Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles

syriaflag.gif (2309 bytes)


Abdalla Masri

1. Introduction

2. Soils and Topography
2.1 Major topographical features
2.2 Major soil types

3. Climate and Agro-ecological Zones
3.1 General climate
3.2 Vegetation types
3.3 Agro-ecological zones

4. Ruminant Livestock Production Systems
4.1 Cattle
4.2 Goats
4.3 Camels
4.4 Sheep

5. The Pasture Resource
5.1 Feed resources
5.2 Grazing systems of the past
5.3 Grazing land management since the Second World War
5.4 The Steppe Directorate’s activities

6.Research and Development Organizations and Personnel

7. References
8. Contacts


The Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) is a Mediterranean, Middle Eastern country with an area of 185,180 square km, situated between 320 19 and 370 30 N and 350 45 and 420 E (see Figure 1).

syriamap3.jpg (16903 bytes)

Figure 1 – The location of Syria

It is bordered by Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan and Israel to the south, the Mediterranean and Lebanon to the west. Damascus is the capital, Aleppo, Homs and Hama are the main towns, and Lattakia and Tartous are the main ports. A railway connects Damascus with Amman (Jordan) and also connects Syria with Iraq, Turkey and Iran. Syria was part of the Roman Empire between 61 BC until 634 AD, and was inhabited by Aramaic and Arab Christians who cooperated with neighbouring Moslem Arabs for liberation from the Romans. Later from 1516 until 1918 Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1918 the British and French cooperated with the Syrians to achieve their liberation but the French replaced the Turk and ruled Syria under Mandate until independence in 1946. The country was then ruled for periods by civil and military Government until 1970 when the present Ba’ath party took over and ruled by parliament oriented by the party. Syria is a member of the Arab league.

The population in 1999 amounted to 16,110,000 of which 50.5 percent is rural. The majority of the population are Arabs, with Kurds and Caucasians as minorities. Islam is the main religion followed by Christianity and Judaism. GDP is $1050 per capita for urban areas and $650 for the rural population.

Figure 2 shows land use in Syria:

syriafig2.jpg (13728 bytes)

Cultivated land = 32% Steppe and pasture = 45% Uncultivated land = 20% Forests = 3%

Figure 2 - Land Use

Steppe, which is used as grazing for sheep and camels, occupies the major part . The other major part is an arable area cultivated by the private sector. In 1958 the land reform law (Tidian Ngaido,1997) determined smaller limits of arable land ownership according to rainfall and potentiality. The law also allowed land owners to transfer part of their land to their spouses and children, up to 40 hectares of irrigated land and 160 hectares of rainfed area. The law aimed to grant land to landless and land poor farmers. Thus the confiscated and state arable lands were distributed up to eight hectares of irrigated land and 30 hectares of rainfed. The natural forest and grazing areas are state lands. For more details of farming systems, refer to section 3.


2.1 Major topographical features: there are two mountain ranges, one mainly located along the coast in the western part of the country with altitudes between 1300 – 1800 m and the other extending from the south west into the north east of the country through the steppe region with altitudes of 900 – 2700 m. the altitude plays an effective role in vegetation climax. The rest of the country is plateaux, plains and undulating plains.

2.2 Major Soils Types.The soils of Syria are spread over five orders of the 1975 United States Department of Agriculture Soil Taxonomy (Ilaiwi, 1980):

syriamap2.jpg (41953 bytes)

Figure 3 - Soil map of Syria (by MAAR)

  1. Aridisols cover 47.5 percent of the country. They generally occur where the annual rainfall falls below 250 mm, and are thus the dominant soils in the Badia, but also occur around Damascus. They are mostly characterised by Calcic or Gypsic horizons close to the soils surface, weak structure and relatively light texture, which predisposes them to erosion.
  2. Inceptisols are the second most extensive soils covering about 21.7 percent of the country. They are the prevailing soils in the rainfed areas in the north of the country and also in the areas to he east of the coastal mountains around Homs, Hama and Edleb. They are mostly characterized by Calcic horizons, heavy texture and moderate to strong structure.
  3. Entisols are relatively young soils, occupying about 16.9 percent of the country. They are mainly found as shallow soils over the coastal and central mountains or as alluvial soils on river terraces. They are the predominant soil in the Euphrates valley.
  4. Mollisols have a dark surface layer and well-developed structure, and only occur over 1.2 percent of the land. They are mainly confined to the coastal region.
  5. Vertisols are heavy textured cracking soils, which occur over only 2.1 percent of Syria’s landmass. They mainly occur as associated soils with the Inceptisols and are most common in the north of the country between Aleppo and the Turkish border.
  6. Others.


