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Farms Not Arms

multi-agricultural education model for refugees & host communities to target nutritional food security, social cohesion, and climate change

Photo of Jehane Akiki
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

ioi strategic design

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Other

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

Agritecture, Peace Accelerators, Regenerative Ventures, Bau-Land, Da Rocha Farm

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • 1-3 years

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

New York City - Lebanon

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America + Lebanon

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

Zahle(40 km^2), the largest city in Bekaa (4,429 km2).All of Lebanon is 10,452 km^2 so we can potentially scale across the country by 2050

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Lebanon was chosen because it is the country with the highest percentage of refugees in the world and 2 of our team members, Jehane and Yara, have lived there. Jehane was born and raised in Lebanon until she went to university in the US, so is deeply familiar with the place and its complexities, and Yara studied in Lebanon for university. As a team, we have been working on food security in the Bekaa since March 2018 where we started doing contextual ethnographic research on the food and agricultural realities of Syrian refugees in the Bekaa. The goal was to understand how we can create a model to help refugees achieve food security while regenerating the land. We then undertook a design sprint with refugees in May 2018 where they helped map out the problem areas they are facing -- one of them being social cohesion which also made us include the local community in our project design as well as understanding the wider food system. These problem areas became the basis of an expert design sprint in NYC through which we started assembling our partners and team. We were also interacting with local experts to tailor it and help fill in knowledge gaps and conducted studies to understand the soil composition in the Bekaa. 

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.


The Bekaa is the agricultural valley of Lebanon and has been cultivated since the Roman Empire. Nowadays, it makes up 40% of Lebanon’s arable land and is responsible for more than half of national agricultural outputs. Agriculture is quite traditional characterized by monoculture, vegetables, fruits, olives,vineyards, industrial crops, potatoes, hashish, and some cereal grains.The Bekaa hosts 62% of the total land used for industrial crops and 57% of that used for cereal production. 

There’s a lot of land availability in the Bekaa for agriculture that is rented for around $600-$1000/ 1000m2 per year and it’s generally red clay soil. Despite that, production in greenhouses is more intensive than in open fields leading to more agro-chemicals used. Improper agricultural practices led to the erosion of soil over time, depletion of underground water resources, pollution of aquifers and rivers because of agriculture and industry runoffs, excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, waste dumping and others that contributed to massive water, air, and general pollution and all of their accompanying health risks.


Most Lebanese families all over the country own land in their villages that are usually left empty, with rapid urbanization leading to less people in agriculture. It’s seen as the least profitable sector to work in and over 20% of households engaged in agriculture are highly vulnerable. The Bekaa, being the agriculture area, is one of the more underdeveloped parts of the country with high levels of poverty.

Starting 2011, Lebanon, with a population of 4.5 million people, was hosting approximately 2 million refugees, mostly Syrian and Palestinian, making it the country with the highest percentage of refugees per capita in the world. The largest concentration was in the Bekaa and this massive influx of people put a huge strain on resources for the local community who was already impoverished. Having a 25% population increase without the right management was a real strain on natural resources, water, food, job opportunities, infrastructure that became really palpable on the Lebanese community and led to a 66% increase in overall poverty since 2011.The government’s failure to manage the influx of refugees led to a lot of social tension between refugees and local communities, especially in Zahle, the largest city in the Bekaa and is predominantly Christian. 

Refugees were mostly working in agriculture (mainly women) and construction ( mainly men). Women working in the field are mostly young and were paid $4/day for 5-7 hours a day, but the payment was very sporadic and the work very seasonal, especially in the summer. Their work in agriculture reinforced the problems that they were facing, as well as negatively influenced Lebanese farm workers who lost their jobs to cheaper Syrian labor.

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


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

Environment: Lebanon is traditionally water rich, but today, aquifers in Bekaa are drying up, deep wells have high sulfur & shallow wells have sewage water leakages in them. Agriculture & industry runoffs pollute major rivers & dumped solid waste is visible. With high summer droughts, clean water has become so scarce that some farmers are irrigating with contaminated water. Air is polluted due to combustion, generators, power plants. Soil has around 2% organic matter & lost a lot of its composition, leading to nutritional depletion in food. Agricultural land, widely available, is mismanaged & left empty. Climate change contributed to agri seasonal changes. This year extended summer drought caused 140 wildfires early October. 

Diets: varied in vegetables, greens, herbs, grains, chicken, & meat. Bekaa & Syria eat heavier foods than Beirut. Due to environmental strain, vegetables are lacking in micronutrients. Ministry of Health showed Lebanon had highest % of cancer in Middle East & one of the top 10 in the world. 60-70% of breast feeding women in Bar Elias, Bekaa had cadmium & other heavy metals in their breast milk. 

Economics: 20-30% of workforce is in agriculture, but it’s only 4% of GDP. Subsidies are meaningless due to high export costs, so agribusiness is not desirable. 80% of food in Lebanon is imported, making it externally dependent. The government forbids refugees from legally working except in agriculture, construction, & home businesses. Some rely on UN cards of $27/month that are randomly distributed. They’re 25% of the population but economically unproductive & using up resources.

Oct 17,2019 started a revolution due to an economic crisis, destabilized currency, & widespread government corruption, but one of the revolution sparks was the government’s inability to deal with climate-resultant wildfires. This worsened the economic situation: capital controls mean a lot of food can’t be imported. A lot of salaries were cut in half or people were fired. Increased food prices & decreased income led to widespread food insecurity, basic staples doubling in price & looming threat of endemic famine. 

