Field projects

Case Study Report of the FAO - World Bank Global Farming Systems Study
For full study report see the World Bank website


FARMING SYSTEMS IN ARID RANGELANDS OF SYRIA AND JORDAN

Caterina Batello
Crop and Grassland Service(AGPC), FAO, Rome

A. Background and Justification

Al-Badia (steppe zone) of Syria and Jordan receives less than 200 mm/annum of rainfall and is normally considered unsuitable for dryland farming. Steppe area is characterised 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.

Its area is estimated to be around 10.2 million ha in Syria, that is 55% of the country’s area in nine provinces, with 35% falling in Homs Province 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).

In Jordan the steppe area covers some 8 million hectares (95% of the total land area). These lands are for the most part also overstocked by predominantly small ruminants (approximately 3.7 million sheep and goats, 51 000 cattle and 64 000 camels). The stocking rate is at least three times as much as the carrying capacity.

A small proportion of the population lives on the steppe, but the majority of Bedouin population living from livestock production in the steppe is under threat because of recurrent droughts and degradation of grazing resources for their animals. The big question therefore of food insecurity and poverty will only be solved if a balance will be reached in household income distribution between wealthier and poorer strata of the population.

Al-Badia rangelands are deteriorating due to:

  • increased population
  • destruction of vegetation cover by ploughing the land for dryland cultivation ;
  • early and overgrazing by an increasing sheep population;
  • fuel collection through cutting and uprooting of fodder shrubs as source of firewood;
  • increased stocking around boreholes and other sources of water.

The vegetation cover is increasingly dominated by unpalatable perennials. In recent years some poisonous plants have increased and become a local problem. The misuse and deterioration of vegetation cover has subjected soils to both wind and water erosion.

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 both Syrian and Jordan 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 have 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.

Both countries have set as major political priorities the need to make the countries more self-reliant in food; to prevent rangeland degradation and reverse the desertification process; to enhance environmental quality; to improve the economic and social welfare of the people inhabiting and drawing their livelihood from the steppe; to increase value added efficiency in the use of available resources in a sustainable manner; and to improve rules and regulations governing land tenure in Jordan (Agricultural Law 20/1973 ) and in Syria (Legislative act No. 140 from 1970 ) .

The challenge ahead is to reverse the degradation of natural resources resulting from loss of vegetation cover, erosion, salinity, overgrazing of the rangelands; to improve agricultural services such as extension support to farmers with emphasis on promoting low cost technologies, water saving devices and resource conservation; and to provide equal social and economical opportunities and increasing incomes of farmers and their families.

Institutional and infrastructural policies in support of agricultural policies are to strengthen interaction between public and private sector; to associate individuals and groups in all facets and at various levels to shape and implement agricultural policies; to invest in the future development of human resources.

Protected areas. In order to preserve biodiversity, establish reserves and set models for the correct use of fragile resources, Jordan established several Protected areas where wildlife and vegetation have been rehabilitated, improved, monitored and studied. The areas serve as a continuos source of information and demonstration for the population.

In Syria protected areas have been rehabilitated with drought resistant vegetation and a first wildlife reserve was established in Al Badia in 1991.

Wildlife used to be abundant and a common feature of the Al-Badia environment. Gazelles historically formed flocks of various sizes, from a 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. Therefore Al-Talila Wildlife Reserve was established by the Government to rehabilitate habitats, protect wild animals and to generate additional income for local communities through tourism. 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.

As indicated earlier, the Government promulgated acts/laws to develop and protect Al-Badia resources. These laws prohibited cultivation in Al-Badia. However, the legislation proved to be insufficient to control utilisation of grazing lands, protection of wildlife and reserves; and to ensure their sustainable use. Therefore an Italian funded FAO/Ministry of Agriculture and Water project was designed and started in 1996.

Project Relevance and Objectives (1996-2000)

The project identified the major causes of degradation of the Al-Badia region: overgrazing, large herd sizes, barley cultivation in marginal areas. It further recognised that Government policy of subsidising 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 executed that could serve as a development model for the rest of the rangelands.