3.1 General climate. The climate in general is a modified Mediterranean type. The modification is mainly due to a change in micro- habitat as a result of man’s misuse of natural resources. There are four seasons: a cool rainy winter with occasional snow, a hot dry summer, a short spring and autumn. The regions near the sea are characterized by a mild Mediterranean climate while the interior parts are rather continental with cold winters and a spell of below zero Co and hot summers with a spell above 40 Co.

3.2 Vegetation types: The map (Figure 4) shows five vegetation types.

syria3-2.jpg (24947 bytes)


Figure 4 – Vegetation Map of Syria (From World Atlas, Publisher Liban bookshop Beirut and Pabot,1956)

Typical Mediterranean plants are found in the sandy, narrow warm coastal area with high precipitation of over 700 mm/year. The natural vegetation cover is typically :

Ceratonia siliqua

Hyparrhenia hirta

Avena pratensis

Festuca laevis

Lathyrus cassius

Poterium spinosa

Nerium oleander

Myrtus communis

Quercus aegilops

Quercus calliprinos

Quercus infectoria

The steppe plains: In the northern and western parts, where annual precipitation exceeds 350 mm, the major natural species are:

Agropyron libanoticum

Secale montanum

Hordeum bulbosum

Dactylis hispanica

Bromus danthoniae

Bromus tomentellus

Hedysarum coelosyriacum

Thymus syriacus

Carthamnus spp.

Salvia syriaca

Salvia palaestina

Cousinia spp.

Alkanna spp.

Centaurea dumulosa

Triticum aegilopoides

There are also many legumes like Trifolium, Medicago, Vicia, Trigonella etc. The zone is mainly under cereal and pulse crops. In the eastern and southern parts where annual rainfall is between 350 to 200 mm, the major species are:

Stipa lagascae

Stipa barbata

Poa sinaica

Centaurea damascena

Lactuca orientalis

Phlomis damascena

Asphodelus microcarpus

Mountain range is used mainly for grazing. The vegetation cover consists of the following:

Pistacia atlantica

Rhamnus palaestina

Stipa barbata

Poa sinaica

Salsola vermiculata

Semi – deserts and desert: here annual rain is less than 200 mm. The major species are:

Anabasis syriaca

Haloxylon articulatum

Haloxylon salicornicum

Noaea mucronata

Artemisia herba-alba

Achillea fragrantisima

Salsola vermiculata

Poa sinaica

Oases: These are depressions where underground water is available. Irrigated crops are the basis of farming. Parts of the oases have saline water where halophytic vegetation survives. Common species are:

Tamarix spp.

Frankenia spp.

Halocnemum strobillosum

Salicornia herbacea

Salsola crassa

Statice palmyrensis

Aeluropus littoralis

Juncus maritimus

Alhagi maurorum

3.3 Agro-ecological zones: Syria is divided into five agro- ecological zones according to annual precipitation (see Figure 5):

Zone 1 : with annual rainfall over 350 mm is divided into two areas:

a) Those with annual rainfall over 600 mm. where rainfed crops can be successfully planted.

b) Those with annual rainfall between 350- 600 mm and not less than 300 mm during two thirds of the relevant years i.e. it is possible to get two seasons every three years and the main crops are: wheat, legumes and summer crops.

The area of this zone is 2,701,000 hectares and forms 14.6 percent of the country’s area.

The common rotation is: 50 percent of the land holding is put under wheat. 30-40 percent is pulses, forage legumes. 20-10 percent is summer crop, mainly water melon. Fallow is very rare.

Figure 5 – Generalized Map of the Agro-ecological Zones (By MAAR, 1999)

syriafig5.jpg (35594 bytes)

The following are the major crops:

syriafig6.jpg (25397 bytes)


syriafig7.jpg (21266 bytes)


Zone 2 : has an annual rainfall between 250 - 350 mm and not less than 300 mm during two thirds of the relevant years i.e. it is possible to get two barley seasons every three years and in addition could be planted with wheat, pulses and summer crops. The common rotation in this zone is:

- On deep soil: wheat-pulses and forage legumes – a summer crop is planted if winter rain is sufficient, otherwise fallow will take the place of summer crop.

