan 2016 – 2018 is implemented with a strong leadership of the Rural Development and Natural Resources Directorate (RDNRD) of the Ministry of Agriculture.

 Chadi Mohanna (MoA)

Faten Adada and Christophe Besacier (FAO)