Building the ecologic and socio-economic resilience of the Shouf Mountain and West Beqaa Landscape

Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) and Al Shouf Cedar Society (ACS) will be working together on a symbolic and pilot sites in the Shouf Mountain and West Beqaa in Lebanon.
As part of the MAVA Foundation’s recently launched 2016-2022 strategy, 15 partners in the Mediterranean are collaborating to implement a 6-year programme aimed at conserving Mediterranean Cultural Landscapes (M6 partnership).  At the core of the M6 partnership are 4 pilot sites where 6-year field projects to conserve Mediterranean Cultural Landscapes have recently been launched, each led by a local implementing partner. These are the Shouf Mountains in Lebanon, the Island of Lemnos in Greece, the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, and the Dehesas and Montados Grasslands in Spain and Portugal.
The first workshop of the project titled “Building the ecologic and socio-economic resilience of the Shouf Mountain Landscape by restoring and strengthening the socio-cultural fabric, which sustains its biodiversity and cultural values (Lebanon)” took place between 29 November and 1 December 2017. The first two days of the event took place at the ACS Headquarters, the SBR Park House in Maaser Al Shouf. The third day was organized at Hotel Calmera in Barouk.

The agenda of the joint ACS/SPNL inception workshop was as follows:

Day 1: Implementation team inception workshop, attended by ACS and SPNL staff plus the providers of international technical assistance contracted by ACS – Pedro Regato and Marco Pagliani, with the aim of agreeing on a detailed work plan for Y1 and discuss matters related to the coordination between ACS and SPNL and the governance of the project.

Day 2: Technical workshop for the planning and implementation of the scientific component of the project, precisely Result 1.1.1: “Database of the Shouf Landscape biodiversity and eco-cultural indicators is established and shared with relevant stakeholders”, where the participants of Day 1 were joined by experts from Lebanese research institutions and private companies, to kick off the debate and decision process about the quantitative and qualitative assessment of the biodiversity indicators.

Day 3: “Open door” event/workshop to introduce the project to a wider public including national/local stakeholders, and trigger the discussion about their involvement in the different components of the work plan.

73 people representing the local stakeholders: mayors and/or delegates of 13 municipalities, agricultural cooperatives, Forest Management Committees, associations working on organic food, the ladies of Barouk (they prepare the products ACS sells at its entrances), Middle East Center for Responsible hunting, schools, hotels and restaurants, a guide, a few volunteers, representative from Ministry of Information, and private sector. After the introduction of the meeting and of the teams involved in its implementation by Nizar Hani(GM of ACS) there were words of Charles Noujaim (Representative of ACS), Elie Nakhleh (Mayor of Barouk) and Assaad Serhal (DG of SPNL). They all emphasized the importance of the project and the collaboration between the local community and the Reserve.
Afterwards, powerpoint presentations were given by Lina Sarkis, the project coordinator at ACS and Jamal Hamzeh, the project manager at SPNL focusing on the project background, its main components and objectives, the implementation sites (Shouf Biosphere Reserve including West Bekaa Region), achievements.

The project “Building the ecologic and socio-economic resilience of the Shouf Mountain Landscape by restoring and strengthening the socio-cultural fabric which sustains its biodiversity and cultural values” is a newly funded project by Mava for 3 years with a potential to be renewed for additional 3 years. It stems out of the work, lessons learned, and experience gained in the last two decades by two of the most reputed conservation organizations in Lebanon and the Middle East: Al Shouf Cedar Society (ACS) and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL). The Mount Lebanon range extends along the entire country for about 200 km, parallel to the Mediterranean coast. The Shouf Mountain Landscape comprises the southern half of Mount Lebanon and the adjacent West Beqaa foothills. It includes the Shouf Biosphere Reserve (SBR) – the largest protected area in the Mediterranean portion of the Middle East – with a size of 50,000 Ha and an elevation between 1,200-1,980 m ASL.

The main cultural practices supported by the project are grazing/transhumance, whereby transhumance is part of the traditional grazing system to overcome seasonal environmental constraints. Its governance is regulated by Hima for long-distance movements in the West Beqaa, and by communal systems for the short-distance movements of local shepherds. High mountain pastures are traditionally used for seasonal grazing during summer. Harvesting of wild medicinal/edible plant products is also a traditional practice used in both pastures and forests. More than 200 wild plant species of mountain flora have been traditionally used in medicine, cosmetics and cooking, many of which are still harvested by the local communities, mainly women. Traditional dry stonewall terrace systems with vineyards, olives and other fruit trees are part of the world cultural heritage linked to the religious and spiritual values of Mount Lebanon. Terrace cultivation is a very ancient tradition with more than 5,000 years of history in the Shouf.

The Shouf landscape and its cultural practices are impacted by various threats, such as forest loss, degradation, and fragmentation, over grazing, uncontrolled harvesting of non-wood forest and pasture products, environmental threats, and Lack of economic incentives to reverse rural abandonment and unemployment, which mostly impact women and youth.

The sustainable management of those cultural practices supported by the project helps maintain healthy and biologically diverse agro-silvo-pastoral systems and play an instrumental role in environmental risk reduction.

The project aims to:

(i) increase the understanding and recognition of the links between the traditional practices that constitute the cultural heritage of the landscape and its biodiversity,

(ii) stop and reverse the major threats impacting the landscape,

(iii) adapt the cultural practices to current socio-economic context and environmental constraints – with special focus to climate change trends –through innovations in sustainable management and the restoration of optimal conditions,

(iv) ensure the economic sustainability of the goods and services resulting from the cultural practices, with a green growth approach,

(v) create enabling conditions through the improvement of policy, governance, and the capacity of all concerned stakeholders, so as to secure the up scaling and replication of best practices in Mount Lebanon and in the other cultural landscapes.

This ambitious project will require the forging of a wide range of partnerships, including the national and local authorities (Ministries, Municipalities), universities and research institutions, land owners, local communities, the private sector (entrepreneurs, producers, shepherds, nursery managers etc.), local development and environmental groups, the media and international NGOs and relevant regional networks.

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