A one-day workshop hosted by AUB’s Environment and Sustainable Development Unit (ESDU) addressed the challenge of rural development in Lebanon and the region, bringing together people from the private and public sectors, NGOs, and civil society to consider ways to support youth in rural areas and empower them to revive the rural landscape.
Dr. Shadi Hamadeh, director of ESDU and professor in the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS), opened the workshop with a sobering analysis of the current condition of rural communities, saying that they are breaking down under the pressure of global forces and leaving the rural population—especially young people—with little or no options.
“In the last two decades, the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit, which is the center for rural development at AUB, has been working relentlessly to introduce new paradigms, because old paradigms for rural development have failed,” said Hamadeh.
The new dean of FAFS, Dr. Rabi Mohtar, himself a graduate of AUB and FAFS who took over as dean just three days previously, applauded the efforts of ESDU and other extension services that have been central to the historic mission of the faculty.
“The Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences will carry forward the huge challenge of building resilience into these communities so they stay where they are, they thrive, and they develop their own livelihoods in their own communities,” asserted Mohtar.
The opening session continued with a keynote speech by Rima Frangieh, the founder of Al Midan NGO and a supporter of numerous efforts addressing youth empowerment and development in North Lebanon and the Zgharta district.
The other keynote speaker was Khaled Sinno, CEO of Karma Lebanon as well as an AUB alumnus and member of the FAFS External Advisory Board who recently established the Raji and Fawzieh Sinno Scholarships in Agriculture at AUB. He spoke about the need to bring private investment dollars to bear on the problem of rural economic stagnation and announced a new joint effort to bring this about.
“It’s about time that private money in Lebanon goes into agriculture,” said Sinno. “I hope in the next year that we can, together with AUB, work on developing this idea and putting it into effect. We want to have the first—we are saying $10 million—fund for investing in agriculture.”
One of the key components of this one-day workshop was the launching of a Lebanese rural development network, using the knowledge management and sharing network called KariaNet, which was founded in 2005 by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to enhance the effectiveness of development projects serving the rural poor throughout the region.
Highlighting the way that KariaNet can help support people with innovative ideas, ESDU invited two KariaNet participants from the region to present their projects at the workshop. Mr. Qais Hantash from Al Quds Open University in Palestine told the audience about the show “Small Projects”—comprised of short episodes that highlight individual inspirational initiatives—which airs on Al Quds Educational TV channel. In addition, Mr. Hamzeh Al Ayani, of the Qatrana Social and Economic Development Association in Jordan, presented a rainwater harvesting project in the Bedouin community of Qatrana.
Since 2014, KariaNet has been hosted and managed by ESDU. During the workshop, Dr. Hamadeh described a new pilot project in Lebanon that makes use of the KariaNet network.
“Today we move to embark on a pilot rural development journey called REEF: Rural Empowerment and Entrepreneurship Forum,” explained Hamadeh. “Through this forum, we hope to develop a rural development strategy and put it into action to provide rural youth with access to knowledge, technology, and finance.”
At the end of the opening session, Dr. Hamadeh distributed the ESDU “Keepers of the Land” awards to the two keynote speakers—Rima Frangieh and Khaled Sinno—as well as Rima Freiji, chairman of the board of Tanmia Holdings, and Asma Abou Ezzeddine Rasamny, founder of Malaak NGO.
Finally, in an instance of “walking the talk,” the coffee and lunch breaks were provided by Healthy Kitchens and the Food Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization led by Lebanese women whose mission is to revive traditional cuisine and promote the livelihood of rural producers and processors.