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Regenerative Food Production with the LWR System: A solution to Lebanon’s National Catastrophe

Creating a regenerative food system that will profoundly affect the Bekaa Valley's most vulnerable people.

Photo of Lisa marketing@livestockwaterrecycling.com
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Livestock Water Recycling

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

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

Libanlait, American University of Beirut

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.livestockwaterrecycling.com

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

  • 10+ years

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

Calgary, Alberta Canada

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Canada

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

The Bekaa valley, located in Eastern Lebanon, covers an area of 1920 km2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Lebanon

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The pollution in Lebanon’s Litani river is a national catastrophe. In fact, from the Great Lakes of North America to the rivers of the Middle East, nutrient loads are flowing into waterways with devastating results. This pollution epidemic inspired Libanlait - the largest dairy in the country - to take action. In 2019 they installed the Livestock Water Recycling (LWR) System to reduce their environmental footprint, making their communities safer for citizens and refugees.

Libanlait was founded in 1997 and produces and distributes dairy products in Lebanon. Libanlait spreads over an area of 504,000 square metres in the Bekaa Valley. Facilities include a farm and a fully automated processing plant.

The LWR System is the only proven technology in the world to effectively recycle clean water from animal manure while concentrating nutrients for use as nature’s perfect fertilizer. While Livestock Water Recycling has been working on their vision for over 10 years, they have been working with Libanlait since 2018.

The technology installed at Libanlait extracts up to 70% of the water from manure while concentrating and segregating nutrients. As manure liquids flow through the LWR System, solids and fine particles are separated and extracted into phosphorus, potassium, ammonia, and organic nitrogen. The result is clean, potable water, a dry solid fertilizer that is rich in both phosphorus and organic nitrogen, and a concentrated stable ammonium and potassium liquid fertilizer. This example of waste to worth economics increases a farms profitability by optimizing their waste to grow more food rather than flushing money, and pollution, down the river!

 This inspiring project is having profound environmental, social and economic impacts, optimizing the farms environmental footprint, with a massively disruptive potential to introduce a truly regenerative food system in the region.

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.

Lebanon is a diverse and complex society. After over seven years of war in Syria, more than 350,000 refugees live in makeshift shelter camps in northern Bekaa. Mostly residing on private land belonging to Lebanese farmers, they make up part of the 1.3M people who live along the Litani River that flows through the Bekaa valley. With the rapid rise of refugees and high levels of water insecurity, protecting this river is imperative to the health and safety of those who depend on it.

Lebanon is one of the most densely populated countries in the Mediterranean area. Notwithstanding its meagre natural resources, Lebanon has long managed to serve as a busy commercial and cultural centre for the Middle East. That being said, according to the World Resources Institute, Lebanon is ranked third for extremely high baseline water stress.

Approximately 200,000 families work in agriculture, 42% of which is located in the 1920 km2 Bekaa Valley, home to our food system vision.  

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

1920

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

1300000

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

Lebanon is facing an economic and environmental disaster. Tragically, the level of pollution in the Litani river has reached alarming levels and represents a "national catastrophe" against which action is urgently needed, according to Lebanese Minister of Industry Waël Bou Faour. This is compounded by the fact that 1/3 of the country lives below the $1.90 per day international poverty line, and the country is home to a refugee crisis.

For years, the Litani was one of the most precious natural resources for Lebanon; however, today it is the epicenter of what is called an environmental tragedy. In the 1960s it was possible to water crops. Today, instead, studies show a progressive deterioration and very bad sanitary conditions. In fact, 93% of phosphate values exceed permissible limits (AUB Policy Institute)  

One of the most volatile water markets in the world, the overuse of water in agriculture is affecting already undersized water resources in the Middle East. There is limited availability of water during dry summer months due to the very low water storage capacity, the difficulty of capturing the water close to the sea, and the shortcomings of the existing water delivery systems and networks.

Syria’s seven-year civil war is an example of how water shortages can worsen already tense circumstances. While drought didn’t spark conflict, it did push many unemployed farmers into cities where poverty and frustration encouraged some people to extreme action. (Oregon State University)

The effects of that war has been felt in Lebanon, now struggling to support thousands of refugees who are putting pressure on the country’s resources.

