Libya is located in North Africa on the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, with about 1,770 kilometer long coastline. Its capital is Tripoli, and the country’s population is more than six million. Much of Libya is covered by an extremely arid desert, where very high temperatures prevail and rain is a rare phenomenon. The major source of Libya’s foreign earnings is its oil sector, constituting about 80 percent of the national GDP and about 97 percent of the exports. Libya is known for its lengthy and costly but unique Great Man-Made River project that was initiated years ago, with the objective of transporting underground water from the southern desert aquifers to the northern area which has fertile soils, and where most of the country’s population lives.
Libya was under UN sanctions for seven years, which were lifted only in 2002. A bloody civil war and ensuing international armed intervention in 2011 changed a 42-year old regime as well as the national flag. The country is divided into 22 administrative districts (baladiayat).
The agriculture was considered as an important economic sector in Libya until the oil was discovered in the early 1960s. The oil export suddenly became the major driving force for the country’s economy, dwarfing the government’s interest in developing the agricultural sector, which resulted in enormous food imports. Lately, more attention is being given to agriculture due to increasing threats of food insecurity. A large number of foreign laborers, who had been living in Libya for years, have left the country due to armed crisis, affecting the agricultural production.
The only arable land of Libya is located along the Mediterranean coast, in the eastern region. Cereals, fodder crops and some fruits are grown in the relatively small rain-fed area while the coastal, irrigated area is devoted to the cultivation of vegetables (potatoes, onion, tomatoes), fruits (watermelons, oranges, dates, grapes, olives), and cereals (wheat, barley). Most of the farms are small, ranging from five to 20 hectares in size. A trend to move from subsistence to mechanized farming has been observed. Fisheries and livestock (mainly sheep and goat but also camels, cows and poultry) are important economic sub-sectors. Almost all agricultural institutions have been subjected to significant government control and interventions for many years.
Key Statistics and Indicators
Agricultural land (sq km)
Agricultural land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares)
Arable land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares per person)
Fertilizer consumption (kg per hectare of arable land)
Agriculture, value added (% of GDP)
Food production index (2004-2006 = 100)
Food exports (% of merchandise exports)
Food imports (% of merchandise imports)
GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$)
Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above)
Literacy rate, youth female (% of females ages 15-24)
Literacy rate, youth male (% of males ages 15-24)
Ratio of young literate females to males (% ages 15-24)
Ratio of female to male secondary enrollment (%)
Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people)
Internet users (per 100 people)
Population density (people per sq. km of land area)
Rural population (% of total population)
Agricultural population (% of total population)*
Total economically active population
Total economically active population in agriculture*
Total economically active population in agriculture (in %
of total economically active population)
Female economically active population in agriculture (% of
total economically active population in agriculture)*
History of extension and the enabling environment
Long time ago, much of Libya was organized into agricultural centers, which were surrounded by tribally-organized Bedouin nomads. In 1911, Libya became a colony of Italy, and many Italian farmers came to settle in Libya. They improved agricultural operations including irrigation, and cultivated lands including those which had not been cultivated for centuries and were turning into a desert. The foreign settlers also created some new farm villages.
The Italian Government established the Sidi Mesri Research Station in 1912 in a building that the former Turkish rulers intended to use as an agriculture school. The research station work covered crops, fruits and livestock. In 1938, its research laboratories were modernized and expanded, and the station was renamed as Royal Agricultural Research Station.
In 1939, the colonial Italian Governor brought 20,000 Italian farmers to Libya, and 26 new villages were established for them mainly in Cyrenaica. The best land available was given to the settlers to cultivate olive groves. The settlement was managed by the Libyan Colonization Society, which reclaimed land, built model villages and provided credit to the settler farmers. The Italians’ colonial development came to a halt with their departure after the Second World War ended. After the Italians left and the British and the French occupied Libya, the Sidi Mesri Research Station was used by the British Administration of Tripolitania as an animal husbandry center.
Libya gained its independence from the colonial powers in 1951 to become an independent kingdom. The Agricultural Bank of Libya was established in 1957, which still provides guidance in tackling agricultural problems, gives loans to agricultural cooperatives, and participates in the development of agricultural community.
In 1958, the agricultural sector contributed over 26 percent of the national GDP. However, as oil exports were given top priority, starting the early 1960s, the agriculture’s contribution to the GDP fell to a meager 9 percent in 1962. From 1961 to 1963, the government gave loans to Libyans to purchase the lands previously owned by the Italian settlers, and use them for recreation rather than for farming purposes. That policy affected the agricultural sector negatively.