- On shallow soil: mainly barley, but part of the land is planted to cumin. Fallow is rare.

The area of this zone is 2,470,000 hectares and it forms 13.3 percent of the country’s area. The major crops are wheat and barley.

syriafig8.jpg (21452 bytes)

syriafig9.jpg (19892 bytes)


Zone 3 :has an annual rainfall of 250 mm with not less than this amount during half of the relevant years i.e. it is possible to get one to two seasons every three years and the main crops is barley, although legumes could be planted. Fallow is practiced in case of capital shortage. The area of this zone is 1,306,000 hectares and it forms 7.1 percent of the country’s area.

Zone 4 : has an annual rainfall of between 200- 250 mm with not less than 200 mm during half of the relevant years i.e. it is good just for barley which in some years is grazed as the yield is too low to harvest. Fallow is practiced in case of capital shortage. The area of this zone is 1,833,000 hectares and forms 9.9 percent of the country’s area.

Zone 5 : (Desert and steppe) this area covers the rest of the country’s land. It is not suitable for rainfed planting. The area of this zone is (10,208,000) hectares which forms 55.1 percent of the country area. It is natural grazing for sheep and camels.

syriafig10.jpg (20289 bytes)

The irrigated areas: There are 16 rivers in Syria, the largest being the Euphrates with a length in Syria of 602 kilometres and an average flow rate of 1042 m3 /sec. In general the irrigated areas totalling 1,185,679 hectares are spread all over the country where surface and ground water is available. They are mainly cropped with cotton, beet and wheat, but near the cities they are planted with vegetables, fruit and lucerne as forage for dairy cows.

syriafi11.jpg (20161 bytes)

syriafi12.jpg (20005 bytes)


syriafi13.jpg (18422 bytes)

4.1 Cattle - Dairy cattle are the most important livestock and are mainly kept close to towns where dairy product prices are good and also where water is available for forage production. The Friesian has almost replaced the local Shami breed which was kept in the Damascus Oasis. Shami numbers decreased substantially after the import of Friesian cows which have a higher milk production, and only about 2000 remain. The colour is between red and yellow. The chest and the rear parts are narrow. The back is curved. The limbs are tall. Annual milk production varies from 1.5 to 4 tons. Dairy cows are raised on the farm margins. The average holding size is 1-3 cows/family. The feed consists mainly of concentrate, vegetable residues, grazing barley in winter and grazing lucerne in summer. Private commercial dairies are rare and the majority are state enterprises. State farms are run by the General Organization of Dairy. The main constraints for dairy cattle expansion are the lack of free grazing and the high cost of forage due to competition from fruit and vegetables for land and irrigation.

There is a local grazing breed called (Golani) located in the Golan heights. The Golani (Akshi) cattle are characterized by small size, various colours and their ability to increase weight quickly. The main colours are black and black with irregular white spots. The average weight is 400-500 kg. and milk production is 550 – 650 kg/year. The breed survives on natural grazing and concentrates.

syriafi14.jpg (23233 bytes)


4.2 Goats The local mountain goat is the major breed. They are kept as grazing herds in the mountain ranges close to forest areas. They graze during the day and return to village enclosures at night where they are fed some concentrates. The average herd size is 75 – 125. The other breed, the (Shami) is called the "cow of the poor family". It is prolific and raised in a similar way to dairy cattle. The main constraint of grazing goat production is the degradation of rangelands due to lack of property rights. The constraints for local (Shami) goat production could be eased by allowing export of some new born goats to neighbouring countries which offer attractive prices.


4.3 Camels are raised in the Badia (Steppe). They have radically reduced in number due to competition from trucks in transportation and also to a low return compared with sheep. The total number is around 12,000 raised by Bedouins, largely for cultural reasons . The FAO /GCP/SYR/003/ITA wild life project is contributing to stabilizing camel numbers by providing the camel cooperative grazing access to the wild life reserve near Palmyra.