Culture: Women present along food system. Lebanese & Syrians view food as communal, with family, & sometimes neighbors, coming together for at least 1 meal/day, requiring large food quantities. Heirloom seeds are still found in Syria & Lebanon. There’s a growing organic farmers market among city-dwellers, helping sustainable farms who have no government support. 

Technology: very traditional, agrochemicals, & monoculture. Some initiatives to innovate food system: a local accelerator, some people incorporating tech but all isolated.

Policy: Government trade deals made importing way cheaper than local production. Government doesn’t help sustainable production (eg neem oil is banned) making it very costly. Refugees are allowed to work in agriculture but new policies are passed to ensure they don’t profit from it. 

With current situation, by 2050, the environment will be strained with dried up land, food system entirely dependent on export. Widespread famine would take over a predominantly poor & refugee population, with the rest migrating

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

We designed an easily scalable multi-agricultural model that combines regenerative agriculture with adapted agricultural technologies. This solution aims to target:

  • nutritional deficiencies & food insecurity

  • soil depletion & climate change

  • social cohesion between local communities & refugees

We also believe that education should be at the heart of it all to ensure long-lasting impact & scale agricultural change beyond one farm. To do that, we have designed a farm layout that will inform the creation of an immersive curriculum meant to guide participants on building a farm by leveraging local & global experts & innovators in agriculture. 

We are starting with a 1 to 5 acre piece of land that we call a proto-farm in Zahle to showcase the hybrid agricultural model. We are choosing a small plot as a starting point on purpose to show how much diversity can be produced on it. 

On the farm, we combine: 

  • low-tech, soilless, hydroponic greenhouses to produce nutritious, micronutrients-heavy food for immediate, local consumption

  • outdoor permaculture, intercropping, herd rotation, composting, agroforestry & diversified polyculture planting to restore organic matter & nitrogen levels in soil

  • a community space to house educational courses & communal dinners for greater local social cohesion & community-building

The hydroponics will be built out using local materials in a simplified manner to teach about new agricultural technologies while providing immediate access to nutritious & clean food. The outdoor area will incorporate different aspects of regenerative agriculture & syntropic farming in order to rewild & restore the soil. We will incorporate rainwater harvesting & water purification techniques to ensure use of clean water. Some of the trees planted will contain wildflowers & native nut trees so that we can start experimenting with revenue-generating crops for local & global consumption (like turning into tea, nut butter...) 

The heart of the first pilot is having the farm as a school/ living lab; an immersive knowledge space where the community builds out the hybrid farm as they learn & adapt new skills. The curriculum incorporates different experts that were involved in the design & it’s blended -- virtual & in-person. It is experiential & contains visits to nearby forests, local farms, community etc to learn how to cultivate such a farm. Open community dinners & seminars are also available for the public to attend & advertised around town in order to raise awareness on how agtech can provide immediate food & higher yield per square meter as well as on the importance & power of regenerative agriculture & agroforestry to rewild the Bekaa. Such open workshops & events are key to the scaling of the project & to get exposure to the new agricultural skillsets that the participants are gaining. At the same time, as the farm grows in yield, it is divided into a CSA model to ensure fair distribution of produce. 

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.

We aim to start small on a local community level, build a protofarm & then scale to nearby lands. We are developing a system to address the challenges faced: using & harvesting clean water; helping restore the soil & growing native species that purify the air; increasing food security by growing locally; & increasing variety on 1 small piece of land that, when scaled, can feed so much of the country. 

By providing training, participants cultivate specialized skills that can create higher income for them, especially while we raise awareness to increase demand for their regenerative & agtech skills. 

The ultimate goal is to convert conventional agricultural land into regenerative & multi-agricultural farms, with different techniques employed for a holistic agriculture system. Yet, we decided to start with the abandoned plots of land 1st, so tradeoffs are less. With the first participants, we will produce highly skilled labor that can charge more to work on other farms — this will help refugees & the participating local community receive more income. Bekaa & Zahle are a small community, so through word of mouth & hosting events like dinners, talks, demo days, we raise awareness of our work & the value of multiagricultural farming so that more people will be incentivized to apply new techniques to their land — either by hiring some of our “graduating” labor or by enrolling in the next protofarm. With the right technology, both with adapted the hydroponics & by tracking the education & the impact on land, people can also be compensated for their regenerative farming. 

With that, we hope to create a network chain effect where the people in each protofarm become agents of change & spread new agricultural techniques through them, scaling in the Bekaa first & then across the country using existing social network ties. This increases job opportunities, produces more nourishing food locally, & builds community around nourishing each other & regenerating the land.

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

 A lot of farmers simply do not know that their practices are harming the earth or that they could create larger yield using fewer resources with newer agricultural innovations. Some of the local farming community at the moment does have some ancestral knowledge of regeneration, but they see it as the way their grandparents used to farm. They have been led to believe that it is outdated and that they need conventional, monocultural, pesticide-heavy agriculture to be market competitive. Our vision therefore is to start by creating a protofarm to showcase how using multiple agricultural techniques employed together can form a holistic agriculture system that is nourishing, regenerative, and still profitable to the farmer. 

We believe that the starting point for such a system is through behavioral change and that is best accomplished by experiential education. Education, not in the traditional sense, but by creating a protofarm as an immersive knowledge space, allowing them to leverage their existing skillets and then build on top of them to enhance them into 21st century agricultural skillsets. To do that, we have designed a protofarm made up of a hybrid model: low-tech hydroponics for immediate, nutritious food consumption, mixed with outdoor regenerative agriculture for soil restoration through carbon sequestration, agroforestry, syntropic farming and more to truly unleash the regenerative power of agriculture. We came up with this design based on the food needs and agriculture systems of the local community and refugee population in Zahle, and our goal is to have our first farm act as a school/ living lab that is being built out while the participants are learning more regenerative and tech-forward agriculture skills. 

