The exponential increase of the world population through time is heaping more pressure on the agricultural sector to produce food amounts enough to feed the world. There is a significant need for better water management and irrigation practices to increase agricultural production using the same amount of water, and even less. On the other hand, land resources are of equal importance and their use in a sustainable manner is a key factor moving forward.
How can the agribusiness sector contribute towards a sustainable future? More importantly, what kind of steps is Debbane Saikali Group taking in the right direction?
Hydroponics is defined as not using soil as substrate for crop production (FAO, 2020). The major advantage with such a system is the absence of weeds and other soil- borne pests, no toxic pesticide residues, better use of water, better control over nutrients and oxygen, and increased crop quality and yields.
Exotica has been using the hydroponics system in its nurseries since 1998. Back then, Exotica engineers learned the advanced technologies of the new growing systems in Europe, imported them to Lebanon, and through continuous support from European experts till this day, they have been successful in maintaining and optimizing these systems.
Roses are grown in perlite, which allows growers to plant double the roses per square meter, providing a better economic return. Irrigation and fertilizers are supplied through automated systems, and water demand is determined through soil sensors in the growing media. This automated fertigation process, along with the controlled environment of the greenhouse, enables the growers to produce high quality roses that are uniform across the greenhouse.
Other than ornamentals, Debbane Freres has adopted hydroponics in the agricultural industry since the early 2000’s. Our trial station in Aadloun encompasses 12,000 square meters of hydroponically grown tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplants. The greenhouses have a controlled environment with respect to temperature, humidity, and irrigation. The main advantages of this system include, but are not limited to the following:
Another advanced form of hydroponics, the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), has been adopted in the
Bouar trial station where we are growing lettuce. Similarly, advantages of NFT include, but are not limited to the following
Bouar station also hosts strawberries planted hydroponically in Rockwool, another inert mineral substrate. Achieving high yields and high quality fruits.
Other than hydroponics, Debbane is adopting new planting and cultivation methods in the grapes sector. With the idea originating from Italy, vineyards are grown under plastic film covers, in an effort to protect the vines during critical periods of adverse weather conditions, mainly hail storms, spring frost and hot wind storms in summer. Furthermore, the plastic film cover provides a better microclimate for the vineyard, allowing harvest time to be achieved earlier for early varieties, and later for late varieties. In order for this cultivation method to be fully effective, Debbane secured the exclusivity of the best protected grape varieties from California to fit every segment of the market. We can now produce grapes from early June till end December.
Debbane Freres has already adopted the new vineyard structure in Bekaa, North, and most recently in the South of Lebanon where a 15 hectares vineyard has been installed at Wazzani. The project at Wazzani is finalized, with all the structures installed and covered, and all the grapes planted. Production is expected to start in 2021.
The idea of hydroponics has surely disrupted the traditional ornamental and agricultural markets, being able to provide higher quality produce, with greater amounts, at faster rates and most importantly while using less land and resources. So, why hasn’t Debbane been able to properly commercialize it on the national and regional scale?
Hydroponics projects have a significantly higher initial investment due to the multi-span structure, climate control, automated irrigation system, cost of substrate that needs to be changed yearly and others. Many farmers/investors refrain from venturing into an investment of such magnitude, especially that the Lebanese produce markets’ prices are continuously fluctuating. Moreover, the government does not subsidize such sustainable solutions to help and encourage the Lebanese farmer to invest.
The same applies for the grape’s projects, whereby the initial cost of investment is almost 5 times more than that of a traditional vineyard. With the current financial crisis and the uncertainty of the Lebanese economy going forward, the likelihood of selling such projects continues to be limited.
Like any innovation, the main challenge is the mentality of the target customer, which in our case is the farmer; very tough. Without solid facts and studies proving the efficiency and feasibility of our projects, it is very hard to market and sell projects.
