Range Rehabilitation and Establishment of a Wildlife
Reserve in the Syrian Steppe
Al-Badia (steppe zone) of Syria receives less than 200 mm/annum of rainfall and is normally considered unsuitable for dryland farming.
Its area is estimated to be around 10.2 million ha or 55% of the countrys area. It covers land in nine provinces, with 35% falling in Homs Province. It is characterized by high evaporation rates due to hot summers and strong winds. Cold winters allow a short growing season. Soils are generally calcareous and gypsiferous, shallow, rocky and extremely poor in organic matter. The top soil is commonly covered by a crust that limits infiltration, burying of seed and subsequent germination and emergence. Chronic water deficit and low soil fertility limit forage production and livestock production activities. No permanent surface water resources are available with the exception of the Euphrates River and a few check dams with limited water storing capacity.
Al-Badia is the main grazing land in the country supporting most of the national sheep herd (14.67 million head), goats (0.95 million head) and all camels (3000 head). It provides 20 - 40% of sheep feed requirement. This estimate reflects a sharp decline in contribution from earlier figures (1993) of 60 - 70% from a larger area of 11.42 million ha.
Al-Badia rangelands are deteriorating due to:
The vegetation cover is increasingly dominated by unpalatable perennials. In recent years some noxious plants have increased and become a local problem. The misuse and deterioration of vegetation cover has subjected soils to both wind and water erosion. Although several studies on Al-Badia vegetation cover and rangeland characteristics have been carried out, few are available on rangeland conditions and trends.
The grazing period in Al-Badia varies according to amount and distribution of rainfall but in general it is during January - May of each year. During the period November - end of January animals are physically present in Al-Badia, but they depend on supplementary feed as grazing is scarce.
Under Syrian law, all land in Al-Badia is considered as state-owned which implies accessibility and right of use for all but traditional rights of use also exist. Overlapping systems of resource management has frequently led to resource degradation. Thus, conservation and development of rangeland resources of Al-Badia are considered as major contributions towards the socio-economic development of the Bedouin inhabitants. Likewise conservation and development of these resources is essential for combating desertification and maintaining the ecological balance.
Deterioration of rangelands and declining forage productivity made supplementary feeding of sheep necessary for at least 3 months annually. Materials such as concentrates, straws, crop residues, failed barley, barley grains, and bran became important in meeting these requirements.
The increasing price of supplementary feed made this practice uneconomical and unsustainable. As amounts of supplementary feeds provided by cooperatives to their members decreased, many Bedouins had to borrow extensively to meet the requirements for these feeds. A subsidy programme for supplementary feed was initiated. Unfortunately this led to increases in sheep population above current grazing capacity which ultimately resulted in deterioration and less grazing resources.
Wildlife used to be abundant and a common feature of the Al-Badia
environment. Gazelles historically formed flocks of various size,
from few individuals to hundreds, roaming the different habitats.
However, indiscriminate and uncontrolled hunting has exterminated
these animals. Many interesting vertebrate species are still found
but require protection and saving of habitats. A salt flat which is
seasonally inundated by runoff and rainfall known as Sabkhat Al-Muh
lies near the project area in the vicinity of Al-Talila Wildlife Reserve.
The fragility of this ecosystem and its unique characteristics require
prompt action and sound conservation measures to reverse the situation
and trigger an upward trend that can assist in regaining the ecological
Al-Talila Wildlife Reserve was established by the Government in 1991 to rehabilitate habitats, protect wild animals and to generate additional income to local communities through tourism. At present there are no studies on the behavior and the requirements of wild animals. The project was expected to initiate investigations and observations that would improve knowledge and skills of national staff to conserve and manage wildlife and their habitats so that they will be able to expand this initiative and establish similar reserves in other parts of Al-Badia. The government plans to develop eco-tourism around the reserve, since the Palmyra area with its rich historical and archaeological features already attracts tourists. When the project establishes the necessary basis for the technical development of the area, the private sector is expected to be encouraged to invest in eco-tourism around the reserve.
Legislative Act No. 140 for 1970 is considered as a benchmark in the development of rangelands in Syria. This Act has been modified by Law No. 13 of 1973 in which item (h) declared the formation of range and sheep improvement cooperatives in Al-Badia and marginal lands. Following the issuance of this Law the number of cooperatives increased substantially with the result that by 1991 there were 414 cooperatives covering most of Al-Badia.
The Bedouins in the project area are organized in four cooperatives namely Arak, Al-Munbatah, Al-Abbassia and Jamaala. They represent 3050 people, owning 95,000-110,000 heads of sheep. Each cooperative has its management board that oversees the provision of services and assistance required by its members. However, until now the main benefit obtained by members is a limited amount of feed for sheep.