In 1969, a military coup brought a new government in power in Libya. Very next year, the government confiscated about 38,000 hectares of the Italian colonial era farms and distributed it in small plots among the Libyans. In addition, all the uncultivated land was declared as the state property. In 1970, Libya hosted the meeting of the Deans of Arab Agricultural Colleges in which the extreme importance of extension services in agricultural development efforts of all the Arab states was discussed. Since then concerted efforts were made to improve extension services but with little success.
In 1974, the South Australian Government entered into an agreement with the Government of Libya to apply the South Australian ley farming system within the development area managed by the Jabel El Akhdar Authority. This area was between Benghazi and Tobruk where 2,000 Libyan farmers had been settled. The agreement was implemented from 1974 to 1980. Main activities were the establishment of a 1,000-hectare farm at El Marj to demonstrate the dry land ley farming system, an agronomy experimental program, soil conservation measures, research on legume varieties, land use capability mapping, and agricultural extension activities through individual and group contacts. These services were provided by about 50 agricultural scientists, seed and machinery technologists, and farmers.
The objectives of the agricultural development policy of Libya in the 1980s included self sufficiency in food, preservation and development of natural resources, income equality through development projects, establishment of agricultural industries, marketing policy to improve farmers’ incomes, and national management of water resources. Thus, substantial investments were made in the agricultural sector including the transportation of water from desert oasis aquifers to the coastal areas through the Great Man-Made River project, initiated in 1984.
The objectives of the agricultural development policies in Libya during the 1990s were enhancement of production, improved management of natural and economic resources, establishment of farmer cooperatives, an insurance and credit policy for farmers, transfer of certain agricultural projects to farmers, and the creation of agricultural and livestock associations. Before the 2011 revolution and civil war, the Department of Agricultural & Rangeland Development supervised all agricultural and production projects, agricultural training institutions, and specialized agricultural companies. At the level of each “administrative division” was a Popular Committee in-charge of supervising and implementing agriculture and animal and marine wealth policies. At one point in time, there was neither any ministry of agriculture nor a formal organization of agricultural extension, and an Inspector General looked after agricultural matters. All three agricultural research centers (one each for agriculture, livestock and marine biology) were affiliated with three individual secretariats. The following constraints were identified in a Libya country paper presented in 2004:
- Absence or instability of the administrative structure of agricultural extension services;
- Weak communication channels between extension and research stations;
- Inability of extension staff to fully devote their time to their extension duties due to non-extension responsibilities;
- Part-time and illiterate farmers finding hard to comprehend the importance of both extension and innovative technologies;
- Absence of a regulatory framework governing the relationship between agricultural extension organs, research centers and the parties funding extension programs;
- A lack of international and regional projects and consultants in extension and technology transfer projects; and
- A lack of competent agricultural extension staff for training farmers’ wives and daughters in agricultural economic sectors for rural development.
There was indeed not much international technical assistance received by Libya due to UN sanctions and embargo for many years. Later, as the unrest against the previous started, a significant number of European countries made humanitarian aid contributions to Libya, with Sweden topping the list.
In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) prepared a project TCP/LIB/2902 (I) to support the Government of Libya in implementing the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) and CAADP (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program) within the context of the National Medium Term Investment Program (NMTIP). Recently, FAO has signed a collaboration agreement with the Libyan government to develop its agricultural sector and improve food security. For this purpose, $71 million will be provided by Libya to FAO, and beneficiaries will include farmers, herders and fishers as well as their organizations, cooperatives and traders. Hopefully, agricultural extension services will also be strengthened under the program.
Among other developments, the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in Libya, that comprises FAO, UNDP, UNIDO, World Bank and UNESCO, has prepared a Strategic Framework 2013-2014 for providing possible assistance to Libya. The Agricultural Research Center, Tripoli and ICARDA (International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas) have been partners since 2010 in a large-scale government-funded research program comprising three projects namely, cereals improvement, water harvesting and irrigation management, and small ruminant production. Among current assistance programs funded by the European Union is a project on technical and vocational education and training (TVET) delivery and development.
Major institutions providing extension/advisory services
Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries
The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries has overall responsibility for providing agricultural extension services to the farmers. The Ministry has a Department of Agricultural Extension for this purpose. As extension has been decentralized, agricultural extension centers are located in all six major agricultural regions namely, Tubruq, Derna, Al Bayda, Al Marj, Benghazi, and Ajdabiya. The extension centers are concentrated more in the eastern part of the country which is the main agricultural area. The field extension offices are run by managers and the deputy directors, and each office has a number of extension agents. Due to unsettled situation in Libya, the latest organizational chart of agricultural extension is not yet available.