4.4 Sheep:

syriafi15.jpg (22915 bytes)


Rangeland sheep The only local breed, the ‘Awasii’, is a milch sheep which is well adapted to harsh desert conditions, its fat tail provides a reserve of nutrients for periods of feed shortage. They graze in the Badia from late autumn till late spring, with supplement, then they migrate to the rainfed and irrigated areas clearing all crop residues (cereal, cotton, beet, and summer vegetables) before returning again to the Badia. A survey conducted near Palmyra by FAO/ GCP/ SYR/ 003/ ITA project on sheep herders in 1998 (Razzouk, 1998) showed the following socio-economics features:

- sheep ownership: 25 percent own less then 100 heads; 30 percent own from 100 – 200 head; 25 percent own from 200 to 300 head; 20 percent own over 300 head.

- machine (truck, tractor, car) ownership: 80 percent own; 20 percent have no machines.

- house type percent: 61 use tents; 15 houses; 24 both.

- occupation : 83 percent are occupied in sheep raising.

- illiteracy: 85 percent in men; 96 percent in women; 76 percent in children male; 83 percent in children female.

- percent of awareness in family planning: zero.

- awareness of recent government instruction for stopping illegal and legal ploughing in Al- Badia: 72 percent perceive that the purpose is to improve the range and arrest desertification.

The main constraints to sheep production are:

a – Degradation of grazing land that increases the dependency on costly supplementary feed. The issue of degradation will be discussed under grazing resources;

b – The incompatibility of sheep in the farming systems. The incompatibility was demonstrated by the FAO/WFP six year project for assisting farmers to grow vetch in the rainfed areas and lucerne in the irrigated areas for sheep forage. If the breed had been prolific in twinning, sheep might have been integrated into the farming system. Assisted farmers felt that lentils are more profitable than grazing forage due to low productivity of sheep. Also ICARDA has tried hard during the last 25 years to introduce grazing legumes (annual Medicago) into the rainfed farming system on similar lines to the Australian system but the practice was not taken up. Small farm size may be a limiting factor for the medic system.


Sheep fattening operations: over 95 percent of sheep fatteners are organized in co-operatives. They absorb the pastoral lambs from the market and so they work as a safety valve in drought years.

The table shows their situation in 1989

No of cooperatives. No of members No of fattened sheep/year




The export and import balance of animal products varies from rainy to dry years, but it seems that there is no surplus or deficit.


Apart from the rainfed and irrigated pasture that has already been outlined, the main natural grazing is the range land of the Badia which occupy 55.1 percent of the country’s area. The old and recent pictures of the range lands are described below:

5.1 Feed resources. The fodder situation: There has been increased consumption of livestock products due mainly to human population growth, resulting in denudation of natural grazing and limited grazing forage expansion because of cash crop competition. Under such a challenging situation, the state took measures to control and subsidize the barley grain (the major supplementary feed) and also the mill by- products (wheat bran, cotton cakes, beet pulp….). One of the measures was the supply to farmers of barley through the General Organization of Mills and Cereal (GOMC). The GOMC sells the feed to livestock owners through the General Organization of Feed (GOF) and stores the surplus for dry years. The second measure was the establishment of the Feed Revolving Fund (FRF) in 1964. The fund developed through World Food Programme (WFP) assistance to farmers and livestock herder projects. The FRF which is attached to the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR) has provided sheep fattening and sheep/range improvement cooperatives with short term loans for feed and long term loans for warehouse construction.

The third measure was the establishment of the General Organization of Fodder (GOF) in 1974, attached to MAAR. GOF does the marketing and distribution of controlled feed (barley and mill by- products) to animal sections according to regulations.

Had the Government through GOF and FRF distributed the feed to livestock cooperatives on a credit basis directly after the barley harvest and not in the winter, the feed availability and stabilized prices would be ensured for herders. The estimated distributed quantities range annually from 900,00 to 1,000,000 tons. GOF has 164 warehouses with a storage capacity of 182,000 tons. The import and export balance of ruminant fodder is almost equal. The state exports in the good seasons and imports in disastrous drought years.

In an FAO report by Mirreh et al (2000) on the impact of subsidized state feed policy, it was indicated that such a policy will put pressure on the already degraded pasture through an increase of sheep numbers. They suggested that subsidies could be directed to other options such as subsidising only those cooperatives that have implemented a grazing management plan, and rehabilitation measures.

Other free state services to livestock that may have caused pressure on the unmanaged range are the free drinking water and free veterinary services.

