Part three: Thematic papers: Policy, production systems, conservation and restoration, processing and utilization

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3.1 Arid-zone forestry policy in North Africa region
3.2 Policy relating arid-zone forestry to rural development and desertification control
3.3 Desertification - Rethinking forestry strategy in Africa: Experience drawn from usaid activities
3.4 Research, demonstration, extension and dissemination
3.5 Desertification control programme activity centre UNEP, Nairobi
3.6 Les systèmes pastoraux maghrebins et leur rôle dans la lutte contre la desertification
3.7 Processing and utilization of perennial vegetation in the arid-zone of India
3.8 Utilization of wildlife
3.9 Rehabilitation of saline environments
3.10 Watershed management in arid-zones
3.11 Water harvesting
3.12 Land restoration and revegetation
3.13 La reserva nacional Pampa del Tamarugal: Recuperacion de un bosque forrajero en el desierto de Atacama en Chile
3.14 Improved use of genetic resources of woody species: A strategy for action


3.1 Arid-zone forestry policy in North Africa region

Agriculture and Forest Advisor

Secretariat of Agriculture
Reclamation and Development
Tripoli - Jamahiriya


The North Africa region covers a wide area of arid and semi-arid zones, including a great part of the Sahara, and because of its importance, UNEP gave more attention to the establishment of green belts to control encroachment of the desert, i.e. to combat desertification, in this particular area of the world.

The region, since the last wet period (some 5 000 - 7 000 years ago) has been suffering climatic, socio-economic and land-use problems.

Historical events show that renewable resources (soil, plants, water, wildlife and human-beings) were in an ecological balance, the land was covered with savanna, short and high grasses, water was available, usable resources were in balance with range, so people were using the resources (including wood as energy) according to the production capability of these resources.

This natural balance was upset when the population increased and other new factors were involved. More food was needed, more wood was required for different uses, especially the domestic one, so more pressure was put on land, water, vegetation cover and wildlife. The result of this disturbed natural balance was the disappearance of the vegetation cover, erosion, floods, sand-dune movement, etc. Other factors have accelerated the deterioration of the environment, thus increasing desertification, i.e. the inability of people to maintain the resources during wars, invasions and other social pressures played an important role. It is evident that fire, cutting, removal of trees and shrubs for different purposes, overgrazing, etc. have placed the forestry sector in a very critical situation but forestry is still playing an important role, socially and economically in the arid zones. This role is mainly in providing tangible and intangible benefits such as climatic amelioration, provision of fuel and wood, erosion control, water conservation, all leading to desertification control.

In the last century and the beginning of the present one, many African countries (including North Africa) were under colonization. They started realising the danger of desertification and the importance of drawing up a forestry policy to face the state of desertification.

The first step was taken to regulate the illegal cutting of forest trees, the use of soil and water and to a certain extent the reclamation of sand dunes. These were the main elements of the forestry policy in the period between the First and the Second World War.

After the Second World War, many African countries got their independence and started facing the problems with a more reasonable policy with regard to the forestry sector.

Having to face the independence situation, an increasing need for plant and animal production, improved standards of living, and growing population, the stress was severe on the natural resources. Thus the need for a stable and clear forestry policy, especially in the arid zones, to combat desertification and to maintain the natural resources in a natural balance had to be recognized.


The forestry policy in arid countries is integrated within the framework of the socio-economic development plans. Therefore the actual situation of this forestry policy takes into consideration a wide range of factors including those that affect the life of people. Some of them are given below.


Each individual country has formulated its own forestry policy and prepared a working plan for implementation, fully aware of the losses and threats of desertification but there was a definite need for regional forestry strategies, in spite of the impressive nature of the activities undertaken by these countries in Northern Africa.

These countries felt that they need coordination, exchange of knowledge and experience, and preparation of working plans for implementation so that the failures and successes of each country can be communicated to others and help in reaching an optimum result.

To do so they established the Green Belt Project for North Africa which has the following main objectives:

a) Protection of agricultural land against desert encroachment and its amelioration;
b) Management and improvement of rangeland and development of animal wealth;
c) Afforestation;
d) Rural development;
e) Increasing food production to deal with shortages in the region.