We are starting out on an empty plot of land (of which there are many family-owned ones in Lebanon), and the outputs of the first protofarm will be planting the various food requirements of the local population; testing the immersive curriculum format; and graduating local Lebanese and Syrian refugee skilled trainers. With word of mouth and open public events, we aim to raise awareness of our initiative and value of skilled labor, and hire our first batch of participants into nearby farms with increased income. We will aim to have a few protofarm cohorts to show the value and upskill more regenerative labor to slowly be scaling into a regenerative and nourishing food system by 2050. 

The transition/ sequencing will impact different areas as follows:

Environment: Start with abandoned lands and incentivize land owners to hire skilled labor to revive lands, work on sequestering carbon plus plant different crops. Scout neighboring land and develop community agricultural planning to test out municipal self-sufficiency (to later influence policy). Produce less negative agricultural byproducts, contribute to cleaner food production and cleaner environments. Engage in agroforestry practices, plant native trees, and then sell some of them when they are grown beyond nursery phase. After conducting analysis, divide land up, allocating some to produce enough food, while earmarking other lands for agroforestry to increase lands reserved for afforestation.  

Diets: Grow cleaner foods according to what people want, starting with eggplants,  tomatoes, zucchini, parsley, kale, spinach, and zaatar/ thyme grown inside the hydroponics. (These specific plants are based on our design sprint)

In the outdoor portion, grow pomegranate, pumpkin, wildflowers yucca as well as pine, almonds, walnuts and other native trees in the agroforestry portion

Test and experiment with mushrooms and sweet potatoes as well as different grains to lessen wheat dependencies. 

Economy: Upskill and reskill people with regenerative skill sets and help them find higher-paid jobs for both refugees and Lebanese. Incentivize families with abandoned land to recultivate it. With the spread of such skills, leverage native species such as pine nuts, almonds, olives, wildflowers and others for exports -- all of which are wanted and sold at a premium globally. Create a collaborative effort and localized planning to move towards less dependency on imports. Work with newer community-based NGOs that have started growing wheat and grain for national security. 

Create awareness on the move from conventional to regenerative, multi agricultural systems. In the medium-run, when starting the transition, some land will need to be burned down, which will result in yield loss. To incentivize farmers, show how low-tech agriculture can help with creating immediate production. 

Since the government will not likely subsidize the emergence of such systems at first, find private investors such as Agrytech, Lebanon’s leading food accelerator, as well as USAID and other agencies to help with some initial cash injections and subsidies. 

Culture: Engage the heirloom seed providers, ICARDA  and Jouzourna w Bouzourna, in the seed acquisition process. Maintain high standards so that they can be marketed at a premium, both in the local cities and internationally. 

Host community-wide dinners and revive that aspect on a wider level to show the intricacies of the food system. 

Bridge social tension between refugees and local communities by working on the same piece of land, show how refugees can help regenerate land they arrive to rather than deplete resources. 

Technology: Track heirloom, organic, regenerative and different methods used to grow food and sold at a premium. Use AI and machine learning to understand what is being grown where as well as deduce patterns of agricultural market needs to help plan cropping and work towards community-wide, then national wide, food sufficiency. Utilize blockchain technology by issuing blockchain based credentialing for the training component as well as by tracking impact and rewarding farmers to create a more cohesive system of training, work, and impact.  (We have relationships with 2 companies, Learning Blocks and Regen Network who can respectively do that)

Policy: Some of the government-supported pesticide companies as well as government trade deals might be negatively affected by a shift to a regenerative system. To influence policy on a national level, start on a local, municipal level. Invite municipality heads to protofarms, collect data and show differences in yield plus benefit in increasing efficiency of municipality. 

Get the curriculum into local schools and work on first passing a regenerative agriculture in classes policy through the ministry of education. With more demand and more labor, it will help create subsidies for this kind of farming. With the revolution in Lebanon demanding more technocratic representations, the state of agriculture policy depends on who is elected and what their goals are. 

Create a campaign called “Farms Not Arms” to showcase how Lebanese and Syrian refugees are working together to regenerate the land and help the country. The goals of the campaign are to change the view on migration from one that is harming the host country to one that is replenishing it; and to also show the importance and power of such a farming model in maintaining peace, whether through food security or social cohesion, in one of the most volatile areas in the world -- the Middle East. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

Farm Design: turned blueprint into an architectural farm design; developed farm yield calculator combining 3 different forms of agriculture; created loops between components to minimize waste. Projected yields & economics of the farm; developed skeleton for an education curriculum needed to build out our integrated farm system.

Community Co-Created: expanded team to include more local partners who informed & built out design with us; had multiple iterative feedback sessions with local team of farmers, environmentalists, architects, & organic food distributors to ensure that it’s rooted in local residents & refugees needs in Bekaa; created network of local & international partnerships to successfully execute the project & ensure continuity

Systems Thinking: exhaustive sensing & research of local, regional, & news sources, Twitter for signals & trends; engaging with local academics, researchers, journalists to get specific insights for systemic map;

Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).

Agritecture, Bau Land, AVAH Designs, Biomass, The Other Dada, Da Rocha Farm

Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.

