RMF Completes a New Rural Tourism and Sustainable Forest Management Project in Batloun, Shouf

The Building Alliance for Local Advancement, Development, and Investment (BALADI) program, funded by the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by René Moawad Foundation (RMF) in partnership with Shouf Biosphere Reserve (SBR), celebrated the completion of a new rural development project in Batloun (Shouf district).

The project, developed by the municipality and community of Batloun, the Biosphere Reserve and neighboring areas, promotes eco-tourism and helps ensure sound and sustainable management of forests. The assistance created jobs and income for 106 farmers through collecting and transforming pruned remnants of vegetation into utilizable heating logs and 39 jobs at the briquetting facility.

The inauguration event held in “Darb El Hara” Batloun valley, was attended by USAID Local Development Director Claude Zullo; RMF Executive Director, Michel Moawad; Mayor of Batloun, Marwan Kays; representatives from Barouk, Maaser El Shouf, Botmeh, and Khreibeh El Shouf municipalities; representatives from the Agricultural Cooperative of Batloun and Maaser El Chouf; representatives from Al Shouf Cedar Society; and members of parliament, Batloun community, and other local stakeholders.

USAID provided $175,000 to the community of Batloun for a series of economic developments, including: establishment of a 20-kilometer trail and tourism information office; creation of a booklet, promotional material, and a documentary guide for the trail; training for tour guides; as well as pruning and wood briquetting equipment (sales of which are distributed to low-income families). To date, 1,209 residents from Barouk and the Maaser El Chouf, Botmeh, and Khreibet El Chouf surrounding villages benefited from reduced costs of heating their homes by utilizing the briquette logs. The project also organized numerous awareness sessions and field trips to promote sustainable forest management and protection. More than 1,435 students from 16 private and public schools participated in these field visits.

In his remarks, Mr. Zullo emphasized “For a long time, the United States has advocated empowering local communities to promote local economic development and address social challenges; this is why USAID has worked closely with the Lebanese people for decades to create strong communities that improve livelihoods through increased employment and economic opportunities. We believe that projects like this are important to energize communities in rural areas, attract visitors and increase residents’ income”.

RMF Executive Director Michel Moawad confirmed that RMF will continue to work as a platform for advancement by funding and partnering with projects or organizations with whom it shares the same vision: “RMF collaborates with strategic partnerships alongside the private-sector in Lebanon, our diaspora and international donors. These partnerships allow us to expand our programs and bring about impactful change”.

Since 2012, USAID has implemented 87 community development activities in more than 140 municipalities in 22 districts. Activities include solar back-up electricity generation, irrigation, improvement of public schools and community health clinics, income-generation enterprises, and enhanced social cohesion through community centers.

More information about the BALADI program can be found at http://baladi-lebanon.org/en

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