Agricultural Research Centers
Apart from the research facilities at universities, Libya has the following three main agricultural research institutions:
- Agricultural Research Center (ARC);
- Animal Studies and Research Center (ASRC); and
- Marine Biology Research Center (MBRC).
These centers do not provide direct extension services to the farmers, but their mandate is to develop improved technologies. The Agricultural Research Center, which is considered as the most important institution, has a number of objectives in its mandate, and one of them is “to cooperate with the extension services for the diagnosis of agricultural problems, their resolution and for the implementation of the results of research”.
Although the civil war and ensuing political turmoil have affected the normal business activities in Libya, the new Libyan government is keen to bring normalcy to the country. Two recent developments concerning the private sector in agriculture are as follows:
- A visit to Libya has been made by a delegation of 20 French agricultural and agro-industrial companies to explore potential collaboration with the Libyan agricultural sector.
- In May, 2013, Libya’s 6th International Agricultural Exhibition opened in Tripoli. According to the Libyan Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, the exhibition aimed at introducing modern technologies to farmers to help establish agricultural systems in Libya, and to facilitate farmers’ production as much as possible.
Libya has the following institutions to promote agricultural businesses:
- General Union of the Chambers of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture, Tripoli.
- Tripoli Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture, Tripoli.
- Benghazi Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture, Benghazi.
- Zawia Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture, Zawia.
There is no evidence of any private company in Libya, involved in direct provision of extension advice to the farmers. Private companies have usually been active in the import and supply of agricultural inputs to the Libyan farmers, and/or in agro-processing. A few examples of such companies based in Libya are the following:
- Rentokil Pest Control Company.
- Al-Naseem Dairy Products Company.
- Zagrit Company, Ltd. (seed supply).
- Zaptia Agricultural & Nursery (seed supply; represents Seed Quest Suppliers Company).
Most of the prominent NGOs such as the Libyan Red Crescent, International Charity and Development Foundation (GICDF) and Waatasimou Charity Association, were engaged in mainly humanitarian activities, and none of them was involved in agricultural extension activities. After the civil war, civil society organizations and NGOs have reportedly been mushrooming in eastern Libya, the key agricultural area. Recently, the Human Relief Foundation (HRF) has been providing training to the Libyan NGOs. In addition, the European Ambassador to Libya has inaugurated the Civil Initiatives Libya (CIL) Tripoli Training Center. It is a two-year project being implemented by the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED). Hopefully, some of the new NGOs, now enjoying freedom from the past government control, will soon enter the areas like rural development, agricultural extension, rural youth development, and rural women empowerment either independently and/or under future donor-funded projects.
Farmers-based associations, cooperatives and societies
Although the new government plans to develop agricultural cooperatives, not much information is available on the number or activities of existing cooperatives. Presently, the only prominent farmers-based organization is the General Union of Libyan Farmers and Breeders (Syndicat General des Agriculteurs et Eleveurs Libyens), which is a member of a regional organization, Union Maghrebine des Agriculteurs (UMAG). However, its specific contribution in terms of extension support to its member farmers is not known.
List of Extension Providers
The following list shows an excerpt from the GFRAS Directory of Extension Providers for Libya. Some of these entries may be specially marked for having more detailed information in the database of the Worldwide Extension Study WWES.
Training options for extension professionals
Pre-service education may be pursued at any of the following universities in Libya as all of them have Faculties of Agriculture:
University of Tripoli, located in Tripoli (founded in 1957 as the Faculty of Sciences of University of Libya, and got the status of independent university in 1973; the largest and most prestigious national institution of higher learning; also has Faculty of Veterinary Medicine).
- Al-Fateh University, located in Tripoli (founded in 1957; also has Faculty of Veterinary Medicine).
- Sebha University, located in Sebha (founded in 1983).
- Tahaddi University, located in Surt (founded in 1987).