"If there is not enough water for people to drink or cultivate crops in the Middle East, and that’s a big concern, those people may need to leave the areas where they live and that could lead to destabilizing migration. It could also lead to an escalation of violent protests," said Charles Iceland, director of global and national water initiatives at the World Resources Institute.

There is a 2 way relationship between food production and pollution: food production contributes significantly to pollution; in turn, pollution can impact food production.

Agriculture is the single largest contributor of ammonia pollution as well as emitting other nitrogen compounds. This affects soil quality and thus the very capacity of the soil to sustain plant and animal productivity. In addition, the growing trade in agriculture products in the last few decades has further increased the amount of pollution emitted from the intensification process.

With much unrest and uncertainty, food security is an additional driver of turmoil in Lebanon. Reducing pollution will not only benefit food production, but changing how we use resources in the region will increase food security.

As we look towards 2050, population growth, water depletion, and an increase demand for animal protein will put increased pressure on the world’s resources. Food production will have to adapt new strategies, like the LWR System.

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

Livestock Water Recycling has a passion for global water treatment and a desire to innovate. Committed to cleaning the world’s water, they are working with some of the largest dairies in the word to create a more sustainable food system. This work has brought them to the largest dairy farm in Lebanon.

It has been said that 93% of the phosphate values in the Litani River exceed permissible limits (AUB Policy Institute). With the LWR System, 99% of phosphorus is isolated to be used optimally be the farm. Furthermore, by optimizing resource usage is predicted to reduce conflict in the area (El Kareh, et al, 2018)

LWR creates value for food producers by reducing the expense and impact of waste liquids. The LWR System has become the most sought after sustainability solution in the world by global livestock producers who are looking grow more crops and produce more food using less money and fewer resources. This proven, patented nutrient recovery platform reduces the volume of livestock manure by concentrating nutrients into crop fertilizers, while recycling back clean water.  

The LWR System , a nutrient recovery technology, extracts up to 70% of the water from manure while concentrating and segregating nutrients. As manure liquids flow through the LWR System, solids and fine particles are separated and extracted into phosphorus, potassium, ammonia, and organic nitrogen. The result is clean, potable water, a dry solid fertilizer that is rich in both phosphorus and organic nitrogen, and a concentrated stable ammonium and potassium liquid fertilizer.

Food systems rely on and deplete natural resources, and food systems cause negative impacts on the environment. Our global food vision of making more efficient and sustainable use of natural resources, will create a regenerative food system in the Bekaa Valley.

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.

Efficient use of wastewater reduces the amount of groundwater used for agriculture and rivers become less polluted when less wastewater is returned to them. The LWR System return 70% of water from manure back to the farm. This disruptive food system will improve both the quantity and quality of water. In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council says recycling and reusing wastewater is an important part of tackling water pollution and water shortages around the world. 

According to the UN, “the human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity.” Access to safe drinking water is a human right that crosses all borders across humanity. Each of us are subject to the global impacts of food production, and the LWR System transforms food production at the local level in communities around the world. LWR achieves localization by meeting the needs of individual farmers while protecting communities from the negative effects of agriculture. This food system can be adapted to any country, language, culture, or market that raises livestock using liquid manure storage.

Regenerating the soils in the Bekaa valley and cleaning up the once celebrated Litani river will benefit the hundreds of thousands of people living along the river. As we look to the future, installing the LWR System on every dairy farm and food production plant in Lebanon would result in regenerated soils, increased farm productivity and food security. Complete wastewater recycling will reduce pollution, and most importantly, improve the quality of drinking water for the people in the region.

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

Progress is impossible without change. This is the powerful idea that inspires us to technologically disrupt the food production industry by providing farmers with a tool to produce food in a way that will protect and nourish our planet. Our mission is to help farmers feed the world while reducing their costs and restoring the health of the farming ecosystem. Our vision is to help create lagoon-free food production while protecting our rivers, lakes and streams from harmful nutrient runoff giving more people access to clean water. We have a goal to treat one trillion gallons of recycled water by 2050, while increasing the amount of recycled water around the world

Water stress poses serious threats to human lives, livelihoods and business stability. It’s poised to worsen unless countries act: Population growth, socioeconomic development and urbanization are increasing water demands, while climate change can make precipitation and demand more variable. It’s predicted that by 2050 12 out of the 17 most water-stressed countries are in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The region is hot and dry, so water supply is low to begin with, but growing demands have pushed countries further into extreme stress. Climate change is set to complicate matters further: The World Bank found that this region has the greatest expected economic losses from climate-related water scarcity, estimated at 6-14% of GDP by 2050.