The following are some of the means for implementation.

a) Formulation of a joint plan of action for the whole region specifying guidelines for combating desertification such as range management, planting trees, etc.;
b) Coordination between methods of implementation and organization of the relevant efforts in each country;
c) Exchange of knowledge and experience;
d) Exchange of seeds and seedlings;
e) Coordination of training activities, etc.

The strategy of the Green Belt Project is based on the following:


Forestry has played a great role in the development of rural areas in various ways. Tree planting provides a wide range of benefits such as:

The following activities, illustrate the importance of forestry policy in the development of arid land and the control of desertification.

Sand-dune fixation

This activity is a fundamental one in the subregion. It aims at restoring the land capability, restoring the vegetation cover, thus improving the environment.

This activity affords the population more income, better standard of living and, indirectly, protection of their soil and crops.

Green belts

Green belts aim at stopping desertification and dune encroachment, thus protecting land, villages, towns, roads and highways or any other infrastructure against mobile sands. In Algeria a green belt project was initiated in the early seventies to control desertification. This project is a strip 10-15 km wide and some 1 000 km in length stretching from the Tunisian to the Moroccan border. The idea behind this project is to stop the advance of the Sahara desert Northward. As the implementation of this project advanced, it was realized that the desert encroachment is an "endogeneous" phenomena requiring a multipurpose management of the fragile woody and land resources.


Forestry policy formulation in the arid zones should take desertification control into consideration. It is important that policy is included in the socio-economic development plans and participation of the population sought. The ultimate goals of the policy should be to:

To get the optimum results, the people and the different institutions such as research, training, education and extension institutions should be involved in the implementation of a forestry policy.


  1. Forestry Policy of Tunisia and Libya
  2. Technical reports of the green belt projects of North Africa
  3. Notes on the green barrage in Algeria
  4. Feasibility study on the green belt project
  5. Forestry Department - Regional Reports


3.2 Policy relating arid-zone forestry to rural development and desertification control



Confronted with large-scale, drying trends of its surroundings, society - throughout the course of history - has generally reacted in one of the following two ways: either massive migration (as a result of the 1930 dustbowl in the USA, a large number of farmers left and moved West) or undertaking large-scale corrective resource conservation efforts (dams, terraces, etc., the example of North Yemen dating as far back as the reign of the Queen of Sheba).

The combination of increasing population pressure and decreasing rainfall over extended periods of time have affected arid zones in many parts of the world dramatically especially during the last few decades: water sources are drying up, farm soil fertility is dropping, natural vegetation is disappearing. Famine, diseases, widespread suffering, misery and, ultimately, death are the inescapable consequences.

Motivated by a strong will and desire to do something about it, individuals, groups, institutions, governments and most of the donors or financing communities are attempting to combat what is generally described as "desertification" with increasing determination and means.

While it has been clear from the onset that the multitude of private and collective local and foreign, individual and government efforts should be coordinated to avoid overlap, gaps and counterproductive double-tracking, the formulation of generally-accepted approaches and plans has been slow and sometimes painfully complex due to the diversity of interests, priorities and viewpoints.

Beyond that, the formulation of a policy that has a settled or definite course, or methods to be adopted and followed by all involved in the common pursuit (to combat desertification) has been even more difficult and time-consuming. Even today, after so much has been said, written and moneys spent, even many large international organizations still have no coherent policy on combating desertification. Neither do many of the large regional or bilateral agencies.

A number of regional or national attempts have been made to improve forestry policies on the use and conservation of natural renewable resources. It is generally accepted today that such policies cannot address at the same time all aspects of rural development and other problems of the diminishing natural resource base. The ensuing conflict is clear: development or conservation? Obviously, until this question is resolved, different parties will keep going in different directions. Government policies, clearly spelling out how some of these trade-offs are to be reconciled, are a fundamental and necessary first step before plans, programmes, projects and individual interventions and actions can be successfully carried out. The elusive compromise between achieving food self-sufficiency while re-establishing an ecological balance (one of the CILSS main objectives) has to be made and adhered to.

