RAYMOND, Maine — Libya’s agrarian community is small. The country has a desert climate, so the land is not typically fertile enough to sustain Libya’s farms. Due to this, more than 690,000 Libyans struggle with food insecurity. However, a new hydroponic farm in Libya hopes to enhance agriculture techniques. This is a step toward ending the country’s reliance on foreign assistance programs.
Libya’s Farming Difficulties
Agriculture has been a continually shrinking business sector in Libya since 2014. That year, more than 20% of the Libyan workforce was involved in agriculture. In 2020, it was barely 18%. Potential expansion in the workforce is limited for Libya’s farms. They no longer have as many employees, which puts an even larger strain on the agriculture sector.
Approximately 90% of Libya’s land is a desert. Thus, the climate makes agriculture a tricky business to maintain. Most of Libya’s farmland is used as pasture for livestock. This is because the only viable land to farm on has been near the Mediterranean Sea, as one of the critical challenges to farming in Libya is water access. There, the rainfall, while inconsistent, is more frequent than anywhere else in Libya.
Since Libya has an arid climate, rainfall for 93% of the country’s land does not reach 100mm annually. So, all crops grown in Libya must require little water. Wheat and maize are two of Libya’s dominating crops, but both require more than 400mm of water for one growing period.
So, irrigation systems were built to give these crops the necessary water. The systems make farming more feasible in most areas, but the water amounts allotted are regulated. Furthermore, recent conflicts in the region damaged the irrigation systems. The damages have resulted in increased regulations on the already limited water. These regulations mean that the crop output is unlikely to improve without increased rainfall or the introduction of improved irrigation systems.
The New Form of Farming
To improve water access in Libya, entrepreneur Siraj Bechiya and his business partner Mounir built a hydroponic farm in Qouwea, Libya, in 2020. Hydroponic farming involves growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrients. Hydroponics does not require much space but can significantly improve crop output, as the crops are more tightly packed together than traditional farming techniques.
In 2021, the farm began producing crops that are not typically indigenous to Libya’s farms. Bechiya and Mounir trained in hydroponic farming in Tunisia for two years before returning to Libya to utilize what they learned.
The hydroponic farm first caught international attention in April 2021 because the technique is new to Libya. Bechiya and Mounir built their farm by hand with tarps, PVC pipes and plastic cups with holes poked in them to allow the water flow. The duo purchased supplies from stores in the region and constructed the greenhouse, planters and water system by themselves.
The dry weather limits Libya’s farming, but with the small amount of required water constantly flowing and filtering in the plants, the crops are never without water or nutrients. The same system captures, filters and recycles all the water. This recycling continuously waters the crops, so hydroponics allows crops to be grown year-round. With this technology, Libya’s crops no longer have to depend on the season or suffer drought.
Bechiya and Mounir have produced crops like lettuce, a crop rich in vitamins and nutrients not usually grown in Libya. They share their crops with the community and freely share their information and knowledge of hydroponics to expand potential farming in Libya. The expansion of hydroponics in Libya could be a great asset to ending the need for food assistance programs from foreign aid.
Hydroponics’ Impact on Food Insecurity in Libya
Libya has required foreign aid for humanitarian assistance since the beginning of its civil war in 2011. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 1.3 million Libyans need humanitarian help, and at least half of the 1.3 million live with food insecurity. Since 2011, shortages of food and water have increased prices and decreased income for almost all households. Libya’s farms cannot keep pace with the food demands, so many international food assistance programs have intervened.
These issues have worsened the food insecurity issues in Libya. Thus, hydroponic farming provides a local solution that reaches the community and can have a widespread effect. With the increased crop output, communities can access fresh, organic foods on an increasingly regular basis. Hydroponic farming reduces food insecurity and brings more money into the communities.
The WFP primarily focuses on feeding children through schools and distributing food in emergency responses, but the hydroponic farms can provide varied produce regularly. Hydroponic farms are not typical yet in Libya because the materials to build the greenhouses are expensive. However, Bechiya and Mounir are sharing their knowledge, produce and wealth to potentially expand their business. This would make the country more independent and food secure. With hydroponics, Libya’s farms can yield more produce and make an immediate impact on Libyans living with food insecurity.
– Clara Mulvihill