Water is a key measure of inequality and poverty and expanding access to water is critical to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Water recycling has proven to be an effective way to create a reliable water supply without compromising public health and gives hope to poor and crisis-affected communities who suffer most from lack of water. The LWR System directly impacts 10 of the 15 goals, including:

Goal 15: Life On Land

Goal 14: Life Below Water

Goal 13: Climate Action

Goal 12: Responsible Production and Consumption

Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy

Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

Goal 2: Zero Hunger

The Litani River is a vitally important resource for those who live nearby; It irrigates more than 1,400 hectares of the Bekaa’s agricultural land and 36,000 hectares of Southern Lebanon. Protecting this river is imperative to the health and safety of those who depend on it.

Our food system vision improves local water quality. The Litani river suffers from years of nitrates, phosphates and other pollutants from agriculture. 48 communities including Syrian refugee camps depend on the river – many of whom are women and children. Furthermore, the uncontrolled rate of water withdrawal from aquifers is significantly faster than the natural rate of recharge. Lebanon water withdrawal is estimated at 1310M m3.  60% of this is for agriculture. Our food system vision will significantly reduce this by returning up to 75% of the water from manure. In fact, Libanlait expects to recycle 600m3 of water a day. Treating agricultural wastewater prior to discharge also protects waterways, eliminating threats of toxic algae blooms while improving drinking water quality.

A major part of our food system vision is the elimination of water shortages. The Arab region’s rainfall is well below the world average, getting just one-eighth the renewable water of the average global citizen. By 2050 the effects of climate change could possibly reduce renewable water by a further 20 percent.

This food system vision also contributes to a cleaner environment for animals. Treating manure on the farm immediately improves sanitation for both animals and employees working in the barns.  By removing manure from the barns and increases cleanliness, flies are reduced, which also increases rest time for animals and production losses of 306 lbs of milk per cow eliminated, thereby increasing food production and security.

Furthermore, separating the nitrogen, sulfur, and potassium into a liquid fertilizer while capturing organic nitrogen and phosphorus in a solid fertilizer saves money and balances soil conditions that have proven to result in 5 tons/acre increased corn yields. Regenerating soils with natural manure fertilizers will reduce commercial fertilizer usage and allow Liban Lair to stop importing food crops for their animals. Instead, they will have the ability to grow their own. 

One-third of the country lives below the $1.90 per day international poverty line. Our food system vision will improve the livelihood of famers, local residents, and refugees along the Litani river, many of whom have previously lost their main livelihood because they have stopped using the polluted river for irrigation.  One third of the world’s economically active population obtains its livelihood from agriculture. Our vision increases farm revenue by increasing crop yields, crop quality, and food production. In fact, the LWR System has been shown to increase crop growth by 30% on farms in the US. Access to more water while participating in the circular economy, results in a reduced environmental footprint while simultaneously increasing profitability.  

In 30 years, the human population of our planet will be near 10 billion. Not only is there a growing threat of water scarcity, but access to water is increasingly a source of conflict. Climate change is expected to exacerbate the situation and so making the most of the water we have is becoming essential to securing supply. Recycling wastewater for reuse is a necessary solution.

Our food system vision will significantly impact on the environment in some of the areas of largest water importance on the planet by dramatically changing the way manure is managed. Not only will there be drastically reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but we will work with the American University of Beirut to help validate and optimize this food system to implement it throughout the country.  This vision protects and preserves massively important bodies of water, resulting in cleaner waterways and increased food security for some of the world’s most vulnerable people who live along the Litani river.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Rockeffer Foundation

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Photo of Andrés Succar
Team

Hello from the very same valley! It is of primordial importance to us, and as you have noted, to all Lebanese for our largest river to be free of pollution. Your solution is indeed very interesting. I am wondering if similar plants could be installed to treat waste household water at a municipal level. Also, it seems you envision a future where more animals are exploited as an unnecessary source of proteins: wouldn't you believe that the way forward relies more on plant based options, as our ancestors had lived before the invention of refrigerators? Glad to know of your existence, and looking forward to collaborate on cleaning up the Litani!