Full profile with names in due diligence attachment (to maintain privacy)

Retailers/ Distributors/ Food Workers: Biomass became part of team. Engaged different levels of employees through zoom, Whatsapp, and calls for information & knowledge sharing, Local farmers that joined team: Da Rocha Farm, farmer from Shams Permaculture,

Other local farmers that we consulted: Beit el Baraka Farmers, all engaged through Whatsapp & zoom 

Refugee farmers from Jouzourna w Bouzourna, other refugee farm laborers through their community leaders 

Researchers: soil scientists & the head of American University of Beirut Landscape Design & Ecosystem Management 

Lebanese journalists plus researchers on food security and politics 

Local architects on earth brick architecture 

General Manager of Agrytech, food accelerator in Lebanon 

Waste Recoverers + NGO: Regenerate Lebanon

Bekaa residents + entrepreneurs 

Due to covid, most of our interactions were online on zoom, whatsapp, either in an individual or in group format for our feedback sessions

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

Full list with data sources :


  1. Global environmental decay - Fertilizer/pesticide overuse and their toxicity, increasing occurrences of extreme weather events, 25% of carbon emissions to date from soil release

  2. Glocalization or global localism- shift in geopolitical/economic climate going to a globally connected world with open source frameworks/designs/tools, fall of nation state power with rise of global commons (e.g. cryptocurrencies), digital/virtual economies that will help achieve local sufficiency of communities; global coordination + exchange with local action

  3. Lebanese Government - Ineptitude, corruption, willful deprivation of vital public services, capriciousness

  4. Renewable/Regenerative Tech - Cost of solar/wind energy per kWh decreasing, various high yield + low input farming methods like aeroponics, CRISPR use across industries

  5. Social Impact funding - Carbon credit markets, green bonds, microlending and crowdfunding platforms

  6. Diet Change - Monocultures, high calorie + low nutrient, Western diet diseases, organic and local foods fetch a premium

  7. Hyper financialization - Everything is an asset, anything can be collateralized or securitized. Liquid, efficient markets are the holy grail of all economies


  1. Corona as the great accelerator of both positive & negative phenomena: pushing future trends while also deepening problems and inequities, its effects on global supply chains failing requiring local production

  2. Lebanese protests - riots, gov’t collapse, lira devaluation, defaulting + IMF bailouts, all showing that there will be change in government 

  3. Capital controls + currency devaluations making imports harder, with 85% of food in LEbanon imported, great push towards local production

  4. Rise in community-based organizations providing food relief

  5. Rise in guerilla agriculture, food price increases, new national agriculture campaign show signals of agriculture system change & renewed interest in farming

  6. Irreversible ecosystem destruction - Australian + Amazon wildfires, EPA policy reversal in USA, Lebanon’s wildfires as one of the spark of the protests

  7. Food/BioTech Innovations - Mushroom based furniture, pesticide, and meat products, carbon sequestration via algae farms, tools for people to be  self reliant (e.g. growing their own herbs/plants), 

Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).

Selma wakes up before the sun rises. She quietly gets through morning prayers before transitioning into her morning routine. Today’s a special day. It’s her son Chelbel’s birthday and the anniversary of her business partnership with Nazih, her former Lebanese landlord. Selma makes her favorite breakfast to celebrate—Al Soussi, made with fresh eggs from her farm.

As she’s cooking, she overhears the news debating the new law barring climate refugees from Europe several rights. She thinks to herself, “history always repeats itself.”

After breakfast, Selma gets to her test field to grab pollen from an indigenous lentil that her and her daughter Maram are trying to cultivate. By 10:30, she’s showing her apprentice Giovani (an Italian refugee) how to fix the autonomous fruit picker. 

At 13:30, Selma has lunch with Nazih to celebrate. She brings her indigenous chickpeas, neighbor’s folic-acid fortified eggplants and nephew’s lab grown chic-mutton fusion meat to their local bring-your-own-food restaurant. The chef makes them hummus, babaganoush, and shawarma. 

Later in the afternoon she learns from Maram how to purify proteins from their designer pear using crystallography. It’s very difficult for Selma, but she enjoys the time spent with her daughter. 

By evening, Selma prepares her son’s favorite meal—Seaweed Sarma. Instead of grape leaves, he prefers carbon-friendly kelp. She also is going to surprise him with potato chips. Chips are expensive and difficult to find in 2050, but for him it’s worth it. Chelbel loved chips when they lived in the camp and that’s all she could afford. It takes Drone Postal 2hrs to get it to him in Damascus.

By dinner time, Selma 3D video calls Charbel. They enjoy the meal together from different places.

As Selma falls asleep, she feels proud of what she and her children have accomplished and intellectually stimulated from all the new things she’s learning. She empathizes with Giovanni’s struggles and hopes she can be a good mentor to him.

Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

Rapid erosion of soil began when people started plowing, separating livestock from plantation & planting a single monoculture crop across huge fields that feeds the soil a very limited amount of nutrients & depletes it over time. Soil, the planet, & the climate are connected & after using such practices across the planet, soil has become severely deteriorated & lost its ability to capture carbon, thus keeping way more carbon in the atmosphere & contributing to climate change. Lebanon started witnessing its effects with more extreme heat & cold, changing weathers & wildfires that Lebanon has started experiencing in October 2019 & April 2020. 

In reality though, healthy soil can hold more carbon than plants & atmosphere combined with 40% of carbon that the plant takes in going to its roots & soil microorganisms. Although its current state is so bad that we only have less than 60 years of topsoil left, it can be quickly regenerated that within 30 years, we can see considerable, reversable effects on our climate & have a very different reality. Regenerative agriculture is like an insurance policy against extreme weather because healthy soil can mitigate against excess rainfall by storing the excess water in aquifers & against drought by releasing that moisture. 

