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Zougha Community and Soil Regeneration

A self-sufficient culturally & neurologically diverse community dedicated to sustainable farming, traditional cuisine and renewable energy.

Photo of Andrés Succar
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

شركة ابناء ليشع سكر

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Farmer Co-op or Farmer Business Organization

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Beyond Organic Team is a multidisciplinary team working in all different altitudes of Lebanon, and advising prestigious institutions such as the Shouf Biosphere Reserve. Deir Jabboule is a Catholic Christian monastery next to Zougha. Fertotal is an electrical utilities, hardware and tools company.

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Bekaa

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Lebanon

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Zougha, in the plains, and Wadi el Oss in the Bekaa Valley, cover an area of 2 and 4km^2 respectively and are nearly adjacent estates.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Lebanon

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The 19th century marked a crucial moment in my family's history as we relocated from our hometown, Bcharre, in Mount Lebanon, to the fertile plains of the Bekaa. Starting but with ambition and a few goats, we had bought a small piece of land where we could move to and harvest our own food -- therefore key to our success was reducing expenses -- for we were later to reinvest all the money made from selling cheeses in buying neighboring pieces of land, instead of importing food and other necessities from other farms. This lucrative business brought together the Succar family to form an agricultural team capable of tending both, animals and crops, specially with the expertise of women not only in the cuisine but also in entrepreneurship. Even the Ottomans recognized my great great grandmother for the power she possessed. Our success was welcome in the region as we helped and employed those immediately surrounding us. In the late 1940s, nonetheless, clashes with local farmers took the expectable form of conflict one finds in Lebanon, inflating an innocuous misunderstanding into the sectarian cleansing of my family's uninvolved Christian supremacy. Although the conflict has been contemporarily resolved in dialogue with both parties, the vast majority of my family is now abroad. We remain legitimate land-owners, however, getting a miserable stipend yearly from the mismanagement of our partners there. I hope my project is able to bring at least my grandparents back to rest where they grew up, after having had to emigrate, yet again, at the age of 90, from Caracas to Beirut.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Current inhabitants of Zougha are marginalized Chi'a Muslim farmers and their families. Although perhaps less than a tenth of the plains are being cultivated, every (great) grandfather or inheritor -- in a network of some 1,000 relatives bearing the Succar last name -- has a farming partner who may or may not be working the land. Many a times they overlap, with a single farmer taking up to 3 plots (each of about 25,000m^2). The lack of education in this poor region, near the magnificent temple of Bacchus and Jupiter in Baalbek; the lack of government incentives for soil care, or even market demand for organic produce; paired with the rule of mafias selling synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides... has made out of our green Lebanon a mere continuation of the Syrian desert. Besides the invisible chemical pollution, the waste management crisis of 2015 makes plastic trash all the more visible in this neglected area holding, by the way, the largest number of refugees. The main crops here are grapes, aniseeds, apricot and tobacco. Moreover, the landscape is largely dominated by Cannabis plants, illegally producing Hashish and fetching high prices for traffickers (not farmers!) worldwide for its well known premium quality. This, too, has been industrialized against the culture of hitting the leafs in a porous bag against the wall. At the top of Wadi El Oss millenary junipers overlook the great disparity between abandoned fertility and irrigated corruption. The only hope left in our grand Lebanese heart lies in last year's October Revolution!

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

6

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

50

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The climate emergency is now. This is specially true for the Mediterranean region, whose temperature has already increased 1.5ºC since pre-industrial times (according to the City University of Hong Kong). Our grandiose national symbol, the Cedrus Libani, is now a critically endangered specie in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The effects of these unnatural changes are catastrophic for everyone. Longer droughts are extremely dangerous to our fragile socio-political balance in the region. Researchers have attributed part of the blame for the Syrian civil war to the poverty, hunger and thirst brought about by the drought of 2006-11 which displaced 1.5 million people from rural to urban areas. In North-West Lebanon, the rate of desertification is rapidly increasing as farmers lack access to education and rely on tradesmen of hazardous chemicals to show them how to exploit the land. According to the National Work to Fight Desertification over 60% of Lebanon's territory is at risk. Unless we smartly intervene today, farmers of these lands can count their last productive harvests to their end by 2050! Even then, nothing is being done to protect our most precious natural resource: water. Besides the invisible chemical pollution of rivers contaminating everything on their way down to the sea, there is an unbelievable amount of trash in the small jets of water left by big pumpers. A variety of native animals, from hyenas and snakes to turtles and seals are on that list, too. Many have already gone, undermining millions of years of evolution. In the Bekaa, hunting birds and Juniper deforestation greatly depletes biodiversity. 