As has been indicated earlier, the Government issued acts/laws to develop and protect Al-Badia resources. These laws prohibit cultivation in Al-Badia. However, current legislation is insufficient to control utilization of grazing lands, protection of wildlife and reserves; and to ensure their sustainable use.
Al-Badia Rangeland and Sheep Directorate (BRS) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR) is the national counterpart agency with responsibility for rangelands, sheep and wildlife in the area and is the Directorate which took the initiative and invested resources to establish Al-Talila Wildlife Reserve. The project site is only 30 km from Palmyra where the headquarters of BRS is established. This will give a good opportunity for viable interaction between the project staff and those of BRS.
BRS has three main divisions: plantations, sheep and coordination. BRS has established 82 specialized lamb fattening cooperatives to encourage off-take and reduce pressure on the range, and to meet part of the countrys requirement for lamb, and 28 range and sheep improvement centers covering an area of about 75,000 ha. These are used for:
Neighbouring community flocks are grazed according to special arrangements and upon payment of nominal grazing fees. BRS has also 13 nurseries to produce 10 million seedlings of fodder shrubs which are distributed to 28 range centres and cooperatives. It supervises, runs and maintains 170 wells belonging to the Directorate in Al-Badia.
Project Relevance and Objectives
The project document for the main phase rightly identified the major causes of degradation of the Al-Badia region: overgrazing, large herd sizes, barley cultivation in marginal areas. It further recognized that Government policy of subsidizing feed was both economically unsustainable and led to over-exploitation of land resources. Within these broad parameters, a project aimed at restoring the productive capacity of the region was justified, especially if it could serve as a development model for the rest of the rangelands.
The projects stated development objectives were
Its stated immediate objectives are:
During the main phase of the project, which started in February 1996, developments in the project area and results achieved included the following:
1. Direct reseeding of native range species, in the high potential areas, proved to be an effective methodology for range improvement; 710 ha. of rangeland has been directly reseeded, and as a consequence improved 8,200 ha of range land, located between the reseeding stripes, through protection from grazing, allowing natural plant recovery.
2. Reintroduction of Arabian Oryx and Sand Gazelle in Talila reserve was successful; integrated grazing management plan for camels (owned by Jamaala cooperative members) and wildlife in Talila reserve has been developed and tested.
3. Technical skills and capacities of national project staff for implementing project activities improved significantly through intensive regular training activities in the technical fields of the project. Intensive language training facilitated communication with outside resource persons and broadened the scope for analysis of secondary data and exchange of experiences.
4. A fruitful dialogue and atmosphere of intensive collaboration between the local communities/co-operatives and the project has been established. Through the launching of a sound extension/communication strategy for settled, semi-mobile and mobile herders and extensive training in participatory community development methodologies, the communities and national project staff were (a) prepared to initiate participatory range rehabilitation activities, and supported in (b) setting-up local grazing committees to elaborate and implement effective grazing management plans.
5. Options for income generation and employment for local community members have been identified and implemented. Training for women groups on possible income generation activities has been initiated.
6. Data on livestock production economics have been collected in annual surveys, a data system set up and staff trained in socio-economic data collection and simple economic analysis techniques.
7. Environmental monitoring system has been setup and is being pre- tested.
8. Government (MAAR and BRS) recognized project achievements and became increasingly aware of the importance of the project outputs and willing to take necessary actions to apply the same approach in other areas in the Syrian Steppe (Badia).
B. JUSTIFICATION FOR PROJECT CONSOLIDATION PHASE
Based on the above mentioned achievements, part of which require follow-up in order to ensure sustainable impact, taking into consideration the recommendations of the Mid Term Evaluation mission for the necessity to extend this project for 4-5 years and based on the recommendations of the second Tripartite Project Review meeting of March 1998, to prepare a project document for project extension beyond February 1999, for consolidation of project achievements, the present project document has been formulated. The document was modified following the recommendations of the third TPR in May 1999.
It is important to emphasise the necessity to avoid interruption of project's activities by end of the present phase and in order to avoid losing the momentum created by the project.
1. PROJECT RATIONALE
1.1 Range improvement
Reseeding, conducted by the project for the last two years in the project area, has shown promising results. Native forage species selected for the reseeding programme have shown good establishment. Shrub plantations from seedlings using supplementary irrigation was not so successful. For the second phase of the project, most effort for range improvement will be directed to range reseeding to cover more areas following the present techniques of chisel and pitter seeder methods. Because of two years of protection in the reseeded areas and in the monitoring enclosures, a new seed source that can be used in speeding up the rate of recovery of the more palatable species such as Plantago albicans, Poa sinaica and Artemesia herba alba will be included in to the reseeding programme.