Lebanon is unique in that it has a lot of empty clay-rich lands that were once fertile but were abandoned by their land owners because it is not profitable to work in agriculture. Soil is not as heavily depleted as other areas in the world as our soil tests show organic matter of around 2% in the Bekaa but still require improvements. The health of soil is exacerbated by major pollution & waste problems in Lebanon, which has been suffering from a garbage crisis since 2015.  The government doesn’t care so much about environment with only 14% of waste recycled & reused, garbage ending up in water, polluting rivers that 70% of all water in the country is contaminated, contributing to Lebanon having highest percentage of cancer in middle east & top 10 in the world (AUB). 

Civil society, private sector & protestors have been leading the green revolution& efforts in afforestation, reforestation, rise in organic, regenerative movement on an individual scale, national campaigns to clean up, & an activist campaign to save the Bisri Valley that the government wanted to destroy & build a dam. Environmentalists were able to receive world bank attention & start discussions on redirecting the funds meant to build a dam.  A new national campaign was started around organic agriculture & planting efforts have started becoming more popular recently. We are building on this momentum to spread the value of regenerative agriculture to build resilient climates & promote the importance of diversifying crops, silvapasture, tree intercepting, no tilling, using hydroponics to plant out of season & extend seasons

In our farm design, we establish an economical viable model of farming that builds out food forests that are resilient to climate variation & pest & that is ecologically restorative while also reintroducing traditional low-cost construction methods, Earth brick, with a contemporary boast of efficiency using block machine. We add adaptation at every point of the farm, starting with the farm design & how everything can be covered & uncovered for temp regulation, & building out network for these farms to enhance the economy through regenerative ag & rapidly spread knowledge on how regeneration & diversification creates a healthier environment while also protecting against crop losses to storms, pests etc. As we progress, we will add seaweed farming as a means to clean up rivers using aquaculture to restore water health. We are also capturing water across the farm to deal with drought & scarcity. 

Spreading this regenerative organic integrated farming is crucial because for it will kickstart the virtuous cycle of climate change reversal & drawdown year to year reduction in carbon with crop diversity feeding the soil more nutrients & accelerating the healing process of the soil by emulating how natural ecosystems work & how they regulate themselves through diversity & contribute to healthy soil & healthy environment. This will ensure healthy & resilient systems by 2050.

Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?

Food insecurity is currently a reality for many Lebanese people & refugees residing in Lebanon due to economic, political, and financial hardships ongoing in the country that were further compounded by coronavirus. Extreme poverty (less than $1.25/day) has increased 12% in Lebanon from end of 2018 to early 2020. Before the refugee crisis, among certain parts of Lebanon’s population (like the Bekaa) almost1/2of those surveyed exhibited forms of food insecurity. Now, due to lack of money & resources, 49 percent of Lebanese have reported being worried about their ability to source enough food while 31 percent say they were unable to eat healthy & nutritious food over the course of a year.

Lebanon used to feed the Middle East & parts of Europe, but currently, the Middle East is the greatest food importing region in the world & the country imports 85% of its food. With currency devaluating, imports became even more expensive that supermarket prices of basic food items have increased by 45% from October 2019 to January 2020. This has made a great part of the population food insecure, proliferated the rise of food banks and community support, while increasing the consumption of cheap, calorific dense, unhealthy food, which were already on the rise due to Western influences on food imports & diets. Lebanese are moving away from micronutrient-rich diets towards Western diets which are higher in energy, sugar, & fats. The change in diet has resulted in a higher incidence of obesity, which has increased to 10.9 percent for six to 19 year olds and 28.2 percent in adults. The risk of rising obesity remains very real given that, on average, men are more overweight (72.8 percent) than women (59.4 percent). This has increased the risk of other chronic diseases emerging and resulted in deepening poverty due to competing demands on food and healthcare expenditures among both refugees and Lebanese citizens. The triple burden (obesity, malnutrition, and undernutrition) is likely to increase due to the combination of limited access, poor dietary choices, and locked-in dietary habits compounded by less exercise.

At the same time, food production in Lebanon is very inefficient that although it produces & exports wheat, it also relies on imports by private companies, especially from Russia & Ukraine & the government’s ability to import is getting more & more constrained due to declining dollar reserves. Between 2018 & 2019, Lebanon only produced 130,000 tonnes of wheat, while importing almost 1.6m tonnes.

Syrian refugees are almost completely dependent on food aid, provided primarily by the WFP’s cash-for-food voucher program at participating stores. Indeed, only 11% of Syrian refugees were food secure in 2015, a figure which has fallen from 32% in 2013.  Some rely on UN cards of $27/month that are randomly distributed. Making up 25% of the population, refugees are economically unproductive due to laws but using up resources. 

One silver lining is that the rise in prices have made important agrochemicals more expensive, making organic food production more economically feasible, a phenomena that our partners Biomass have started witnessing. In our food system, we intentionally chose crops that are aligned with the local diet but that are nutrient-dense to target deficiencies with everything that is grown on our crop enough for a complete nutrient-dense diet. Through regenerative agriculture, we aim to go back to old ways of eating & cultivating wild native species of vegetables, lentils, wheat & grains that are already in the wild forests & have started being cultivated by Jouzourna w Bouzourna (translated to our roots & seeds). This will help us restore the typical Lebanese/ Mediterranean diet that is hailed everywhere as one of the healthiest but that is being forgotten on its native land. 

By using a permaculture methodology & putting an emphasis on the health of the system instead of only focusing on food outputs for farmers, but on the health of the inputs like soil & improving its quality, we can affect nutritional content, one of the necessary outcomes from our designs. They key to health starts in the dirt, as the bacteria in our body feed off of the microorganisms & nutrients in the soil that are transferred to the produce. 