- Omar El-Mukhtar University, located in Al Bayda (founded in 1985)
For in-service training, the agricultural extension staff may enroll in regular academic courses offered by the faculties of agriculture, forestry and veterinary medicine at the above mentioned universities. If no regular courses fit their needs then special arrangements could be made for the organization of need-based training. In-service training in technical subject-matter may be arranged at any of the following agricultural research centers or at affiliated technical institutions:
- Agricultural Research Center (ARC)
- Animal Studies and Research Center (ASRC)
- Marine Biology Research Center (MBRC)
Info-mediaries and information and communication technology (ict) for agriculture and extension
According to the World Bank, in 2011, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people) in Libya was 155.69. During the same year, the number of Internet users (per 100 people) in the country was 16.99. Libya formulated its national ICT policy for education in 2005, now being implemented by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Vocational Training, in collaboration with the General Postal and Telecommunication Company and the Libya Telecom and Technology. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has provided assistance in ICT development in the country, which has reasonably good infrastructure for this purpose. According to a 2007 country report on ICT, Libya has undertaken the following initiatives and projects:
- In 2006, 200 post-graduate students were sent to the United Kingdom for an intensive one-year course in modern management techniques in education systems.
- A program has been started for training teachers and staff in ICT for education.
- There is a national ICT project in capacity-building, which involves, among many other components, the establishment of Local Area Networks (LANs) in 149 faculties of various universities and institutes, and of a Wide Area Network (WAN) forming the Libyan Higher Education and Research Network (LHERN).
- A national initiative has been launched for importing and installing 3,400 computer labs at all elementary and primary schools.
- About 400 model schools are being set up nationwide that will offer courses on ICT.
- One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a non-profit USA group, has the goal of supplying laptops to all 1.2 million Libyan children by June 2008; a satellite Internet service was also to be set up (no information available on the progress)
- The Open University, introduced in 1990 in Libya, offers distance education courses.
Censorship of the Internet by the previous Libyan government was considered as an impediment to the development and popularization of the ICT use. As the new government is not expected to exercise the same kind of censorship, the ICT will be popularized and applied to various sectors as soon as necessary regulations are put in place. Thus far, there is no news about any ICT application done in support of agricultural extension programs or, for that matter, for the agricultural sector in general.
Resources and references
Abidar, A. and A. Laytimi. 2005. National Agriculture Policy – Libya. MEDFROL Project; Market and Trade Policies for Mediterranean Agriculture: The Case of Fruit/Vegetables and Olive Oil.
Al-Idrissi, A. Sbeita, A. Jebriel, A. Zintani, A. Shreidi, and H. Ghawawi. 1996.. Libya: Country Report to the FAO International Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (Leipzig, 1996).
Al-Masri, M. (no date). Libya Country Paper. Tripoli: Agricultural Research Center
Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) .2006. National Economic Strategy; prepared for the General Planning Council of Libya.
FAO. 2006. Support to NEPAD-CAADP Implementation; TCP/LIB/2902 (I) (NEPAD Ref. 06/46 E). Volume I of V; National Medium Term Investment Program (NMTIP). Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Government of South Australia; Primary Industries and Regions SA. (no date). History of Agriculture in South Australia – Libya; available at
Hamdy, A. 2007. Survey of ICT and Education in Africa: Libya Country Report; available at www.infodev.org
IFAD 2013. Support to Farmers’ Organizations in Africa Program (SFOAP); Main Phase (2013-2017). Rome: International Fund for Agricultural Development
Italian Settlers in Libya. (no date). Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italian_settlers_in_Libya.
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.2008. National Investment Brief prepared for the High-Level Conference on Water for Agriculture and Energy in Africa: The Challenges of Climate Change, held at Sirte, Libya, 15-17 December, 2008.
Omar, J.A.E., A.H. Abu Bakar, H.M. Jais, and F.M. Shalloof . 2012. The reorganization of agricultural extension toward sustainable agricultural development in Eastern Libya, International Journal of Engineering, Innovation & Research, Volume 1, Issue 4, Pp. 355-359.
Salem, H.F. 2004. Development of Rural Areas and Societies in Libya. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation; Godollo, Hungary: Szent Istvan University.
Shirieha, A.G. 2004. An Overview of the Agricultural Extension in the Jamahirya; Libya Country Paper; in Proceedings of the Sub-Regional Workshop on Application of ICT for Enhancement of Extension Linkages, Coordination and Services, held at Hammamet, Tunisia, 24-24 November, 2004. Cairo: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Regional Office for the Near East (published in 2005).
UNESCO. 1951.. Sidi Mesri Research Station, Tripoli, Libya. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
United Nations, Office of DSRSG/RC/HC/ - Coordination Section. 2012. United Nations Country Team in Libya: Strategic Framework 2013-2014.
WFP. 2011. Food Security in Libya – An Overview. Rome: World Food Program.
- Authored by M. Kalim Qamar (September 2013)
- Edited by Burton E. Swanson