While government (and donor) policies are extremely important and represent a necessary prerequisite to all subsequent action, many that exist today are worth little because, in the practical reality of everyday life, they are not and perhaps cannot be enforced. Forestry policies in arid zones (as anywhere else) are important but, as can be observed in many of the countries where the needs for a comprehensive approach to resource management are the most urgent, they are often not worth the paper they are printed on for a combination of reasons that are easier to define than to rectify:


The term policy means different things to different people in different organizations. To some people, policy means a broad, general statement of overall planning and programming goals. To others, it means specific objectives or procedures. Yet others use it to describe legal or regulatory restrictions or functions.

Perhaps the most basic element of policy formulation is that the meaning and application of the term is clearly understood (and agreed upon) by the different partners engaged in activities such as combating desertification.

It follows from this that a "forestry' policy is not only an important element in planning and implementing rural development and resource conservation activities but a requisite common reference and starting point that defines the technical, economic, social and political framework for any endeavour addressing a specific objective, in this case the slowing down, halting or reversing of desertification.

A policy should contain a principle as well as a rule (or set of rules) of action. They should both be stated together for maximum effectiveness.

Official (government, funding sources, agencies) policies on natural resource management can be separated into two basic categories: administrative/political and operational.

Administrative/political policies are generally broad and span long-range intervals. Examples are: all field activities are to be based on the voluntary, unpaid participation of local people or: all rural development projects henceforth must contain a forestry or conservation component (Niger, Burkina Faso, for example).

Operational policies are more specific and address short-range programmatic issues or principles. Slopes steeper than 15 degrees (27%) shall not be farmed. They should be covered with permanent vegetation, either trees (for wood production), fodder crops or permanent pasture (China).

Finally, it makes sense to reflect, before engaging in formulating policies or re-writing existing ones, on how they are to fit into the general development and resource management model of a country. The sequence, generally used in business, follows the following steps:

The first step is to determine the specific objective. In this case, the task is simple: combat desertification. However, already at this point, it must be kept in mind that others who are responsible for "development", or improving the balance of payment situation, providing employment, increasing the productivity in rural areas, etc., will almost inevitably set different objectives which will lead to programmes and action plans completely opposite to those naturally flowing out of concerns to halt desertification. It is no use going into further detail until the basic decision is made as to what point to develop, as opposed to what point to conserve, or "rationally manage'.


Common strategies and tactics in implementing arid-zone forestry policies that have been successful are few and far between.

While some significant and notable successes have been achieved in many parts of the world, most of them took place in temperate climatic zones (as opposed to the tropics). In arid areas of Russia, China and the USA, various combinations of soil, water and vegetation conservation efforts on a massive scale have been implemented with lasting, positive results. In each case, however, the "strategies and tactics" followed have been entirely different as far as policies and implementation modes were concerned.

The one common denominator that can be singled out in these cases is a basic commitment, at central government level and its technical and managerial ability to take large enough steps to bring about the necessary, critical changes in landuse and vegetation cover. Central top-down planning and implementation, regional and sub-regional delegation of responsibilities (and resources!) as well as a series of collaborative, government/private incentives (tax advantages, cost-sharing, cooperative extension services) have all been successful, each in its own way and each in its own socio-political setting.

In the dry tropics, considerable effort to bring about the needed changes has been made as well. At the national level, Niger's "Débat National sur la Lutte contre la Desertification" (May 1984) is an outstanding example of a government addressing the basic problem at its root. On a regional basis, a number of meetings, seminars and conferences have tried to resolve some of the same basic policy issues as well. The Regional Desertification Seminar of CILSS (Nouakchott, 29 October to 6 November 1984) is but one example.

The "state-of-the-art" of these policy-formulating efforts can be evaluated by the meetings' conclusions and recommendations, a sample of which is listed here:

Elsewhere, other approaches have been applied. In the Dominican Republic, for instance, trees were in effect nationalized and the country's sawmills closed. Whatever negative economic and social impacts this may have had, a striking difference from the barren hills of neighbouring Haiti exists today. Still other cases exist where massive, grassroots soil and water conservation efforts have been encouraged by donors or governments and undertaken by local people involving the construction of benches or terraces, gully control, small dams and similar systems. Examples are numerous and dispersed: Haiti, Kenya, Cape Verde, Tunisia to name but a few.