The greenhouses & hydroponics facilities will allow our farms to grow a variety of other foods at their discretion if they feel the need to deviate from our plan. This could be for nutritional, economic, or personal reasons.

We have also started discussing partnerships with food banks in the region which will give us signals about what foods have been lacking from the general marketplace recently so we can increase production of them (if it makes sense) to fill the void. This will ensure our locals have a diverse diet of fresh produce to keep nutritional value high. It also helps our farmers sell their products in the marketplace easily since there will likely be a shortage.

Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?

In its decolonization & post-wars rebuilding, Lebanon has always chosen laissez-faire capitalism, global trade & openness to other countries to enhance its services, tourism, & banking sectors while neglecting its productive agriculture & industry sectors. Coupled with its political, governmental & corruption problems, this has resulted in an economy entirely dependent on external forces. These problems have been aggravating in the last 30 years & burst with the revolution last October that were fueled by the alarming rise in poverty with 1/3 of the population being poor, a number that will be going up post-covid. At the same time, capital controls & the liquidity problems of banks have prevented people from accessing their money, driving the economic crisis even further. At the time of writing, Lebanon is undergoing IMF talks & negotiations on financial & economic relief, which if passed, will inject some financial relief to the state & might translate to economic relief for the population. Still, Lebanon is facing a major economic crisis that will definitely have hardships on the population for the near future. One of the proposed solutions is to peg the currency at double its current exchange rate from now till 2024 while increasing its productivity to then float on the market. This will still impact everyone’s purchasing power negatively, meaning that now more than ever, people will be investing in creating cheaper, local alternatives to transition to more self-sufficiency. 

Our project helps with reviving the agricultural sector & is positioned to employ as many people as possible by not only developing land but focusing on people & human capital-- the greatest asset in an economy. Our program provides jobs, education & critical skillsets so many more jobs than fieldwork & manual labor will be created. Project managers, mechanics, farming consultants , analysts, salespeople, & teachers are a sample of the new jobs that will be created in our local economy & will be in high demand from now until well past 2050 

Integrated & permaculture farming both require more manual labor than monoculture farms because they can’t easily be automated (yet!). The bulk of jobs created will require creativity, experimentation, problem solving as new tech innovations in how to farm will make the process more autonomous. Automation will allow them to transition to more learning, experimentation, DIY, adapting, how to fix autonomous machines, etc. in their free time.

Moreover the benefit of our farm and our projected expansion of them will signal to the government that this is an opportunity to seize and will enact policies that benefit their countries new food system. With 30% of the country working in agriculture yet having such meager economic output (~4% of GDP), the impact of our system will create ripple effects (and jobs) around the country in every industry and aspect of life.

One new type of job that will arise by 2050 that we think our farmers will excel at is being a “Plant Designer”. This is someone that creates GMO foods through labs or DIY bio to fill niches in the ecosystem or market. For example creating potatoes that produce vitamin C to prevent scurvy in impoverished people, purple apples that sell as luxury goods in gourmet markets, mushrooms that can decompose clay to create fertile soil for agroforestry to be put in, or . We believe our farmers will be global leaders in this field because of the wild, ancient variants of common crops today that still exist in Lebanese countryside give them access to a plethora of initial genetic resources to start experimenting with. Also their knowledge of complex biosystems through our education program and working on integrated farms in tandem with nature will give them a sandbox to practice and iterate faster than researchers in labs.

We assume that there will be some relief from poverty due to UBI, passive income from data ownership as tech companies start paying people to use their data, and permissionless financial tools on blockchains. Economic needs won’t be the same due to shift towards self-sufficiency but working will still be part of our system, coming from a place of earning income as much as enjoyment and fulfillment.

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

In a way, we view our 2050 food system as restoring the lost cultural, spiritual, and community heritages that have been forgotten in the fast race to modernization and westernization. A key tenet of our food system is going back to roots, to the common shared identity between Lebanese & Syrians, to create more social cohesion & community that have been lost due to politics & scarce resources. We are working from the ground up on restoring old, heirloom, native seeds, plants, culinary recipes & traditions while bringing in the new to help optimize them. At the same time, by focusing on self-sufficiency and local production, we are restoring pride in the local, something that has been eroded since the 60s and making younger generations proud of their heritage. 

Our project maintains one key tenet of Middle Eastern life: gathering community and family around food, but what we are doing is gatherings around the entire chain of food production to consumption and expanding the view of the community to also include the refugees that are sharing the same land as the locals. Doing so will restore the foundational culture of Lebanon as the mosaic of the Middle East, something that is dictated in its constitution of recognizing 18 different religious sects and welcoming everyone freely. Instead of that heritage, politics, wars, and the scarcity mentality have turned a country of religious acceptance into a country ruled by sectarianism where your religion is your identity and where that becomes the basis of xenophobia and exclusion. This xenophobia is found even between Lebanese people themselves and is further extended to refugees. Instead, we seek to bring both together using agriculture to demonstrate the abundant, communal mindset in order to realize the common humanity that both locals and refugees face, especially that Lebanese people themselves have also suffered from war, incompetent governments, and that both Syria and Lebanon shared the same common history till 1943. 

Finally, the focus on agroforestry will help restore biodiversity and bring back Lebanon’s title as the Green Lebanon and its evergreen symbol, the cedar, that sits on its flag.

Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?

Our food system was created by designing for extreme conditions so anyone can adopt our model and adapt it to their situation with whatever resources they have at hand. We envision our farms to become more effectively planned and implemented with various tools that will arise out of need. Our education program will teach our farmers to be better creative problem solvers and integrate different technologies and practices as they learn them and see fit.