The sown forage situation: as mentioned above, the sown forages are limited due to competition with other crops; the following table (MAAR, 1999) shows the major sown forages, bearing in mind that hay production is hardly practiced.

Forage types

Non Irrigated





Yield Kg/Ha



Yield Kg/Ha

Rambling Vetch *(grain)







Flowering Sern** (grain)







Bitter Vetch (grain)







Grazing Flowering Sern







Grazing Clover (T. alexandrinum)







Others (Mainly Iucerne)








* Lathyrus spp. **Vicia sativa

5.2 Grazing systems of the past

1 - Since the dawn of history, man in Syria has settled down and started to practice cultivation wherever rain or water was available. However the great part of Syria (some 55.1 percent) is characterized by erratic precipitation creating a harsh environment. Therefore people have developed a nomadic life style as Bedouins and grazing of domestic animals as the dominant economic pattern.

2 - Undoubtedly nomadism is well adapted to a desert way of life that cleverly utilized the fragile conditions of unstable arid vegetation and could well be considered the most efficient way to harvest the scarce botanical resources over wide areas with minimum damage. In other words nomadism is a sound form of grazing management that ensures the revegetation process.

3 - Pastoral communities evolved its code of laws and customs and its organization of groups and subgroups on family relationship (see Figure 6). Each group used to maintain grazing rights on certain resources in its ‘DIRAH’ or ‘MANZEL’ as Hema (Masri, 1991) and negotiated when necessary with the other groups for movement of its livestock to areas of more favourable climatic conditions during periods of drought. The chief is the first between equals and he is unanimously obeyed and respected by members. The social structure of the pastoral groups was close to a co-operative organization.

syriafi16.jpg (25498 bytes)



4 - The pastoral communities in Syria are important not only because they are almost self-sufficient in terms of daily food but also because they supply the urban areas with a great part of their requirements in animal products.

5 - Documents indicate that until the Second World War flocks of gazelle were seen on the Syrian Badia. The vegetation was composed of climax plants such as Salsola vermiculata, Atriplex leucoclada, Artemisia herba-alba, and Stipa barbata. The pastoral peoples with their herds used to move to Al-Badia at the onset of autumn rains when drinking water became available for livestock. Later when the water supply dried up at the end of the rainy season in late Spring, the herds moved back to rainfed areas where drinking water, stubbles, crop residues, fallow and mountain grazing were available.

6 - In short the pastoral Hema system and lack of water in the summer were probably the most effective factors for permitting regeneration of forage plants (Draz, 1974, 1978).


5.3 Grazing land management since the Second World War

Changes in land allocation and the breakdown of traditional, tribal grazing rights, with the introduction of ploughing of marginal land, use of cheap feed and transported water to keep flocks on the pasture at unseasonable times, have led to a very serious deterioration of Syria’s grazing lands. The deterioration has been blamed on climate and other factors but the following paragraphs explain how the root cause is bad grazing management brought about by changes in land policy.

The following vegetation map (Figure 7) shows the replacement of palatable shrubs such as Salsola vermiculata by noxious plants like Anabasis syriaca.

syriafi17.jpg (30383 bytes)

syriafi18.jpg (41500 bytes)


Figure 7 – Arak range and sheep co-operative vegetation map (Masri,1994)

1 - After the Second World War the national administration mistakenly decided to settle the Bedouins thinking that Al-Badia would sustain dry farming, thus encouraging the sale of rangelands. Also in the mean time, some political parties who were after pastoral votes had pressed the administration to free the pastoral peoples from their sheiks institution. Abolishing the tribal law in 1958, therefore, led to the death of grazing rights (Urf). It can be concluded that the replacement of allocated grazing land tenure by no-man’s land tenure (al shi’you’e or open access) has opened the door widely for all range degradation symptoms, including, ploughing, early and overgrazing, uprooting the shrubs and multiple tracks from random vehicles. The deterioration of Al-Badia was accelerated by the coincidence of the introduction of machinery with the (al shi’you’e) tenure system.