The main non-environmental challenge we face in Zougha at the moment is bringing together all inheritors of this family farm to a single table of dialogue. Three generations have passed without addressing the fortune our forefathers left behind to us. The longer we wait, the more likely it is that the family will grow and the knowledgeable elderly will die. Lack of government incentives makes the Lebanese source 70% of its foods while even our terraced lands are left abandoned. Our elaborate recipes are being lost to undocumented time as concurrent generations seem to prefer meat-based fast-foods. Wherein millions are lifted out of poverty through technology, Lebanon is going the opposite direction. For instance, we no longer have a train and demand for electricity now far surpasses supply, leaving many in the dark for up to 12 hours a day! Instead of bringing new technologies, politicians look for the dirtiest way to enrich themselves, ignoring law 444 which protects youth's future, to cut commissions from large scale projects that leave us indebted for decades. The region's most prestigious banks actually rely on sending the brightest of us abroad to bring dollars in for our increasingly impoverished families. For these reasons, the Lebanese diaspora is huge, with estimations running wildly from two to four times larger than our own here. Internal displacement is also an issue, as rural populations move to cities hoping to find opportunities away from the fertile soil.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

To start with the question of abandoned ownership, we shall begin with a pilot project that aims to serve as a proof of concept in my immediate family's plot of 50,000m^2 in the plains. About half of these are already producing apricots, but the flood-irrigation system has overgrown weeds almost to the size of these trees. We will begin by cutting and laying a bed of organic matter to intercrop apricots with high market-value nitrogen fixers. Before we begin planting the other currently unproductive half, we will bring native animals to help us regenerate the soil. Only a small number of them will be raised for our priority here is the environment, not profit... though we must keep their populations under control so as to not exceed our capacity. They will be sold to other farmers who share our moral values for preserving species in their natural habitats. Similarly, we will rear and attract beneficial bugs for pest management, and sell unneeded colonies. Once fertility has been restored we can start planting the "home garden," as it was previously called, located in front of the clay houses where we lived. The community we are bringing together will eat mostly from here. As an initial phase, however, these will be sold as organic produce that could prove profitable for the rest of the family to jump on board. We have so far begun reaching out to those more or less active in the area, securing the willingness of about twelve land owners with a quarter of the territory -- in case of success. 

To start planting the first half a million square meters, we will need to rehabilitate the old houses and start shaping a living space for farmers and volunteers; we will also start developing infrastructure such as rain-water collection ponds, swales, automated drip-irrigation systems, and zero-blade wind turbines. The latter will specially attract international attention as we bring back our Phoenician heritage to harness energy. More importantly, this efficient technology will provide deprived peoples of this area constant access to electricity. Although a farm, we could also act as an educational center to teach people how to compost and recycle waste; produce foods, medicines and cosmetics, both in rural and urban areas; sustainable hunting; monitoring and documentation; and forestry. Whereas the plains will be developed more traditionally, it is the valley we expect to make an impact as Lebanon's first man-made food forest. Besides directly benefitting the environment, this will hopefully make agriculture appealing to the youth of the region thus encouraging them to stay in their villages, or even take a much needed break from their busy city life. As such, we can guarantee our land will not become a desert while at the same time giving birth to an innovative agricultural sector that could help us finally gain our independence and self-sufficiency by reclaiming food sovereignty.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The Lebanese revolution of October 17 reflects the public's distrust for politicians. As the state of climate emergency requires us to move beyond localities to tackle the global economy heads on, anarchist groups have started activating the masses educated online to fight corruptive power structures. That is, authorities will no longer be able to buy our voices with a bag of genetically modified beans because freedom will independently propel us to success. Our foresight allows us to build a community with no hierarchies from the outset. Everyone living here will be given what is needed, so one could then choose how to give back to the environment with its uniquely diverse people. We aim at being completely self-sufficient, first and foremost, in terms of nutritious food; but also healthcare; waste management; energy; and education. Our focus on this specific area is only for logistical and legal circumstances, but, of course, we hope that by 2030 we would have become a symbol of abundant harmony which inspires everyone to collaborate on re-greening Lebanon as a tool to instigate climate resilience, food security, rural development and technological innovation. We are radically determined to prove to all peoples of the world that whereas governments that often ignore our will need us, we do not need them at all. Our model of self-organization is planned to serve some 100,000 people living in the villages surrounding Zougha, taking decisions by consensus even with the most marginalized voices of war and climate refugees pitted equal to that of land owners'.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

