Harvesting wild sage in Medjel Akkar

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In one of the highest mountains of Mejdel Akkar in North Lebanon, far away from the noisiness of the hectic city, three women harvest sage from the wild.

With other 22 women, these harvesters work in the Mejdel Akkar Cooperation supported by the United Nations Development Programme in Lebanon.

“We are now well paid, and can help our families and improve our living conditions” said Fadwa Diab who added that she’s financially independent and feels that she’s an active member in the society.

Wild harvesting of sage is an important source of livelihood for many families across Lebanon, mainly in the village of Mejdel Akkar. Sage needs special attention because approximately thousand tons of dry sage is collected across Lebanon.

Based on this, 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 and arbitrary ways at inconvenient times of the year. Harvesters are now adopting sustainable harvesting techniques from June till October.

The project aims to develop the value chain of MAP production by improving post-harvest and primary processing to produce high quality sage leading to higher income. In this context, the project has established a prefabricated unit to serve as a processing facility and a drying unit for sage.

The project has also conducted capacity building for the Cooperative on proper administrative, financial and management practices, good manufacturing practices, good hygiene practices as well as sustainable wild harvesting and will conduct training on marketing and proper processing standards for MAPs.

By creating an impact on the MAP sector in Lebanon, the UNDP project encourages the sustainable utilization of national natural resources through new and revised regulation for the collection and trade of MAPs, and conserves the natural resources by 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 benefited a lot from working in sage cultivation. “When the cooperative received the new equipment, it was able to sell 1kg of sage at 3$, while the women used to sell it at 1 $”.

The director of the cooperative, Ahmad Ahmad agrees with Diab and explains that the UNDP project boosted the economic cycle in the village.

Furthermore, the project has linked the collectors 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.

Other than Mejdel Akkar, the UNDP project has identified three pilot sites to develop and implement project activities in Assia Batroun, Hsarat Jbeil and Mrusti Chouf.

In each pilot site, the project works with local collectors either through an established cooperative or an informal collector group. The project supports interested informal groups to become organized cooperatives and conducts capacity building trainings, best practices in MAP post-harvest operations, sustainable wild harvesting, marketing and proper processing standards for MAPs.