Winter 2007 Vol. V, No. 2
Cross-Pollination: Spreading the Seed of Advocacy
With their scientific knowledge, practical experience, and exposure to advocacy, AREC's graduates can be found in all areas of the agricultural world. Some students continue in academic pursuits, contributing to scientific research through master's and PhD programs. Many join the private sector, in some cases starting their own businesses based on their personal experience of the demands of farm life.
Lebanese farmers confront many risks. As a result of a lack
of standards, weak surveillance, and poor education, many farmers use
the wrong chemicals in the wrong ways, sometimes exposing crops to internationally
banned chemicals, spraying too much, and too soon before harvesting. Not
only can this ruin crops for that year, it can also contaminate the soil
and groundwater for up to 20 years. Even if a farm manages to produce
healthy vegetables and safe animal products, due to the absence of government
subsidies, farmers may not be able to find a market or get a fair market
price for their produce. These are problems that reach far beyond individual
farms; they affect the health and economic stability of the country. Such
far-reaching problems demand far-reaching solutions that include changes
in education, and in government policy. In the Beqaa Valley, a pioneering
farm is advocating for change.
Animal Sciences, Plant Sciences, and the Landscaping Program, who are required
to spend spring and summer semesters taking classes, living, and working
at the farm. For two hours every morning, students lend a hand wherever
it is needed: at a state-of-the-art poultry house; a creamery for making
cheese, lebneh, and ice cream; the only goat and sheep milking parlor in
Lebanon; in the fields; and repairing machinery.
Back in class, students are equally involved on the farm. In the spring, for example, students in Associate Professor Mustapha Haiders Weed Science class had a chance to see the efficacy of eight kinds of weed control methods (such as chemical treatments, wheat straw, and manual weed removal) during a three-month experiment. The resulting growth in the different garden plots vividly demonstrated a number of phenomena covered in class: that some mulches can be effective in preventing only certain kinds of weeds; that some ground covers accidentally introduce new seeds to the area, creating a volunteer crop. For their final presentations, students were encouraged to try to understand why, for instance, a certain treatment controls only certain weeds, returning to the chemical and scientific aspects of plant growth.
The same class also required students to invent a private company that would offer a weeding service to benefit local farmers, detailing a budget and a long-term weed control strategy. It is clear that students had taken ARECs philosophy to heart, as their virtual companies made use of synthetic, cultural, animal, and manual methods of weed control for a realistic choice of crops.
There is another important piece in the agriculture puzzle. As Professor Rami Zurayk of the Department of Land and Water Resources points out, we must help farmers adhere to safety standards while also helping them to establish good marketing windows for the sale of their produce. To provide farmers with an honest broker, Zurayk established AUBs only private firm, Healthy Basket, selling local, organic produce according to Fair Trade principles. AREC also participated in a privately funded research project, From Seed to Table, to test the viability of growing and selling new varieties of vegetables in Lebanon. At the end of the project, the results from the production of 30 new kinds of seeds was shared in an international vegetable fair where farmers and private companies from around the Middle East had the chance to see and discuss which vegetables were the most successful. Everybody wins, says Nuhad Daghir, former dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences and acting provost. AREC faculty and students have the experience of planting, growing, and cultivating plants theyve never worked with and the international community gets a better idea of what to buy next year.
With their scientific knowledge, practical experience, and exposure to advocacy, ARECs graduates can be found in all areas of the agricultural world. Some students continue in academic pursuits, contributing to scientific research through masters and PhD programs. Many join the private sector, in some cases starting their own businesses based on their personal experience of the demands of farm life. Still others become teachers, not uncommonly returning to AREC, sharing their scientific and practical knowledgeas well as their commitment to advocacywith the next generation. With their roots in the soil, they are helping to provide the multi-disciplinary solution that Lebanon needs.