Louis Parks

Reforestation in Lebanon is a major undertaking and one that might seem to be a hopeless task. However, according to Garo Haroutian, an expert on reforestation, recent work might just be yielding encouraging results. Haroutian was a project manager whose team oversaw the writing of a recent report, “Safeguarding and Restoring Lebanon’s Woodland Resources”, which explored reforestation challenges and potential throughout the country. the project started in 2009 and ended in 2014.

Tell us about the report.

Thanks to the input of a stakeholder committee, we discovered that in Lebanon the cost was very high, it used to c ost 7000$ per hectare. We compared that to the general average in the US and Europe, where it didn’t go beyond around 2000$ – 1500$. Also, our survival rates were much lower.

What did you do?

In the report, we aimed to dramatically reduce costs. Reforestation in Europe and America was done without irrigation, that’s the modern concept. Also, in the States the hole they dig is about 15 – 20 centimeters, here we dig a large hole using backhoes. Finally, we accepted a seedling as a potential plant if it had been raised at the nursery for 1.5 years at least, in the States, they reject seedlings that are older than 8 months, the younger the seedling, the higher root growth potential it has.

With help, we hired experts from the US and Canada to visit, what we were doing was out of date, we took their experience and we jumped 30 years of trial and error with their help. Honestly, they were so excited that many  of them returned on their own to follow up.

What practical steps did you take next?

We implemented seven pilot sites and tested 42 different combinations of reforestation methods. The trials were very successful. We correlated the cost of the method against the survival rate and found 10 viable methods, and got the cost down to around 1,360$ per hectare.

We took a few sites and implemented the successful methods, there’s one in Wadi Karam that’s been running for two years and the results are amazing.

Are you optimistic about the future?

The momentum is there, we need funding, but it’s good to see that the ministries are becoming aware of their role. In general, we hope to get more funding, we’ve done our part, we’ve decreased the cost, it’s now up to the donors to get on board. There are challenges, and they relate to budgetary concerns and the fact that many municipalities find it difficult to commit to long term plans, but the outlook is good.