Our design is tech-agnostic. There are no fundamental dependencies on irrigation systems, farm machinery, etc. It will be made better with new technologies yet not reliant on it. We use a mix of old and new tech combining ancestral wisdom of systems and practices with tech efficiency and innovation to optimize inputs and outputs.

For our farm in Beqaa we are utilizing old techniques like earth bricks and block making machines to help construct the buildings. We also have an hydroponics system spec’d in which will be the most sophisticated technology in our system. 

Enabling Technologies:

AgTech - Tools and technologies that facilitate the construction of hydro/aqua/aero-ponic systems will create a variety of options for our farms to implement on their farms to add economic and environmental resilience plus increase overall yields.

Robotics - The manual labor needed for integrated farming and multicropping (which provides a lot of jobs, mentioned in the economy section) means that any innovations in fine-motor robotics and computer vision could exponentially reduce the amount of labor needed for planting and harvesting on our farm. 

IoT -  Adding sensors to  our farm can provide value in various ways. Soil composition sensors can help farmers learn how their land changes from season to season and modify their planting patterns. We can easily log carbon drawdown to help finance farms through carbon credits, green bonds, and other impact related funding mechanisms. Farmers can pool their data together to analyze bioregional patterns, find new opportunity zones to expand their farms to, and create effective community decisions. This data can of course also be sold giving yet another potential revenue stream to our farmers.

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

More important than any specific policy is consistency in policies and their enforcement is needed in Lebanon for all businesses, not just ours, to thrive. Policies can drastically change from year by year and sometimes it is unclear whether or not they are still in effect and for whom (re: bribery).

National Infrastructure: The World Bank, in addition to giving funding ($2B to date), will likely put pressure on Lebanon to enact more rigorous policies that increase maintenance and affordability of public goods/utilities. Access to cheap data bandwidth, well paved roads, clean water and irrigation systems, etc. will increase the success of our farms by increasing overall economic velocity and opportunities.

Refugees: There are policies currently in place that are explicitly detrimental to the human rights and equality of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon. They can’t own land, they can’t grow food if it isn’t being sent to Lebanese, and other prejudicial policies are symptoms of public sentiment but must be changed for our farmers to be completely independent and successful once they leave our farm to go start their own. 

Agriculture: The government desperately needs to implement policies that stop and reverse the environmental devastation that has been taking place in the country and prevent our integrated farm design from working. Improper waste management, water pollution, soil erosion,and fertilizer/pesticide misuse are negatively affecting public health and economic output that must be put to a stop. Government programs that actively promote better behaviour such as grants and tax incentives to organic farmers or composters, allowing Refugees (25% of the population) to produce food, decreasing food product imports, investing in irrigation and other farming infrastructure, and incentivizing new forms of agriculture like aquacultures and integrated farming are a few examples that would accelerate our farms growth and success. Policies related to growing drugs don’t affect our program but could provide an additional revenue stream for our farmers when they leave our program.

Monetary Policy: The recent devaluation of the Lebanese Lira is actually a positive thing for our program (improves buying power of our USD, increases exports and local prices for our produce) although it is disastrous for the economy and thus for our program as well. Policies that stabilize the currency/economy and promote trade will be beneficial to our farms, whatever those might be in the coming years given changes in the global economy and changes in international power structures.

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

The main way the 6 themes interconnect is dependent on the government changes to come and whether they are effective in restoring economy, protecting the environment, focusing on local production and self- sufficiency, especially in the food system, on incentives and subsidies and policies that will protect local food production, providing refugees with basic human rights and working on a refugee response strategy that will help them while helping the country, improving infrastructure, and creating high and fair-paying jobs for its pretty educated young population. In Lebanon, the government has historically acted as an obstacle to reform in the public interest and the government’s shortcomings are reflected in all those themes. One clear indication that came out of the Lebanese revolution was how capable and willing civil society is in restoring the country and working on reform across sectors if the government is not there to interfere. Because of that, we see the current government as the biggest hindrance in reforming Lebanon across a holistic, multi-sectoral system. 

In fact, Lebanon is experiencing problems in all 6 themes and is in fact an example of a total systemic failure and a great place for real-world holistic solution testing and building, especially because its greatest asset right now is actually its population. We see the beginning of change across all 6 themes starting with the food systems because you cannot start by reforming anything else if people are hungry.

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

Full list of tradeoffs with their pros and cons :

Adding education into our program - While educational programs take away immediate resources from our farm itself, our goal is to improve the social system not just the food system. Refugees are severely underprivileged and the practices involved with our farm design benefit from specialized knowledge and training. The money spent on human development will compound over time since we want our farmers to be autonomous, run their own farms, and train their own people to expand these practices across the country as fast as possible. Slow growth = better results.

See additional explanation in the PDF below titled: "Tradeoffs + Systems Questions"

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

The first central educational farm will take 6 months of soil prep and construction during which the animal husbandry, silvopasture, cover cropping, & planting native weeds will be happening while we also employ 25 people to work on the earth. In the following 6 months, the first cohort of participants, starting with 20 people (½ refugees & ½ Lebanese), will complete the central farm educational program. Upon completion, we will link them with smaller plots of arable land, around 5000m2/ 1 acre, that have been abandoned by Lebanese people to build spoke farms. Through our connections, media awareness, & local municipalities, we will perform this outreach to offer the land owners options of either cost-sharing & keeping some of the produce or we rent land & sell excess produce to market. In our conservative calculations, we are assuming that only ½ of the participants will want to be linked to land through us & that ½ will want to leave the land after 1 year & will be replaced by the incoming cohort. Given that, by year 3, we should have 21 farms: 1 central farm & 20 spoke farms, having created 115,000 m2 of regenerated, nutritious land & trained 60 people. We would have contributed to 30 refugees being paid a much higher wage than now & helped them get land either by renting it themselves or by renting it for them. With every farm, we would be refining the productivity & efficiency of our closed-loop system.

