FAO in Lebanon

Preserving the History of Lebanon, Protecting the Cedars of Lebanon

"The Cedars know the history of the earth better than history itself."
Alphonse de Lamartine, French poet and historian (1790-1869).

Serving as the national emblem of the country, the cedar tree has always been the representative and main symbol of Lebanon in various forums around the world. The mountains of Lebanon were once shaded by thick cedar forests and the cedar tree was important to various ancient civilizations.

Over the centuries, cedar wood was exploited by the Phoenicians, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans, the Israelites and the Turks. Time, along with the overexploitation of the Lebanese Cedar has resulted in the depletion of most of the mountains of Lebanon leaving only a few scattered stands.

Despite their low density, Cedars of Lebanon are of importance in genetic diversity of the species, and constitute the southernmost cedar population. Thanks to legends and tradition, the cedar forests were not completely depleted.

During the period of 1999-2004, one of the largest of the remaining twelve cedar stands in Lebanon, the cedar forest of Tannourine, was severely infested by a new insect species, the web-spinning sawfly that was identified as Cephalcia tannourinensis. Back then, the pest spread and posed a serious threat to the surrounding forests, including the "Forest of the Cedars of God" (Horsh Arz el-Rab) in North Lebanon, recently registered in the World Heritage Convention. Neighbouring countries, including Cyprus and Syria, expressed concern that there could be transboundary spread of the new insect pest.

In 1998 and 1999, respectively, the percentage attack recorded was 70 and 80 percent, as was determined by a random sample of branches from 60 trees.

In response to the emergency nature of the outbreak, Rural Development and Natural Resources Directorate (RDNRD) of the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) initiated a joint venture with the American University of Beirut and experts from the Institut national de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), and FAO was requested to provide assistance to cover resource and information gaps, and provide capacity building for personnel in MoA.

In 2001, FAO launched its Technical Cooperation Programme project, "Protection of the Forests with Particular Emphasis on the New Pest Cephalcia Tannouresis Infesting Lebanon Cedars".

The project enabled MoA and, in particular, RDNRD to manage and contain a potentially serious pest problem affecting cedars. The activities of the project, coupled with those undertaken by the Government with support from INRA France, ensured that pest populations dropped significantly and that any further spread of the insect both within and outside Lebanon was prevented.

Foresters benefited from trainings on forest protection approaches, while communities, through national awareness campaigns, were encouraged to participate in protecting the trees.

The long-term management of the forest assisted in preserving the ecosystem of this semi-arid zone, as well as preserving a sacred tree species.

The major impact of this project was the sustainability of new technologies introduced for the first time to Lebanon by FAO; such as the study of lifecycle for a new pest aiming for a proper control and the new methodology and techniques needed to conduct a forest and trees assessment and inventory.

The project was nominated as a candidate to FAO SAOUMA award.

Project: Protection of the Forests with Particular Emphasis on the New Pest Cephalcia Tannouresis Infesting Lebanon Cedars.
Published: May, 2016.