On the other hand, we have not been successful enough on our demonstration sites to present clear-cut data, proving that Hydroponically grown vegetables and strawberries yield consistently a better and more abundant crop than soil-planted ones. More focus and intensified work will be provided from our side, as we believe this is certainly going to be a technique to spread in the near future. We also need to build and train the teams who will be in charge of supporting the customers who will follow these techniques.
In order to tackle these challenges, we are taking several steps moving forward. Firstly, through trials, we are optimizing our structures in an effort to lower cost per square meter, therefore lowering the amount of initial investment required. Secondly, we are forming a committee that will be dedicated to sharing ideas and expertise in the aforementioned innovative solutions, which also serves the purpose of lowering and optimizing the operational expenses of these projects. Finally, we continue to expose ourselves to innovations and developments through seminars, fairs and exhibitions, whereby we can learn from outside knowledge, adapt what we learned to our resources and capabilities, and provide the market with tailor made solutions.
Through innovation and technologies, Debbane continues to strive in the face of the agricultural challenges in the region, while aiming to optimize land and water use and provide farmers with holistic agricultural solutions towards a sustainable future.
VEGAS F1 is a variety of Greyzini Hybrid Zucchini distributed exclusively in Algeria by DEBBANE AGRI. Its supplier is based in the United States "APOLLO". The VEGAS F1 variety is a very strong, open plant, which facilitates its harvest. It is cylindrical in shape, with a very good quality. The fruit ripening phase takes place during periods of cold, in a proper way. It is characterized by its high production, as the yield per greenhouse in one harvest exceeded 90 kg. This result was obtained at ZERALDA Trial Station of DEBBANE AGRI. The VEGAS F1 variety is intended for greenhouse cultivation; its planting period is in October-November in the open field; and its planting period is in March-April and May. Information concerning the VEGAS F1 variety was posted on social media and shared by several official pages of the agricultural sector, in particular by the CNIF (The National Interprofessional Committee for Vegetable Cultures( and on the Facebook page of the Ministry of Agriculture.
On 27/2/2021, Debbane for Modern Agriculture Ltd organized a field day on tomato varieties in Basrah, in the presence of the General Manager, Mr. Bassem Al Amin, and a number of engineers from Debbane. This field day was dedicated for the farmers and traders of Basrah who took a field tour to see the new and commercial varieties of tomatoes. They were given an explanation on the cultivated varieties by the Director of the Seeds Development Department, Eng. Ziad Nohman. The General Manager also made an intervention on the use of fertilizers and pesticides which are imported by the best suppliers, and explained the correct farming methods.
On 17/2/2021, Debbane for Modern Agriculture Ltd organized a field observation of protected eggplant and pepper at Baghdad station for eggplant farmers on the bassin of the Latifiyah river. The lecture was divided into two parts: the first addressed the fertilizers and pesticides and was presented by the Director of Technical Development at Debbane for Modern Agriculture Ltd, Dr. Hussein Abbas Mohamed. The second dealt with the cultivation and plantation methods of the crops and was presented by Eng. Ali Mohamed, Head of Baghdad station, and Eng. Wajih Khodeir, Senior Engineer in the region.
On 6/2/2021, Debbane for Modern Agriculture Ltd organized a promotional lecture in cooperation with its agents in Aldor region and the province, namely the Farming Office of Hajj Adnan Al-Jarad and the Office of Hajj Ali Al-Faraji known for using modern technologies for the cultivation of wheat, including with regards to fertilizers, pesticides and seeds. The lecture was attended by the Director of Agriculture in Aldor and a number of agricultural engineers, farmers and seed producers. The lecture was divided into two parts: the first addressed the fertilizers and pesticides and was presented by the Director of Technical Development at Debbane for Modern Agriculture Ltd, Dr. Hussein Abbas Mohamed. The second dealt with seeds and was presented by Eng. Ziad Nohman along with Eng. Nawfal Talal, Director of the Central Region, and Eng. Amir Safian, Senior Engineer in the region.