Lebanon, 10,452 km2 of unparalleled gastronomy, nightlife, culture, sports and activities, sightseeing, history and nature. A beautiful country destroyed piece by piece by corruption, eating away at our nature and renowned landscapes. It puts a damp on all the good work done by lebanese beekeepers in reviving lost biodiversity.

Defining biodiversity and ecosystems

The term “biodiversity” refers to the enormous variety of living species on Earth. Biodiversity includes humans as well as flora, fauna, bacteria and fungi. Scientists believe that they are around 8.7 million species of plants and animals in existence. And out of those, only 1.2 million species have been identified and described so far.

These millions of species work together to survive and maintain their ecosystems. If one system is jeopardized, the others are affected as well. Planet Earth as a whole is full of interconnected ecosystems. They can be tiny enough to fit on a seashell or huge like a rainforest.

Let’s consider bees as a simple example of an ecosystem. As we know, flowers bloom in spring. Honeybees come out of hiding and start working to restock their hives. By jumping from one flower to the next collecting pollen, bees accidentally pollinate entire gardens. The gardens then start to grow and prosper. Humans cultivate these gardens and eat vegetables or fruits. When next spring comes, humans plant the gardens again and the cycle continues.

Some areas have more biodiversity than others because of several reasons counting geography and climate. Such areas are called “hotspots”. According to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), the Mediterranean area globally ranks third among hotspots in plant diversity and endemism after the Tropical Andes and Sunderland. 

Nature in Lebanon

Lebanon is geographically located overlooking the Mediterranean sea. It is considered as a land bridge linking Europe, Asia and Africa. Ancient civilizations have crossed this bridge leaving their mark. Animals and plants have as well. Species from ancient times can still be found when examining the Lebanese flora and fauna today.

The brilliance of Lebanon resides in the great number of biodiversity in such a small area of land. A study conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) revealed: “Lebanon covers 0.007% of the world’s land surface area and hosts about 0.8% of the world’s recorded and catalogued species.”

The best examples to show Lebanon’s beautiful range of biodiversity are the natural reserves and protected sites all over the country. Horsh Ehden Nature Reserve is home to a multitude of rare and endemic plants as well as trees like the famous Cedrus Libani, juniper, fir, and wild apple trees. The reserve is also a refuge for the endangered Eastern imperial eagle, Bonelli’s eagle, Gray wolf, and the wildcat.

What went wrong?

Five to seven decades ago, Lebanon was entirely different than how it is today. In 1973, the late singer Wadih El Safi released “Lebnan Ya Ote’et Sama” that translates into “O Lebanon, Piece of Heaven”. Imagine a booming economy, incredible growth rates, foreign capital, and a diverse cultural hub from education and history, to arts and entertainment. Lebanon, from the 1950s to the 1970s, was one of the most picturesque places in the world.

The Civil War in 1975 had a snowball effect of deterioration on every industry and every sector. These effects still carry repercussions seen today. Corruption has since then taken seed in our government and has formed deep roots. The lack of preventive and protective measures or enforcement of production standards are direct results of indifference to public safety from past and present country leaders. 

Let’s focus on how our environment was affected.

Water is the most important element for human survival. Lebanon is the richest country in drinkable water in the Middle East, but it suffers from water shortage and contaminated tap water. Initiatives to fix this issue are ploys to skim money from the project’s funds without any thought spared to the negative impact on regional biodiversity signature (Mseilha dam). It doesn’t stop there. Take a look at our beaches and shorelines: from clean, tourist-filled beaches to garbage infestations, toxic waste, irresponsible fishing and sewage disposal into the water.

Moreover, wetlands – Aamiq Swamp for example, or Lake Qaraoun – host ecosystems and provide refuge to animals from wild boars to butterflies. Due to pollution and non-eco friendly tourism, these species are dying or are being forced out of their natural habitats. This change is wreaking havoc on our biodiversity.

Our snow-capped mountains are what gave our beautiful country its name. They are reduced to dust and sand thanks to bulldozers, subjected to poor or even non-existent urban planning, extremely rapid urban expansion and deforestation.

Let’s not forget about the air we breathe. Due to deforestation and the spike in population, air pollution in 2020 has earned the title “moderately unsafe” by the World Health Organization (WHO). Air pollution results in major physical and mental illness in the short and long term.

Moreover, on top of local pollution, global climate change is eating away at our natural resources and unique biodiversity.

As a small example to fully grasp the severity of our situation, consider birds.

Lebanon is a migratory corridor of over 300 species of birds. This corridor is extremely important for the reproduction of birds in Lebanon and neighbouring countries. This reproduction allows rodent-free and insect-free areas. However, diminishing wetland ecosystems, deforestation, irresponsible overhunting, excessive and inappropriate use of pesticides have all contributed to the critical decline in numbers of birds. Notice how all the problems are due to human activity. Some species have completely disappeared while others are on the brink of extinction. In turn, the number of rodents and insects ravaging crops has spiked. Yet, when human activity was put on indefinite hold because of Covid-19 or CoronaVirus, headlines changed from “Lebanon skies a death trap for migratory birds: NGOs” (France 24) to “Migratory birds enjoy safety in Beirut as streets remain empty” (Arab News).

Beauty In Bees

In order to reduce the ecological footprint, people and corporations have undertaken eco-friendly practices. Yet, since prehistoric times, beekeeping has been a green, sustainable job and a friend to nature.

Beekeepers own and breed bees mainly for their honey. By doing so, they revive local biodiversity. Let’s do the maths to understand how big is their impact on nature. One bee pollinates over 1000 plants each day. Consider one beehive with 20,000 bees buzzing around with a lifespan of 30 to 45 days. That makes about 120,000 bees every year for every hive. We end up with 120,000,000‬ plants pollinated each year by one hive. The great news is that every beekeeper has at the very least one hive. Some have hundreds under their care.

“In Lebanon, there are approximately 5,500 beekeepers, between professional and not.” Ariane Hajj Abi Chedid, director of the Golden Queen Center for Artificial Insemination of Bee Queens, told L’Atelier du Miel. “Lebanon is a country overcrowded with beekeepers considering its geographical area and the number of its residents.”

She continued, “Lebanese beekeepers follow the latest technology in order to improve their bees’ quality of life and hive quality. Lebanese beekeepers are several steps ahead of other Arab countries in regards to beekeeping and even some European countries. They use the best medicine and treatments for bees. Moreover, some, but not many, are undertaking agricultural projects to provide more feeding grounds for their bees. Our biodiversity which includes medicinal plants raises the quality of Lebanese bees. If every beekeeper plants 100 bee-friendly trees, we would notice a radical change.”

“The economic crisis looming over Lebanon since November 2019 can be considered a blessing in disguise to local businesses. It’s a chance to compete with foreign and imported products by selling local raw honey”, she added. Honey sold in supermarkets is often tampered with and has almost no health benefits. Local raw honey is 90% of the time rich in antioxidants, rich in health benefits, pesticide-free, sugar-free, additives-free and antibiotic-free. It doesn’t get better than this!

You are encouraging beekeepers to get creative with their work and to innovate when you buy local. They could offer a range of different flavoured honey, each with a unique set of health benefits. Furthermore, beekeepers will be able to provide you with better quality products.

By buying from a local beekeeper, not only are you setting a circular economy in motion, but you are also creating a harmonious ecosystem of humans, plants and bees working together.