A major constraint of the reseeding programme which affects both the uniform distribution of seeds in the seedbed and the seeding rate is the low purity of collected seeds. This has been mainly due to the lack of seed handling facilities to dry, clean, pack and store seeds.
Another constraint identified is the fact that the key forage species, Salsola vermiculata has poor seed storage viability under normal room storage conditions. In the second phase better cold storage conditions of reasonable quantities that can be used under strip seeding to ensure establishment with early rains is needed.
1.2. Grazing management
In order to insure sustainable use of both the rehabilitated areas and the At Talila reserve, a system (or systems) of grazing management that will satisfy both the plant and animal requirement is needed. It is generally difficult to come up with a system that satisfies both plant and animal requirements. This is because the key to good animal performance is selective grazing of green immature plants in order to obtain high levels of nutrient intake . This selective grazing during the early stages of growth is detrimental to plant performance, particularly to shrubs. A grazing management system to benefit seeded shrubs even when they reach grazing readiness should involve either light stocking or rest during the growing period. Further, without actively involving the range users in the process of targeted grazing management there is little scope for impact. Intensive efforts have been launched, therefore, in the current project phase to create, through the establishment of grazers groups, an institutional framework for joint planning and managing the range resources. A process of discussing the tasks, responsibilities, scope and composition of the grazers groups in the cooperatives is underway. In order to make the committees fully operational and to define their future role vis a vis or within the existing or a reformed local cooperative system further intensive activities and follow-up will be required in the next project phase.
While it is hoped that the Government prepares a drought emergency strategy for the whole country, the project will develop together with the members of grazers groups drought strategies to be adopted in case of severe drought. The strategy will take into consideration conflicting needs such as the one of the pastoralists to find additional feeding ressourced for their animal , the one of maintaining production and productivity of natural ressources and the need of defining who will have access to the protected/improved areas.
1.3. Range monitoring
Perhaps no range management concepts are more important than those of condition and trend . While the concept of condition is important in the current status of site productivity and in planning the use of the range, knowledge of trend is essential to determine the effect of management on the resource . In the first phase of the project four enclosures representing five major range sites in the project area were established. The aim was to follow up the rate of recovery, vegetation composition changes, to act as seed source (in situ conservation of germplasm) to serve as demonstration areas for site potential and eventually to develop range condition guides in the future for the different range sites in the Syrian steppe. When sufficient data is collected and hopefully management systems are tested in the long run, stocking rate predictions using rainfall data can be established. This activity will be implemented within the framework of the Environment Monitoring System as explained below.
1.4 Environment Monitoring System (ENVMONT)
In order to assess the impact of range rehabilitation projects on livestock production and Bedouin living conditions, a monitoring programme to integrate the three major components: range, animal and humans will be set up. Indicators of impacts and techniques of monitoring have already been identified, but the system needs testing, and better integration of its components and further refinement undertaken to make it more practical. Experience gained can be applied to other projects of similar nature in the region and particularly to Morocco and Tunisia.
1.5. Wildlife Management Plan
Populations of endemic antelopes in the Syrian steppe have been drastically reduced. To ensure that the native fauna of the region is restored Arabian oryx Orvx leucorvx and sand gazelle Gazella subguttrurosamarica have been reintroduced in the reserve. Since it is not possible to release these animals into the wild in the foreseeable future, the most important aim for the next phase of the project is to develop an effective system of managing their populations to control inbreeding and avoid range degradation.
In view of the lack of conservation education in Syria, the reserve and its natural resources should be used for conservation education at both the local and national levels. Having a central location, Palmyra is visited by a large number of local and foreign visitors, especially during the spring, when the annual plants are flowering. The people are mainly from the cities of Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Deir az Zoor. By encouraging local tourists to visit the reserve the urban populations of these cities could be effectively educated on matters of conservation and the important role wildlife plays in a natural ecosystem. The reserve will also serve as an area of recreation where both local and foreign tourists will have the chance to observe and enjoy the natural heritage of the country.
Wildlife and livestock co-existed in the Middle East for thousands of years, as long as the number of livestock remained within the carrying capacity of the land. Camels played a valuable role in the desert ecosystem, in that they prevented woody vegetation from overgrowing, which eventually results in the reduction of the palatable parts of the plants. The balance between wildlife and livestock is jeopardized when livestock numbers increase excessively, resulting in the degradation of the habitat. Through a programme of livestock management both wild antelopes and camel numbers will be regulated so that they can utilize the range without compromising habitat quality.