In terms of yield, all the vegetables would be in full production, we’ll have berries & beans, but the nut & fruit trees won’t be mature.We would have the capacity to feed 750 people with veggies, 20% of fruit needs,& 50% of bean/nut needs along with eggs, milk, & chickens. 

We will also start investing in some of our longer-term activities by beginning the recording of ancestral knowledge and techniques. This includes starting a seed bank by reserving seeds of native trees/species & planting them on our farm to increase heirloom seed production.

10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?

In 2030, our central farm will be in full production because our fruit/nut trees would’ve matured by year 6. We would’ve added 5 central farms, linked the cohort participants to start 150 farms, be feeding 1250 people from our central farms their total dietary needs, and 12,450 people feeding off of the spoke farms, plus have covered 825,000m2. We also anticipate more autonomous farms that will emerge from ripple effects of our program and from seeing the impact in agriculture. We will also have launched the production of added-value products such as nut butters, preserves, dried goods, teas, and more, and will be selling them by year 10. Through the network that we have built, some graduates would be incubating food business ideas, some would be innovating on new materials, coming up with regenerative designs, and experimenting with food production. Through Biomass & linking with popular food chefs & influencers, we create new market needs for organic, heirloom products & given our efforts in recultivating heirloom species, they would be more commonplace among consumers. 

By 2030, Lebanon would have undergone 2 new election cycles in Lebanon, which would have created a more secular government but not entirely transformed it. This will still result in improved infrastructure, better telecommunications, removed import subsidies and strengthened local production. Refugees will still be in Lebanon but a big number of them would have returned to rebuild Syria or offered repatriation in a 3rd country. They would take some of the skills we taught them and build food forests that are regenerating land in Syria and beyond. We would’ve built a strong online library & education platform with content & story sharing connecting our participants & others in the world in the regenerative movement so that even if they leave Lebanon, everyone remains connected.

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

$ 50,000: team compensation + operations

100,000 building farm: $40,000 for community center, $40,000 for planting, $20,000 for spoke farm for year 2  

50,000 building education content divided between local workshops + content development as well as starting a live online library and simple platform that will be iteratively built and populated with content 

If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?

We are a collective of designers, farmers, strategists, & agriculturalists who have come together under the mission of Farms Not Arms to build an integrated, multiagricultural educational farm model that heals our lands, our health, and our communities. Our model is easily scalable & meant to be tailored to different localities using a mix of human-centric design and local, community-driven knowledge. We are bridging divides in our project --  both between refugees & host communities & between ancestral wisdom & technological innovation -- to build an optimal agricultural model that targets food insecurity, climate change, and social cohesion. The heart of our vision is centered around experiential education of farming to quickly scale impact while deeply touching the lives of those involved. We are starting to build it in Lebanon, rife with deep systemic problems including having the highest percentage of refugees, with the goal of restoring abundance & our shared humanity through agriculture. 

We adopt the earth flag as our symbol, one of planetary unity that transcends borders, to represent the interconnectedness of us all & the importance of taking care of each other especially in the face of rising migration & changing climates. We turn the earth flag green to remind people that the root of our interconnectedness stems from the earth and that restoring our planet & restoring humanity starts by building Farms Not Arms. 

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.     

Our methodology for creating our systems map:

  1. We started by combing through our Signals & Trends, Assumptions, and other deliverables for the refinement stage.
  2. From there we pulled any variables that tangible/intangible resources/assets (e.g economic output, farm yields), affected resource changes (e.g. currency valuation, soil quality), and individual agents (e.g. Hezbollah, Lebanese and Refugee farms) that appeared across all our documents
  3. Writing them all on post its, we categorized them out by STEEP with Agents as an additional category
  4. At first we put everything down at once and started drawing connections in Kumu and then tried to find loopsand subsystems. This created a spaghetti mess that was hard to reason about, even if it was accurate. Wedid this method a couple of times using different strategies but ended with the same output.
  5. We started again, looking first at subsystems and grouping those elements together and then drawingconnections between subsystems. This allowed us to see strong relationships more easily and show howdifferent elements of the same subsystem affected separate subsystems in divergent ways.
  6. This ended in our final systems pictured above with five subsystems - governmental power and policy,cultural values, farm related outputs/outcomes, macroeconomic conditions, and population health/wellbeing.
  7. After creating the systems map, looking at all the causal relationships, and thinking about the potential and unintended outcomes (max entropy) we went back to our Assumptions worksheet and put ideated on 2050possibilities again.

While there is overlap between these categories, they each have their own perspective and action plans within the system. The main Agents in our systems map are:

  1. Lebanese Government
  2. Hezbollah
  3. IMF / World Bank
  4. Local Municipalities
  5. Revolutionary Protesters
  6. Lebanese Farmers
  7. Refugee Farmers
  8. Land Owners
  9. Skilled Farm Labor
  10. Food Distributors & Retailers
  11. Food Banks

See additional explanation in the PDF below titled: "Tradeoffs + Systems Questions"


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Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Jehane Akiki  congratulations on putting together a Vision that is so targeted and with a very clear roadmap. During refinement, how might you detail out your Vision further to show more futurecasting and ambition while keeping it feasible?

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