From the Editors
 AUB News
  Women and AUB
 The Elements of Design
  Developing Technologies
  The Roots Run Deep
  CAMS: Fast Track to Prominence
  Avenue of Exchange
  Campaign Update
  Alumni Profile
 Alumni Activities
 Class Notes
 In Memoriam
  Previous Issues

The Roots Run Deep
50 Years and More for The Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences

By Dina Abou Salem

The roots of AUB’s contribution to agriculture run deep. Basic courses were taught as early as 1914 and on into the 1920s. From 1930 to 1947, an Institute of Rural Life founded in partnership with the Near East Foundation worked to improve the agricultural and social conditions of rural life. Then, in 1952, with support from the US Technical Cooperation Administration and a Ford Foundation grant, AUB
established a full-fledged School of Agriculture, which ultimately expanded its perspective to become the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS) in 1979.

In October 2002, the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences celebrated its 50th year of teaching, research, and steadfast commitment to the welfare of the agricultural community and, ultimately, to the food and nutrition concerns the region. Many distinguished graduates participated in the anniversary celebration at AUB. Among them were Mahmoud Duwayri, former minister of agriculture in Jordan; Fayez Khasawenah, professor of agriculture at Jordan University of Science and Technology and president of Yarmouk University; Musa Freiji, a prominent figure in agrobusiness, especially poultry; Fatima Hayat, Kuwait’s permanent member of the FAO; Samir Kreidieh, an expert in landscaping, garden centers, nurseries, and light industries; Mahmoud Solh, assistant director general for international cooperation at ICARDA; and Salim Macksoud of Dar el Handasah in Beirut.

When asked to name the greatest achievement of the last half-century, FAFS Dean Nuhad J. Daghir replied without hesitation, “the graduates.” Nearly 3,000 alumni of FAFS are spread around the world, holding positions in agricultural development, government extension, marketing food and dietetics, and other related fields. “They have served in top positions as university presidents, teachers, and researchers, ministers of agriculture, and experts in agrobusiness and industry,” said Dean Daghir. “They have stimulated the growth of many similar schools of agriculture throughout the Middle East.” He noted that in many ways, they have advanced the broad mission of FAFS: “To promote, through higher agricultural education, teaching, research, and extension in agriculture, foods and nutrition, environment and natural resources, and community and rural development as a basis for sustainable improvement in the lives of people throughout Lebanon, the Near East, and the world.”

Response to new issues and concerns has been the key to growth of the faculty. In his address at the anniversary celebration, Dean Daghir said, “The region is facing new and challenging problems in its food supply, as well as in the eating habits of various population groups. The field of nutrition has become one of the important cornerstones in health preservation and disease prevention.”

Currently, the FAFS bachelor of science degree is offered in four programs: agriculture; landscape design and eco-management; nutrition and dietetics; and food science and management. Master’s degrees are offered in animal and poultry science; agricultural economics and development; nutrition, food technology, plant science, plant protection, irrigation, soil science, and mechanization.

As part of the curriculum, an interfaculty program offers an MS in nutrition and, in collaboration with the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, an MS program in plant genetic resources, conservation, and documentation. The Faculty also offers an MS in environmental sciences in cooperation with the Faculties of Engineering and Architecture and Health Sciences.
Over the years, FAFS has made important contributions to agricultural development in the Middle East. In addition to fostering the development of new agricultural schools, it has provided impetus to the growth of the local poultry industry, sugar beet production, the development of new wheat and barley varieties and new crops such as sweet corn, the setting up of food composition tables for the Middle East, the development of farm machinery for small land holdings and specialized crops, and the development of a new infant food, “Laubina,” for supporting undernourished children.

Today, faculty members are involved in a number of projects in Lebanon, such as irrigation rehabilitation in the Yammouneh district. Coordinated by FAFS Professor Rami Zurayk, the project, funded by the International Fund for Agriculture and Development and the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture, entails studies of fertilization and soil management, pest and disease identification and control, and crop varieties and cultural practices.

Professor Zurayk is also coordinating a project concerned with the promotion of sustainable rural livelihood strategies through agriculture in the Qaraoun area. Another project, targeting the Aarsal region, handled by Professor Shadi Hamadeh, involves multidisciplinary research on natural resource management issues and is funded by the International Development Research Center.

Faculty members are also involved in a dairy stock improvement program funded by the US Department of Agriculture, USAID, and the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture. After more than 1,500 farmers were trained, 6,000 dairy cows were imported from the United States and distributed around the country.

FAFS is always on the move. Plans for the future include PhD programs, one in nutrition and one in plant science. Specialized research centers are also on the agenda. The Environmental and Sustainable Development Unit,
currently a group of researchers involved in overall sustainable agriculture and the implications of environmental sustainability, will be developed into a multidisciplinary research center.

The faculty is also developing centers of excellence: one in nutrition and food sciences and another in biodiversity and genetic plant preservation. “We are establishing a seed bank at the Agricultural Research and Education Center to preserve the seeds of all the flora in Lebanon,” said Dean Daghir, “and we have two projects for the preservation of plant biodiversity in Lebanon, one financed by the European Union and the other carried out jointly with Kew Gardens in the UK and financed by the Darwin Initiative.”

FAFS is equally keen on further development in water science research. “Water is going to be the issue of the 21st century,” according to Dean Daghir. “We already have a water research center at the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture. Our people contribute to its activities, and there is now a move to enlarge and develop the center on a university-wide basis, not just to deal with the technical issues but also to wrestle with the policy aspect of water needs.”

At the heart of the undergraduate experience for agriculture and landscaping students is a six-month hands-on immersion in agricultural practices at the faculty’s 250-acre farm in the Beqa’a Valley, the Agricultural Research and Education Center. Students live, study, take courses in poultry production, mechanization, irrigation, weed science, agronomy, plant protection, and farm practices, and work the farm together in an isolated rural setting. “But they love it,” says Professor Mohamad Farran,
director of the farm. “You know it when you see the expressions on their faces when they bottle feed and pet the calves.”

The center serves purposes other than the training of FAFS students. It has state-of-the art research facilities in crop and animal production, a library, a weather station, and also serves as a training center for farmers and those interested in rural development. Over the past five years, new farm machinery was acquired through generous grants from American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA), and other sources.

Dean Daghir puts community involvement among FAFS priorities: “The faculty need to be directly in touch with the farming and rural community; in order to research work that is meaningful and helpful to these people, we have to know what the problems are. So we have to be involved not only in teaching and research, but also in working with the community. This enriches the teaching and at the same time generates ideas for research.”

Developing new knowledge, teaching the next generation of leaders, and serving the community—the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences is sending its roots even deeper as it looks ahead to the next 50 years.