1.6. Community participation in realizing project outputs and objectives
There is broad consensus in development cooperation about the fact that only active community participation and the feeling of community ownership in project activities will lead to the continuation of intended project activities beyond the project termination date, and the final achievement of project objectives, which in many cases goes far beyond the point where a project may provide outside support. Therefore a set of activities was initiated promoting community participation, with the aim of ensuring greater sustainability of the main project outputs, related to range management/rehabilitation and wildlife conservation. Training in applying participatory methodology, and the elaboration of participatory communication/extension strategies, and the joint planning by project and co-operative members of small activities and their implementation were chosen as the main vehicles for introducing and making community participation operational.
Further support and guidance by the project realized through extension/communication activities, advanced training sessions in applying participatory methodologies, the participatory institutionalization of grazers groups within or vis/a vis the existing co-operative system, and participatory project management will ensure the consolidation of the current project achievements and lead to their perpetuation by locally established institutions. Finally, closer attention to traditional land tenure and range management systems will facilitate the active participation of different stakeholders in the project area.
1.7. Promotion of income generation activities related to natural resource conservation and women in development
The final objective of the project is to combine protection of the environment with production. For this reason the activities related to natural resource production and conservation must be geared towards a careful use of the environment and also generate income opportunities. Herders have been involved in the different activities related to wildlife management and most of the rangeland rehabilitation activities have been realized with local labour. Moreover the project has already organized some embroidery training for Bedouin women in order to allow them to produce handicraft to be sold in the framework of the project.
The project will strengthen the component of income generation activities and in particular for women emphasizing the following aspects:
As a follow up to the initiatives undertaken during the first phase of the project the consolidation phase will strengthen the links with the Bedouin women and when possible facilitate their access to literacy activities and sowing courses by facilitating relations with other international agencies such as UNICEF. Guidelines will be produced for the government for alternative income generation activities.
Both range management and wildlife conservation are sophisticated technical disciplines in which international standards can only be met after training and experience . Significant improvements in capacity building of the national staff in the areas of range management, wildlife, and community participation / range extension and production economics were made in the main phase of the project. All the national staff received both external and internal training in different disciplines related to ecosystem and wildlife management. The most important inputs were obtained from a team of consultants and the resident experts who conducted on the job training . All national staff have now basic computer skills and most improved their level in English. Management of ecosystems however, is complex and requires a high degree of specialization, which has implications both for the type of further training they need and for the provision of international expertise in the second phase.
Training in the consolidation phase will concentrate on more intensive and extended, external and in-service training programmes for project staff in order to further increase their capabilities of carrying out project activities after the end of the consolidation phase.
Specific training will also be provided to selected focus target
groups such as grazing committees (e.g. group management and conflict
resolution techniques) and women groups (for income generating activities).
2. Expected situation at the end of the project:
The expected situation at the end of the project as stated in the original document was too ambitious to be achieved in an environment with unpredictable rainfall. Results obtained after three years of activities cannot be definitive. However, at the end of the consolidation phase it is expected to have proved the suitability and viability of rehabilitation techniques introduced by the project and to have supported environmental protection and production. Moreover it is expected that the project staff and co-operative members and other range users will be in a position to apply the rehabilitation and management techniques introduced by the project. Awareness and respect for the wildlife reserve will be established.
The capacity of technicians in implementingrange improvement actions will have increased as well as their skills in the use of computer, monitoring, wildlife management, use of solar energy tools.
The capacity of the population in implementing range improvement actions as well as their rangeland resource management organizations will be strengthened.
The government institutions will be more aware of the local institutional capacity to collaborate in the improvement, management and conservation of communal rangelands. The environmental monitoring system will provide them with valuable baseline information on range and livestock performance and will enable institutions to assess impacts of range rehabilitation measures in the long run.
3. Target beneficiaries
The direct beneficiaries of the project are the herders of Arak, Mumbateh, Abassiya and Jamaala cooperatives as well as the technicians involved in the project that received training.
Indirect beneficiaries will include herders who are not members of the four above cooperatives but also use the rangelands allocated to the above co-operatives; people related to the Ministries and institutes in the region and beyond, whose access to improved technologies will be enhanced; people involved with the wildlife component of the project. Women and businessman will benefit from the new established touristic attraction. -
4. Project strategy
The strategy of the main phase of the project was to obtain a higher forage production from the A1 Badia Rangelands to enable domesticated animals and wildlife to live in harmony on the rangeland. This has been realized through a series of different technical activities aiming at rehabilitating large degraded areas, and being established as an example for larger development projects.