My grandparents had just married when the incidents which displaced the whole community began. Their first son, my uncle was born in a ship to Italy. Migratory motions for refuge have since then only increased. Lebanon is a tantalizing embodiment of this cruel modern world. Millions of Palestinians, Iraqis, Egyptians, Libyans, Sudanese and Syrians have sought safety in our libertarian society -- Ethiopians, Phillipinos, Sri Lankans, Nepalese, Bangladeshis and Indians have more recently started coming to us for enslaving opportunities. We, on the other hand, have been massively fleeing social inequities motivating hatred and conflict up to a boom with the atrocities of a long-lasting civil war. Feudalism has had its leg pinned down on us since the 17th century, further empowering the rich with political charges. Nowadays, the disparities between billion dollar politicians and malnourished farmers comes off view with sectarian sentiments. Despite being the oldest consociational democracy in the region, with women suffragists taking their right to vote in 1952, the parliament of 2018 had less than 5% female representation. According to a survey conducted in 2016, 31% of women in Lebanon had experienced intimate partner violence and 24% of men claimed responsibility for it. We cannot but start designing our food vision against this irresponsible political system which has not had an agricultural budget since 1992: our community will be inclusive to people from all religions, nationalities, financial backgrounds, ages, genders and sexual orientations.

Secondly, we will tackle speciesism as the illusory positioning of homo sapiens hierarchically above other animals. The wellbeing and continued existence of native animals in the place are paramount to our forestry and soil regeneration efforts. Cows, goats and gazelles, for instance, help us prune lower branches to prevent fires and make pathways, also allowing flowers and bushes to grow for bees and other beneficiary insects; free range sheep and chickens eat the leftovers from agriculture on the plains and naturally increase the fertility of the land for next season's production. Until technological advancements in lab meat from stem cells is readily available, the majority of stakeholders see animal products as an indispensable added value. Through negotiation, we found a common ground for producing cheeses and wool as had our ancestors. That is, without forcibly impregnating and separating babies from their mothers, taking only the excess milk and fermenting serum in the stomach of a dead cow; wool, protecting sheep's skin from the ardent sun, will be shaved at the end of summer while they keep together for warmth. The few animals who will be unfortunately slaughtered shall not have suffered their whole life, their throats rapidly slit, conforming truly to Halal standards. Moreover, these products will be labeled in such a way that the health risks and environmental impacts of consumption are made evident. Thus educating consumers, we hope by 2050 to have made the demand for animal products falter for plant-based ones. From then on, or before, we will stop all forms of animal exploitation, while increased consumer awareness will stop other farms from doing this, too. As we expect and work for the vegan community to grow in the future, we will offer grain milks and cheeses starting in parallel to regulars.