The following table shows major species with regard to their palatability:

Good forages Fair Poor
Stipa barbata Artemisia herba-alba Anabasis syriaca
Stipa lagascae Haloxylon articulatum Peganum harmala
Poa sinaica Haloxylon persicum Noaea mucronata
Stipagrostis plumosa Carex stenophylla Achillea santolina
Salsola vermiculata Salsola inermis Astragalus spinosa
Atriplex leucoclada Salsola volkensis  
Achillea membranacea    
Astragalus platyraphis    
Erodium glaucophyllum    
Plantago albicans    
Plantago ovata    
Schismus arabica    

The range livestock were almost dependent on natural vegetation till 1958 when concentrate feeds were introduced. The rate of feed use increased in magnitude of 25, 50, 75 percent in the sixth, seventh and eight decade respectively. An FAO project, GCP/SYR/003/ITA (Razzouk, 1998) estimated in 1998 that 46, 41, 7, and 4 percent of co-operative members use feed concentrate for 3-5, 6-8, 9-12 and 0 months respectively. In an ICARDA report Nordblom (1992) estimated that the steppe, fallow and mountain areas provide the sheep with 8.6 percent of their feed ration while 91.4 comes from concentrates and aftermath (residues).

3 - The decrease of range biomass has unfortunately been diagnosed by policy makers as due to climate change and not to common ("no man’s") land tenure so many well-meaning projects such as water bores, subsidised feed, credits etc. were launched for Al-Badia communities, yet nothing was harvested but desertification, because the real cause has not been addressed.

4 - Also the practice of no man’s land tenure has resulted in many negative socio- economic features such as :

    a- Reduction of potential grazing area through encouraging unsustainable farming that led to the creation of neither sound agricultural community nor pastoral ones in addition to burdening the administration with urban services.

    b- Forcing some tribal men to plough the (Urf) potential flood plains and share with merchants in gambling on cultivation where the merchants are often the losers and the local Bedouins are always the winners.

    c- The replacement of grazing Urf by barley cultivation.

    d- The decline in grazing forage has resulted in a low sheep income, thus the sheep raiser of small flocks with no capital for water truck is expected to loose ground in Al-Badia, while the big owners of 400 or more sheep with trucks, keep roaming in Al-Badia all year round causing eradication of the summer new growth of potential shrubs.

5- The present situation was summarised by the late Draz 1978 (FAO) in writing ‘since the reasons for arid zone range deterioration are mostly due to factors beyond the control of local inhabitants who are always held to blame, where as instability of life and lack of property right are the real causes of overgrazing and misuse. Therefore the studying of human factors in relation to land use, land tenure and grazing animals and that unless recommended practices are acceptable to the people and harmony with their customs and way of life, the whole program of improvement is bound to fail’.

6- In 1970 the Ministry of Agriculture (MAAR) realized the sad situation and therefore held a workshop headed by the Prime Minister and backed by agronomists. As a result, a legislative act no: 140 was passed issuing three major articles:

    a- Stopping any further land ownership in Al-Badia.

    b- Confiscation of equipment or animals used in illegal ploughing In addition to a 200 Syrian Pound fine per ploughed hectare.

    c- Reallocation of rangelands under the umbrella of range improvement and sheep cooperatives (coops) and fine of two Syrian pounds. for each trespassed sheep and the fine becomes five pounds. in case of trespass repetition.

7- The mentioned Act was the first element towards arresting range deterioration, where the sale of rangelands for cultivation has stopped once the act was issued, while preventing illegal ploughing has been implemented by (MAAR) and Ministry of Interior confiscating many tractors and crops in some years but not in every year, depending on the mayor’s judgement. Thus the net result was more violation on rangelands, but awareness by high authorities of the damage caused by ploughing has almost succeeded in stopping illegal ploughing by 1994.

8- As for the implementation of the land tenure issue as stated in the Act 140 (reallocation of range lands for co-ops), the (MAAR) through the Steppe Directorate started the establishment of (co-ops) in 1970. The homogeneity of members was maintained. The cooperative Hema was mapped and demarcated on the ground. The borders of co-ops Hema were announced in a ministerial decree. The boards of cooperatives were elected from among dispute settlers. The programme of cooperatives was assisted internationally by UNDP, FAO, WFP and World Bank. Sheep fattening cooperatives have been established to absorb feeders from the steppe during drought periods. A network of warehouses for storing feed reserves and fattening centres dot the whole steppe.

