Regenerative Agriculture with Ziad Abi Chaker

For the latest webinar from our Lebanon Growth Accelerator’s Speaker Series, we were joined by Cedar Environmental’s Ziad Abi Chaker to talk about how regenerative agriculture can improve food security in the country while also improving the environment and job-creation opportunities domestically.⁠⁠

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Ziad is a multi-disciplinary engineer specializing in building Municipal Recycling Facilities on the communal level, going against a central Mega recycling Plant. While researching at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA, his team developed a technology to accelerate the composting cycle of organic waste in an odorless manner to produce high-grade fertilizer. 
After returning to Lebanon in 1996, Ziad started Cedar Environmental, an environmental & industrial engineering organization that aims to build recycling plants to produce organically certified fertilizers and leave no waste material to be disposed of, but instead recycled into a new form of product to be used again and again.
Most municipalities in Lebanon and the Middle East cannot afford to buy recycling plants, so Ziad worked out a three-way contract where local banks give his company soft loans to build the recycling facilities, and municipalities pay only for the service of recycling/composting in comfortable monthly installments not exceeding 7 US Dollars per household per month.

Recently, Ziad and his engineering team, after four years of research, developed a new technology that transforms plastic bags into solid plastic panels, dubbed ECO-BOARD, used in the outdoors to replace wooden and steel panels. They have won the 2013 International Energy Globe Award for this revolutionary process. They are currently transforming that technology from fossil fuels to generate the required energy to biomass a renewable energy source.

Here are some highlights from our conversation with Ziad.


What is regenerative agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture entails:
– No use of chemical fertilizers on the soil that you plant in.
– No use of herbicides/pesticides/poisons that are synthetic. Instead, there are natural concoctions such as cayenne pepper solutions, garlic solutions, natural tobacco leaves…


Can regenerative agriculture replace conventional farming?

In recent years, we’ve seen a huge shift in consumers’ wants and needs. We see more consumers that are more mindful of what they consume and how it affects the world, and want natural, poison-free, organic, healthy products. 
You are what you eat, indeed. Studies show that cancers are linked to the consumption of herbicides and pesticides. Even Walmart got into the organic agriculture trend!
It’s going to take some time and a lot of education when it comes to the already existing generations of farmers. New, younger farmers are currently going into the business mostly adopting these novelties. It’s only a matter of time.


Can regenerative agriculture have a positive impact on the economy without the government’s intervention?

In Lebanon, government intervention has no value. Most of the organic organizations in Lebanon have been made without these interventions. Other countries did, of course. To regulate what is organic, natural, regenerative, etc. 
The more ease we make that platform’s availability & attainability, the easier it is for other players to come. That’s why a lot of people shy from regenerative agriculture.
Organic certification is expensive. Now, there should be a quality label where people learn and sign a pledge, and they would have the privilege to use a label on the registered products instead of a certification. 


What are the 3 main policies that could help if implemented by the government?

  1. Make it affordable for farmers to apply and get registered. It currently costs about 700-800$ a year to have an organic certificate. Not a lot of farmers would be willing to pay that.
  2. The government should subsidize testing (tests are expensive).
  3. If they could help with market access, that would be great.

This is why they’re creating a new label where farmers share the cost of testing among themselves.


What are the markers of quality testing?

There are standards for internationally used pesticides and herbicides. Samples could be taken to AUB to test, as they have a specific lab for that.


Can regenerative agriculture provide opportunities for those who are unemployed/have no agricultural background or experience?

The recent projects we’ve worked on were made with people who lost their jobs, who wanted to invest in something. The crisis had just hit and the food prices skyrocketed. So, some people invested in vertical farms. 


What is the state of regenerative agriculture in Lebanon compared to previous years?

We are still lagging behind, I used to see more producers 5-6 years ago. The silver lining of the crisis is that it rendered the herbicides and pesticides extremely expensive. Hence, farmers would think more than twice before buying them. So, natural methods have been more of a go-to recently.


What do people need to be aware of if they want to start a project in regenerative agriculture?

– Whatever you produce right now, there is a readily available market for it. We are lagging behind on the fresh stuff.
– Remember that the food in Beirut comes from outside Beirut. The production and transportation costs have gone up. Beirut is 85 square kilometers, 85 square kilometers of rooftops available! We don’t need a NASA satellite to see that it is very heavily built. Imagine you use half of these for farming. Beirut can achieve self-reliance if we do that. We have 430 tonnes of food waste (200 tonnes of compost PER DAY) that we throw away! Imagine what we can do with all of that.


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