The farm will grow a large variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, herbs, and flowers. Rather than relying on the government's provision of spring water every other year, we will dig ponds for rainwater collection up the hill where there is currently nothing growing. Employing the earth's pulling force, we will automate smart irrigation systems that constantly check the moisture of the soil to adequately water the plants without losses to evaporation or flooding. For the hill itself swales will be dug to further capture rain water and prevent land-slides. Our design puts water-intensive plants near these, whereas the rest of the valley can accommodate a wide range of berries, cherries and nuts by the side of acclimated native species such as junipers. Taking elements from permaculture the aesthetics of our food forest will encircle tourists into a resort that will serve them fresh nutritious food in the form of ancient dishes. The plains are further emancipated through biodynamic farming, making use of flower scented compost and crushed mineral quartz to better divide light waves. Nonetheless, we do expect pests mutated by the over-use of chemicals near us to defy Steiner's fires cremating their mates. We will therefore rear beneficial bugs such as predatory lacewings and parasitoid wasps to prey on pests. Enhancing the natural habitats of these as well as frogs and bats is key. The aquaculture of ponds will sustain ducks and geese, who also help manage pests. Reintroducing owls for preying on rodents comes hand in hand with the task of removing superstitious stigma around these creatures. Our ultimate aim is to create a seed-bank and nursery for heirloom species on the brink of extinction.

Since we strive for a semi-permanent community, with some coming and going but others staying to form families, we will provide educational services for kids and uneducated adults. With the support of NGOs such as the Lebanese Alternative Learning our facility will be accredited and enrolled in the national baccalaureate. The difference from other schools will be vast, as we explore academic fields hands-on and prepare for state examinations digitally. Moreover, at the core of our concept is that nature can be meditative and therapeutic. In Zougha it was not only acceptable, but even preferred for the family to marry cousins. Although the risk of genetic disorders for babies from cousin parents are not as high as one might think, my aunt, Nelly, was born different. She, together with many similarly stigmatized people, has many skills: like saving your phone number in her agenda and remembering where she wrote it when you are needed. Others, specially autistic, have brilliant artistic visions or scientific internalization. In her name, we will welcome our special friends from society to grow their compassions and careers with us. For the elderly, somewhat dislodged from family attention, Zougha will offer nurturing friendships that last to the grave. Arts and research will flourish here.

The housing facility built on the ruins of old Zougha village will have a hosting capacity of 100 volunteers. We will work in teams for gardening and weeding, forestry, animal care, construction and general maintenance. As our indigenous culture co-evolved with the same landscape until the ecosystem established an equilibrium which included and sustained us, we attempt to bring back traditional ways of building with clay and straw. In addition, specific site areas at the borders will be used for growing oak, cedar, walnut and black walnut trees for wind-breaking and timber to be used in building our place. With this, we will build a resort on the ruins where my family used to spend the summers in Wadi el Oss. Our aim is to use nothing from outside the farm. Hemp, 'biocrete' and fungi will be used as building materials. All plastics used in the farm will be obtained either from recycled or biological sources, not fossil. The sewage system will be open, passing unto three different leveled tanks allowing different plants to absorb nutrients from a floating mesh until the water is finally purified and can be used for irrigation of timber trees and flowers. Since we will be providing organic soaps and detergents for the community, both, black and grey waters will undergo the same treatment.

The backbone of industry is agriculture, specially if one seeks to decarbonize the economy. In Zougha, where rows of fruit trees and vegetables are symbiotically benefitted from intercropping medicinal herbs and aromatic flowers in between, food and raw materials for cosmetics and construction will grow together. As such, every individual in our community will be given shelter, body soap, solid shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste and clothes from the same land we work on. Creams, teas and essential oils will be made available to whomever is feeling ill; if need be Dr. Nader Younes' practice that maps the nervous system to untangle pains with tactile pressure in a mixture of alternative indigenous reliefs will be applied. Moreover, we will employ locals to provide innovative biofabricated materials made with fungi, bacteria and yeast. These high-tech laboratories will be roofed with solar panels, and a Tesla Megapack will smartly store and administer excess energy supply to surrounding villages. Also, diverting used oils from polluting our waters, we will have a biogas facility to recycle this into clean petrol. If the Lebanese government ever manages to recognize its inability to get us electricity and pass bills to buy this from private sources, we will be the first to install blade-less wind turbines; and perform studies to confirm the indication of our place's geothermal potential to close the gap between demand and supply. Finally, we will opt to make the same old wine referenced in the Bible, processed anaerobically, as a perfect companion to our delicious healthy food.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Prize partners

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good project! good family spirit! all the best

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