9- In 1974, the Cooperative Union was amalgamated into the Peasant Union (PU) which was in turn connected directly to the regional peasant organization, which is part of the political administration. Consequently the cooperative directorate in the MAAR was terminated, thus the administration of the few (co-op) was transferred to the PU and the old misconception of the steppe ecosystem has unfortunately been renewed by the belief that the shortage of forage in Al-Badia is due to climate change and not to (al shi’you’e) and so it is thought that the salvation of pastoral communities can only be through feed and water provision. Therefore the PU has quickly grouped most of the sheep graziers into cooperatives totalling over 484 and covering most of the steppe area. In other words, range management or rehabilitation work was not in the mind of PU.

It is not certain as to what extent MAAR briefed or trained the PU staff on the target of the co-ops, according to the law 140 concerning the qualification of co-ops membership, grazing rights, demarcation of boundaries and range improvement plan; some misconceptions about the causes of the problem continue to take place. The absence or lack of such training can probably be considered a cause of the Syrian range deterioration.


5.4 The Steppe Directorate’s activities: The Steppe Directorate which is responsible for the execution of the Act 140 now mainly works on providing the steppe with water for livestock through bore hole maintenance and management of the seven range and sheep improvement stations. Another activity is the pasture improvement of the cooperatives. But when the range cooperatives began to show a lack of interest in rehabilitating their lands in 1974, MAAR started to designate grazing protectorates with seedling rehabilitation. The number of protectorates is now 33 with a total area of 400,000 hectares. The seeds are collected from the mother plants in the 13 nurseries and also from the range-sheep centres and from the old protectorates. Fifty tons of seeds are collected annually. The seedlings of Atriplex halimus. Atriplex leucoclada and Salsola vermiculata are nursed in polyethylene bags and planted in the field. The land is ripped by dozers so as to break the calcareous layers for better rain infiltration. The seedlings are irrigated for establishment purposes. Direct reseeding started in Aleppo protectorate in the nineteen-eighties where average rainfall is 175 mm/year; it was later taken up with success by Project GCP/SYR/003/ITA near Palmyra where the average annual precipitation is 127 mm. The cost of direct re-seeding is far lower than that of raising and planting seedlings. MAAR annual plan is for the rehabilitation of 16,000 ha by seeds and seedlings. The protectorates were opened for grazing during the 1999/2000 drought. MAAR is working on grazing-management plans for the protectorates.


Al-Tanf Project for Developing the Syrian Al-Hamad.


a- Rangeland improvement of 400,000 hectares through provision of surface water.

b- Soil resource protection through range management

c- Improvement of local sheep breed

d- Water resource development.

e- Construction of public services: health centres schools, oil stations and other services.

f Project cost and financing 320-million Syrian pound. part of 1,700,000 Kuwaiti Dinars received from AFESD.

Title: Range Rehabilitation and Establishment of Wild Life Reserve in the Syrian steppe. (GCP/SYR/003 and 009/ITA)

FAO Field Projects site

The project covers 22,000 ha of wildlife reserve and 108,000 ha of cooperative rangelands. The components include:

a- Capacity building of the national staff.

b- Improvement and management of range lands.

c- Community participation and extension.

d- Re-introduction of wildlife.

e- Income generation.

Financing: Italian government through FAO.

The Badia Rangelands Development Project: the project to be implemented over 8 years on 3 million ha. The components include:

a- rangeland development through rehabilitation of native plant cover and introduction of management technologies.

b- livestock development.

c- rural infrastructure; water supplies and rural access roads.

d- development of support systems including development of the socio-economic status.

e- project management.

Project cost: estimated US$ 150.26 million

Project financing jointly by IFAD; AFESD and possibly other external financiers.


The following organisations are working on the pasture / forage and ruminants:

MAAR (Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform) working through the research directorate on rainfed forage and livestock integration in the farming system.

Personnel. B. Malawi, PO Box, Damascus 7583. Fax 3319284

And through the steppe directorate on range rehabilitation.

Personnel: Mr. Tamer, Steppe Directorate, Palmyra. Fax 913440

ACSAD (the Arab Centre for the Study of Arid Zones and Dry Land) Fax: 53306 Damascus, is working on improvement of local sheep and goat breeds, on barley breeding and on range improvement mainly on Al-Bishri project that was previously assisted from Germany.

Personnel: M. Wardeh on ruminant and Ms. Kotrash on Range.

ICARDA (International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas) Fax: 2213490, Aleppo is working on barley breeding, grazing forage mainly on replacing the fallow by medics and on the integration of sheep into the rainfed system.