In still other locations, accent have been placed on reforestation, the introduction of trees either to become forests or - a more recent development - incorporating them into the landscape either "on-farm" or in bands or plots of land not used for cropping ("Four side" schemes in China, agroforestry on dry land in many parts of Africa, for instance).

Strategies and tactics in each of these examples vary considerably from one location to the next. Where successful, efforts at local level were placed in such a context that introducing trees or soil conservation measures "made sense" to the local people. In most of these cases, governments had to shift from executing only top-down, nationally-focussed policies and outlooks to include or make possible some forms of incentive or motivation (often in the form of protection or guaranteeing production benefits) to the people living in the rural areas.


Arid-zone forestry policies, in many cases, have worked up to a point. Often though, when population pressures mounted, many of them had to be abandoned. The classic demarcation of the "Northern Limit of Cultivation" in the Sahel as originally set by colonial rulers and later adopted or carried over by Sahelian governments, had to be abandoned (in some cases governments even encouraged farming further North) in view of the increasing need to produce more food.

Some countries, in order to protect their natural tree and shrub cover, have forbidden charcoal making or exporting. Results have been mixed and negative impacts have been difficult to avoid: smuggling, more cutting of trees for firewood closer to population centers, etc.

Past efforts forbidding cutting or mutilating trees (especially those of particular importance like Acacia albida) almost certainly have had some beneficial effect; however, they have also created additional hardships and social costs as well as reduction in productivity of individuals, especially women and children who have to go that much farther away from home to collect fuelwood.

Well-intended policies placing major emphasis on large-scale reforestation/plantation efforts have led to establishing newly-forested surfaces. Unfortunately, too often in the past, the land for these efforts has simply been expropriated from local people. Economic, social and political costs thus were much higher than anticipated (and real benefits often disappointingly small).

Several countries have recently revised their forest laws. Evidence begins to mount indicating that where this has been done in harmony with other laws pertaining to land and tree tenure and other aspects of the rural economy (particularly the farmers') were included, the net results have been positive (Rwanda, for instance, though far from an "arid" country). Again, however, a strong case can be made that policy changes alone are far from providing the final solution. At best, they are an important (and necessary) start.

Especially where decisions are the sole authority of a central government new policies can be instigated quickly. While policies may be easy to change under these circumstances, they will have little effect unless the accompanying rules, regulations and the way they are enforced in the field are changed as well.

New forestry policies aimed at combating desertification are often announced amid firm statements about the "will of the government". Unless this "will" is also expressed in parallel increases in the operating and management budgets of the agencies in charge of the implementation, little, if anything, will really change.

Several countries (notably Senegal) have embarked on a long-range, nation-wide reorientation of their local administrative structures. New rural communities have been created. Local participation in resource (and land use) planning and decision-making has been incorporated into a new and better balanced way of collectively deciding which resources are used under what management concept and by whom. This approach, in the long-run, holds considerable promise; impacts are generally favourable although - as in any other re-distribution effort - some parts of the population wind up with less than they had before and the effect of social or economic equity is always a matter of who is looking at it.


In addition to the various examples mentioned above, some deserve additional attention because they illustrate the relative importance forestry policies can have on the development of arid lands and/or the control of desertification.

Mechanised farming schemes in the Sudan

In order to increase exports, and particularly in view of the preferential price paid by one of its neighbours, the Government of the Sudan is issuing concessions for large tracts of land (up to 500 ha per contract, according to some) to raise sorghum under a rotational arrangement whereby, theoretically at least, after a number of years the area reverts back to its original state, more or less on a sustained base.

The contract texts spell out specific conservation-oriented activities that must be adhered to, in detail, such as leaving strips of natural vegetation between areas that are cleared for farming operations.

While, on paper, and based on a concern to halt the encroachment of the desert, the policy does intend to prevent soil and vegetation degradation, in reality, schedules are not adhered to, and massive areas are cleared in one rapid operation. Bush and trees are piled and burned (!) to get rid of them quickly and the land is then farmed in the most expedient way so short-term gains can be materialized. Then the areas are abandoned in a state that makes any future rehabilitation prohibitively expensive if not impossible.

