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Less is more

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been helping Lebanese potato farmers decrease their use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. 

TResearch Autumn Winter 2021Words by: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Fix it with chemicals. That was the old belief.

Traditionally, farmers in Lebanon depended on chemical fertilisers and pesticides to manage plant nutrition or plant pests and diseases. Most farmers believed that increasing the quantity of chemical fertilisers would increase the yields of their crops.

But now, the rapidly deteriorating economic and financial crisis in Lebanon has made people rethink the situation. Most agricultural inputs (such as agrochemicals, seeds and vaccines) are imported and, with the devaluation of the Lebanese currency, they can no longer afford to rely on these increasingly expensive inputs.

This situation combined with the downsides of chemicals has farmers more convinced than ever of using fewer fertilisers and pesticides, and finding better ways to manage their land, improve yields and preserve water.

TResearch Autumn Winter 2021

Using integrated crop management practices to reduce agrochemicals

One FAO project is helping farmers reduce their reliance on pesticides and fertilisers, while also addressing the agrochemical pollution of Lebanon’s Upper Litani River Basin. The project promotes integrated crop management (ICM), a technique that balances farming requirements with environmental responsibility.

Mostapha Kheireddine, a young potato farmer from Majdaloun-Baalbek in the eastern part of Lebanon, was farming with practices passed down in his family when he heard about this project from his neighbour. He attended a project field day during the late potato season in December 2020. He was then selected to join the project.

Through this project, Mostapha and 41 other potato farmers were trained in ICM practices.

This project established numerous potato pilot plots in Baalbek to compare the farmers’ traditional practices with ICM practices. In every plot, two fields were planted side by side, one by a project facilitator using validated ICM practices.

Throughout the potato-growing season, the plot facilitator followed the crop development and made the necessary changes in the levels of irrigation, pest management and crop nutrition. The facilitator kept a record of all interventions made in both farmer and ICM plots, including quantities and types of pesticides and fertilisers used. At the end of the growing season, the yield of each field (farmer and ICM) was calculated and comparisons were drawn.

TResearch Autumn Winter 2021

Proof that reducing agrochemicals won’t harm food security

The results proved that it is feasible to reduce the use of chemical fertilisers by an average of 50% and pesticide sprays by at least 60%, while maintaining or improving productivity. Farmers could see the results directly in the field and were convinced.

Mostapha reduced his application of fertilizers by 100kg per 0.1 hectare and is confident in his work: “With the support of FAO and other teams, we now know how much water to add to the crops and how to test the soil. We are now more experienced.

 “This year I only used chemical pesticides once. I used to spray my land twice per year. Next year I am not spraying chemical pesticides at all!”

Further reading

Read the full story at www.fao.org/fao-stories/article/en/c/1445963/