Lebanon: Harvesting wild sage in Mejdel Akkar

Women working in cultivating wild sage, a medicinal and aromatic plant - Akkar North Lebanon. Photo: UNDP/Lebanon
High in the mountains of Mejdel Akkar in North Lebanon, Fadwa Diab and other women members of the Mejdel Akkar Cooperative harvest wild sage as part of a UNDP-supported initiative. Photo: UNDP/ Lebanon

High in the mountains of Mejdel Akkar in North Lebanon, Fadwa Diab and other women members of the Mejdel Akkar Cooperative harvest wild sage as part of a UNDP-supported initiative.

“We are now well paid, and can help our families and improve our living conditions”, said Fadwa, adding that, thanks to the project, she is financially independent and feels that she’s an active member of society.

Highlights

  • Lebanon lies within an important centre of flowering plant biodiversity, with approximately 2,600 species and an endemism rate of 12%.
  • The project will develop and implement sustainable wild harvesting standards that incorporate ecological, social and economic aspects.
  • Around 365 medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) are found and utilised in Lebanon.

Wild harvesting of sage is an important source of livelihood for many families across Lebanon, and especially in the small village of Mejdel Akkar. The sage harvested here, part of some thousand tons of sage collected across the country, requires careful handling.

The UNDP Project - “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Management into Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) Production Processes in Lebanon” – implemented by the Lebanese Agriculture Research Institute (LARI), has been working since 2009 in Mejdel Akkar on developing and implementing sustainable harvesting standards for sage.

Hadi Baroud, UNDP Field Coordinator, explained that before the implementation of the UNDP project, people used to harvest sage in improper ways at arbitrary times of the year. Harvesters are now adopting sustainable harvesting techniques from June till October.

The project aims to improve the post-harvest and primary processing of the sage to produce a higher-quality product, leading to higher income. To achieve this, a new processing facility and drying unit for the sage has been established.

The project has also assisted the Cooperative on issues such as proper administrative, financial and management practices, good manufacturing practices and good hygiene practices, as well as sustainable wild harvesting. Women like Fadwa are also trained on marketing and proper processing standards for MAPs.

Through projects such as this, UNDP encourages the sustainable use of natural resources through new and revised regulation for the collection and trade of MAPs, whilst at the same time developing sustainable harvesting standards and guidelines for specific Lebanese MAP species.

The project also improves income generation and sustainable livelihood for harvesters through value-added processing and marketing.

According to Ahmad Diab, Mayor of Mejdel Akkar, women in the region have benefited a lot from working in sage cultivation. “When the cooperative received the new equipment, it was able to sell 1kg of sage at US$3, while the women used to sell it at US$1”, he said.

Looking ahead, the project has linked the cooperative to a private national company, Khan Al Saboun, which is developing a new line of body and hair care products based on sustainably harvested and organic wild sage. And elsewhere, three more pilot sites to develop and implement project activities in Assia Batroun, Hsarat Jbeil and Mrusti Chouf have been identified. In each pilot site, the project works with local collectors either through an established cooperative or an informal collector group.