The conclusion is that unless properly adhered to and enforced in the field, resource conservation (anti-desertification) policies are worthless.

Green barriers against the desert in Algeria

For a number of years, the first efforts dating back to the early years after independence, the Government of Algeria has adopted an ambitious policy to stem the tide of the advancing desert in various parts of the country. A massive mobilisation of the population in the spirit of the Popular Revolution was strengthened by deployment of large contingents of their armed forces. What first had started as a PVO-funded food for work effort was later supported to much a larger extent by a bilateral donor and then by the World Food Programme. By the time the Government expanded the operation with its own resources, millions of acres of trees had been planted in the mountainous northern portion of the country as well as in a wide and continuous band North of the Sahara desert.

It soon became evident that while in the mountains of the North, where the rural population is predominantly sedentary (although livestock grazing is an important co-product), tree planting was largely successful and the landscape was soon dotted by forest areas (especially on steeper slopes), the green belt across the central portions of the country was much less successful. Sparse rainfall mixed with the ever-present need of pastoralists for forage (and firewood) in spite of valiant efforts by the Government and the rest of the population, did not suffice to erect a complete and effective barrier against the invading desert.

Conclusion: where site conditions are reasonably favourable and the rural population consists largely of sedentary farmers, forestry and conservation measures have a much higher chance of success than in dry, pastoral areas; especially where local participation is based on strong political motivation and supported by an efficient government management structure.

Policies, laws, rules and regulations all will count for naught in arid-zone tropical countries unless the local people themselves change their ways of using the available land, water and vegetation. A number of socio-economic studies in different parts of the world show clearly that each area has its individual set of interrelationships between people and the land they are living on.

Policies are easily formulated but the art or the secret is to come up with a set that works. While donors and central governments struggle with finding courses or methods that can be followed to combat desertification, local people annually are setting fire to tree plantations which, in part at least, were established to halt desertification. In such a case, obviously the government would be well advised to review its forestry policies, and - perhaps just as important - the way they are carried out.


Depending on one's viewpoint, a case can be made that the largest gap in knowledge exists in governments and donors not fully knowing and appreciating what makes sense to the local population and what does not.

This means that there is a second priority: the attitude and motivation of those responsible for implementing a policy once it has been formulated. What is needed for government agencies (from top to bottom) is a change in their attitude and approach vis-à-vis the local population to get a more productive and effective response from those who can ultimately make or destroy even the best intentioned plans.

There are many other issues and areas of uncertainty, to be sure. But it is submitted here, for further and much more in-depth discussion, that above all more must be known on what makes sense to local people and what to do to make government agencies and officials more sensitive and more service or management-oriented vis-à-vis those who will ultimately either win or loose the struggle against desertification.


1) Arid-zone forestry policies are worth little, unless:

a) they are in tune with other policies and laws pertaining to rural development and conservation, notably land and tree tenure, farm price and other marketing policies and policies on the use and conservation of other natural renewable resources;

b) they are understood and - at least in principle - accepted by the majority of the rural population, regardless of their occupation or social status;

c) a government management structure is in place and functioning well enough to implement them efficiently.


Description of key-terms as used in this text

according to "Principles of Management" by R.C. Davis and A.C. Filley, Grolier's Modern Business series, N.Y. (1962):.....a principle (or group of related principles), with their consequent rule of action, that condition and govern the successful achievement of the objectives to which they are directed.

According to "Webster's New International Dictionary" (1925): ..... a settled or definite course or method adopted and followed by a government, institution, body or individual.

General word for a proposed method of action or procedure. A method of action, procedure or arrangement.

According to Grolier's Modern Business series, a "plan" consists of:

A settled rule of action. A governing law of conduct, an opinion or belief which exercises a directing influence on the life and behaviour. A rule of conduct consistently directing one's action, emphasizing the idea of a fundamental truth or general application.

An orderly procedure or process, a regular way or manner of doing anything... a special or definite system of procedure.

Planning and directing large-scale operations, specifically manoeuvring forces (or resources) into most advantageous position prior to actual engagement.

Arid zones:
In the context of this paper any large area affected by periodic shortage of rainfall, seriously threatening people's basic food or water supplies.

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