Personnel: F. Bahadi, Livestock specialist, fax 2213490 < F.BAHADI@CGIAR.ORG >

M. Bounjmat, Forage and Range Management specialist <


B. Edward Norton, Range / Forage specialist < B.EdwardNorton@CGIAR.ORG >

Project FAO/GCP/SYR/003/ITA/ Fax 031913025 Palmyra, working on range rehabilitation, grazing management, range plants monitoring.

Personnel: M. Mirreh, A. Al Jundi.

Conclusion: projects will continue to be fragile and research findings will remain on paper and can come to fruition only after changing the current situation of "no man’s rangelands" into allocated lands as stated in the Act 140 for 1970. Responsibility should not only be oriented to local non-technical policy makers but also to the technical organizations that recommended building projects in the absence of appropriate institutional structures.

Possibly if international organizations had linked assistance with a request to the government for allocated rangeland management instead of the current free grazing access, the future would be brighter and the investment in money and effort could have borne better fruit. As long as the complaint against trespassing, is answered with "it is state lands for all" then desertification will march on.


ACSAD 1983. Study of Hammad Basin, Damascus (In Arabic)

Bahadi F.A. 1980. Recent Changes In Bedouin System of Livestock Production in Syrian Steppe ICARDA Aleppo.

Chatty, D. 1978. The Anthropology Of Syrian Society: An Interpretive Essay Prepared For AID, Damascus.

Dept. of Planning and Statistics (MAAR). 1999. The Annual Agricultural Statistical Abstract.

Draz, O. 1974. FAO Report to the Government of SAR on Range Management and Fodder Development.

Draz, O. 1978. Revival Of Hema System Of Range Reserves, As Basis For Syrian Range Development Programmes. Denver, Colorado. Proceeding of First International Range Management Conference.

Heemstra, H. 1997. Consultancy Report On Range Management FAO /GCP /SYR/ 003/ITA.

Ilaiwi, M.1980. ACSAD report on soil of Syria and Lebanon scale 1:1000000

Masri, A. 1964. Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, Badia Dept.

Masri, A. 1991. The Tradition of Hema as a Land Tenure Institution in Arid Land Management. FAO Rome.

Masri, A.1991. Range Rehabilitation, Consultancy report. FAO/GCP/SYR/003/ITA.

Masri, A. 1994. Rangeland Ecology/Cartography and Feed Reserve, FAO/GCP/SYR/001/ITA.

Mirreh, M., Arru, A. and C. Batello. 2000. Towards Formulation Of Drought Management Policies And Strategies FAO/GCP /SYR/ 009/ITA.

Mirreh, M., And T - Razzouk 1997. Survey Of The Cooperatives FAO/GCP /SYR/ 003/ITA.

Nordblom, T.L. 1992. Characterization of year-round sheep feed and grazing calendar of Bedouin flocks in the northwestern Syrian steppe. ICARDA annual report, 215-236.

Pabot, H. 1956. L’écologie végétale et ses applications. FAO report to the Government of Syria, Rome.

Razzouk,T. 1998. Socio-Economic And Cultural Aspects Of Bedouins In The Syrian Steppe FAO/GCP /SYR/ 003/ITA.

Sankary, M. N. 1977. Ecology Flora, And Range Management of Arid And Very Arid Zones In Syria (In Arabic).

Tidian Ngaido. 1997. Land Tenure Issues And Development Of Rangelands In Syria ICARDA, Report prepared for IFAD.

Vanderveen, J. P. H. 1967. Range Management and Fodder Development in Syria. FAO Report.

Zakaria, A.W. 1945. The Tribes of Al-Sham (Arabic Version).


Abdalla Masri, who has a B. Sc (Agric. Sciences) from University College, North Wales and an M. Sc in Range Livestock from the University of Arizona, worked in the Steppe Department from 1958 to 1980 and taught range management in the Syrian University. From 1980 to 1985 he worked with FAO in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Since 1985 he has been a freelance consultant and still maintains an interest in land allocation policies and their effects on Syria’s extensive grazing lands.

Contact: Abdalla Masri, P.O. Box 7735, Damascus, Syria. (Fax: 4424132)

[The profile was edited by J.M. Suttie and S.G. Reynolds in September 2001]