The project demarcated boundaries, reseeded the target area and provided basic training to extensionists and technicians on different subjects related to rangeland rehabilitation.The introduction of wild animals and provision of training in wildlife management were also part of the strategy . The component of participation of herders started during the second year of the project. An integrated range-wildlife grazing management plan for the Talila wildlife reserve was established based on agreements between the herders and those responsible for the wildlife reserve.
During the consolidation phase, the project strategy will focus on :
IMMEDIATE OBJECTIVE 1:
Output 1: Area of 1,200 ha reseeded, resulting in 7,400 ha
improved range areas, in Munbateh, Arak and Abassya Cooperatives,
by local communities under project supervision.
IMMEDIATE OBJECTIVE 2:
National counterpart institutions including local community institutions, national project staff and project target groups are prepared to take over full responsibility for project follow-up after completion of the second phase.
Output 1: Project staff and members of counterpart institutions
have received advanced training pertinent to integrated range ecosystem
Activities and Main Results
The project effectively became operational in March 2000. During the first year, and among other activities, the project also supported the organization of the workshop on 'Participatory Land Resource Management’, held in Damascus in November 2000.
In relation to the first objective, an environment monitoring system was established and field tested. Reseeding activities were completed in an area of 300 hectares in the areas of Arak, Munbateh and Abbasiya. The range management national counterpart drafted the range monitoring guide in Arabic and also a leaflet describing the most common plants within the reserve. Vegetation measurements were conducted and socio-economic monitoring data were also regularly collected. A technical paper compiling seven years of data on the socio-economic conditions of Bedouins, drawing conclusions and recommendations, was recently finalized by a socio-economic consultant.
The project also executed the management plan of the ATWR. The final draft of the management plan for the ATWR will be presented to the national stakeholders for comments before it is submitted to the government.
Grazing management plans were developed for all cooperatives in the project area, including the mapping of customary systems. As for the preparation of the national drought management strategy, a consultant was hired and a technical report was produced in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform. A workshop was held in Al-Badia Directorate on October 2003, regarding the decision to exempt the cooperatives of Arak, Munbateh, and Abbasiya from extending the borders of the cooperatives (the expansion of cooperatives into free-grazing areas of Al-Baida). Copies of the decision were distributed during the workshop. The seminary was attended by representatives from the cooperatives, Al-Badia directorate, women union, Al-Badia development project, and the department of agriculture.
One of the most important project achievements has been human capacity building. Project staff was exposed to new experiences and have had the opportunity to implement and test a number of activities and approaches. Several training activities were conducted. Project staff and counterparts received, in 2002, three months training in the USA on integrated range ecosystem management. Thanks to the training received, national staff took over from the project the management of the Oryx and Sand Gazelle populations. In 2003, contacts were established with Tunisia to organize a one month training session for two newly recruited engineers in range management and grazing policy, and one month training for two range management staff in the application of geographical information systems and remote sensing in range management. Plans were made with Tunisia and Morocco to organize a three week study tour for the national project director on range management activities and protected area management respectively. Two newly recruited staff received one month training in protected area management in Saudi Arabia in October 2003; and two weeks study tour on income generating activities was also organized for four extension staff and six members of the cooperatives. The project staff made several trips and held several meeting with Bedouin communities in order to assess their real extension needs, where on the spot advice on animal health issues, range problems, fuel gathering and other environmental awareness matters was given. It is worth mentioning that Bedouin facilitators from Monbateh played a very important role in this type of data collection, and two new Bedouin facilitators were selected to work as extension officers in camel cooperatives. Several training sessions (especially for children and women) were also regularly organized throughout the life of the project.
The project also tested a number of livelihood improvement activities, such as eco-tourism In this regard, an ecotourism strategy for ATWR as an ecotourism destination was formulated by a specialized consultant. Income generating activities were developed, such as tailoring and medicinal plant commercialization, specifically addressing Bedouin young women and poor Bedouin households. Once the construction of the CEC had been completed, the project has also developed educational activities within the centre. Communication material such as the 12-months survey of Palmyra ecosystem, which resulted in the building of an inventory on biodiversity, was also produced. A CD-Rom and a Web site on the project activities was also produced.
A training of trainers source book based on the principles of participatory methods and approaches, entitled "Participatory Processes Towards Co-Management of Natural Resources in Pastoral Areas of the Middle East" by Dawn Chatty, Stephan Baas, Anja Fleig, was prepared and tested in collaboration with the Project. Also see SD website