Innovative solutions to food and nutrition issues in densely populated urban areas
In Lebanon, the impact of the Syrian crisis on food security is particularly concerning. According to the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP), an estimated 1,520,000 persons currently need food assistance in Lebanon. As the crisis extends, current levels of humanitarian aid could become unsustainable. Reduced funding and limited resources are already causing a reduction in food aid delivery in Lebanon. In the Mount Lebanon governorate, people have difficulties in accessing quality, nutritious and diverse food.. ACTED is supporting deprived Lebanese and Syrian refugees in the region through two innovative food security projects that promote community gardening within the Ghoberi community in Baabda district, and in a centre for deprived children and youth in Metn district.
Vertical gardening: A solution to tackle food security in urban areas
When agricultural space is missing, an efficient solution to improve access of urban populations to diverse fresh food and their self-reliance is vertical gardening. Vertical gardening consists of durable low-cost designs that take into account space and resource constraints in the urban context of the targeted neighbourhoods. Garden designs include innovative adaptations to roof areas, balconies, window spaces, etc. Plant selection focuses on people’s dietary choices and the climate. . This is the solution provided by ACTED teams, who designed vertical gardens in 200 households and eight community spaces, alongside the provision of the necessary training to ensure their sustainability.
The vast majority of the Ghoberi community, a cluster in Baabda district of Mount Lebanon governorate, is struggling with daily expenditures on basic needs. To improve access to diverse fresh food and self-reliance of the Ghoberi population, ACTED launched a project to create a vertical garden in the city, with support from OCHA, coordinating closely with local authorities and the community to ensure that the interventions are based on the needs in the area. It was initially challenging to find a suitable space to set up the vertical garden, but following active discussions with authorities and local communities, the rooftop of Al Hoda public health centre was finally selected for the establishment of a vertical garden. After this first step was solved, ACTED organised a visit to the neighbourhood with the aim of creating a committee and identifying members. This committee is in charge of liaising with the community about the garden and ensuring its proper maintenance and sustainable use of the garden.
A consultant was consequently hired to develop a design for the garden, using waste and integrated innovative rainwater harvesting mechanisms. “The space was left out with junk everywhere. This garden added greenery to the area and will be open for the community to benefit from fresh grown food,” said Hakima, a focal point in the area.
Through the committee and staff from Al Hoda public health centre, ACTED is organising trainings for the maintenance and care of the gardens. There are also plans to organise a series of events with the participation of the local refugee and host community, including an event to harvest and share the crops.
Community gardens to enhance child and teenage nutrition and social cohesion
Through a project implemented in collaboration with Le Foyer de la Providence (FPAO) and support from OCHA, ACTED supported deprived children and teenagers in the Metn district of Mount Lebanon governorate.
Le Foyer de la Providence is a free boarding and technical school having as main mission since 1964 to support deprived children and teenagers from vulnerable communities by providing education and technical skills. FPAO has also been in charge of the rehabilitation and education of minors in conflict with the law in Roomieh central prison since 2004, with educational programmes expanding into art therapy, sports, technical and academic learning, and the provision of legal follow-ups and guidance for socio-professional reintegration of youth after being released from prison.
In Metn district, ACTED and FPAO added a new skill to these learning programmes by creating a community garden. Through this garden, children and teenagers living in the centre will be able to have fresh and diverse food every day, while learning cultivation techniques and information about gardening and its benefits.
Ali, 15, and Medhi, 14, two Lebanese teenagers who live in the FPAO centre during weekdays, were very excited about the idea of learning a new skill upon finding out that a community garden was about to be established in the centre. “I have never planted anything before,” says Medhi, “I did see in my grandfather’s village how they would grow cotton and I liked to see the plant flowering and growing. What I really like is the smell. In this garden, it smells really nice.”
The community garden also includes a training about how to make compost and how insects and worms help cultivating. Medhi is excited about the insects. He is happy to explain things about composting and how worms help the earth. He says he loves radishes and is excited about growing them: “I like the idea of having a garden here. I like butterflies and bees and I will get strong working on it.” Ali joins the conversation and tells how much he loves tomatoes, especially with labne, his favourite white cheese. The boys discussed the idea of being able to plant anything they want to eat and the wonderful possibility of being able to pick it up fresh from their own garden.
Pascale, the director of the centre, explained how they are looking forward to increase the nutritional value of their foods. Efforts are already being made to give the most equilibrated meals to the children and teenagers residing in the centre. “We are currently able to feed 30 children who reside here at the centre with three meals a day, plus those who leave to their homes afterwards. I see this project not only beneficial in terms of satisfying food needs, but also in terms of therapy through building a connection between them and nature”.
FPAO is also engaging the Lebanese University to create compost adding nutritional value to the soil that will later be used for the gardening project.