The project was established over an area of 110,000 km2. The land is communal land owned by the Government and assigned to three cooperatives, but traditional users’ rights and recurrent drought that allow free entrance to the pastures, determine a severe overuse of the resource and make difficult any form of useful control and management of the rangelands.

A wildlife reserve was also established with the technical and financial support of the project

The project’s objectives were:

  • to rehabilitate the rangelands and to reverse the decline in land productivity and living standards by developing strategies for improved land use
  • to enhance human resources and improve communication abilities, data analysis and planning capacities of national officers for the development of improved techniques and new national regulations for the use of communal grazing land.

It’s stated immediate objectives were:

  • to help national institutions to develop appropriate techniques for a sustainable use of grazing land and
  • to establish an integrated model for the use and maintenance of an area grazed by wild and domestic animals.

During the main phase of the project, which started in February, 1996, the project: rehabilitated 10,000 ha of cooperative land using a cheap seeding technique and native seed; wild animals were introduced from Jordan and Saudi Arabia and local personnel trained in many different veterinary, managerial and administrative fields related to the maintenance of the reserve and rangeland management and rehabilitation techniques.

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 8200 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 set up and is being pre- tested.
  8. Government (MAAR and BRS) recognized the 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).

New follow-up project (2000-2003)

Since long duration of projects in arid and semi-arid environments is essential because changes are slow and recurrent drought may affect results and call for continuous readjustments of activities, a second phase of a three year project started in Jan. 2000.

The project is concentrated on preparing the local governmental institutions and communities for taking over the responsibilities of range rehabilitation in the Syrian steppe and for the management of Talila wildlife reserve. Communities will play the principal role in decision making and implementing of activities related to reseeding of native species and management of the rangelands. An ecomuseum will be constructed in Talila reserve and communication materials for both range and wildlife activities will be produced as extension tools for mobile and semi-mobile communities.


B. Impact of the Project

Impact on the population and rangelands:

  • During the first two years of the project, where an excellent rainfall occurred (and consequently excellent forage growth) all members of three cooperatives (over 3100 people) were very much impressed by the introduced technologies that resulted in a tremendous amount of forage production. Members of cooperatives became very aware of the positive effect on the environment produced by the rehabilitation and protection of vegetation, through continuous training, involvement in the decisions and the management of the rangelands, participatory planning, income diversification demonstrations. After two good rainy seasons the productive potential of the managed rangelands was more than doubled producing over 400 Kg dry matter /ha, most of cooperative members were ready to participate to the preparation of range management plans of the area assigned to their cooperatives. This despite tremendous problems related to existing traditional users rights in conflict with the rights of the cooperatives; and despite an unclear position of the government related to the rights of use of the land.
  • Lamentably two terribly drought years followed. Protected areas were declared open access by the government and over 600,000 sheep invaded the project area, grazing without any control. Vegetation was destroyed, Bedouins lost trust in the government because rights of use were not respected, and confidence of population in the project assistance reduced remarkably.
  • Now the second phase of the project must treasure the experience and plan again rangeland management plans with cooperatives members, but also work in the direction of assuring that all players involved (cooperative members, other users, peasant union, governments) agree on the forms of use and management to be adopted. This is a pilot activity and projects with external assistance can only set prototypes (or models) based on a very limited scale.
  • The biggest impact of the first phase of the project has been the training of technicians (over 12 project technicians, over 10 extension officers including three women extensionists, 4 Bedouin promoters and over 20 short training courses for national and international technicians), the training of Bedouins (almost half of the population was trained through field days and short courses).
  • The introduction of a new, cheap technology using local seed was initially not accepted by national technicians and since the project was designed based on old techniques (using heavy machinery, transplanting and tank watering systems) it was difficult to modify the project document. The astonishing results of the new techniques resulted in a tremendous technical impact, and today in all Al Badia it is fully accepted that rangeland rehabilitation should be done using direct seeding technique and native species.

Impact on the wildlife reserve

  • The fencing of 22,000 ha for the wildlife reserve created an initial negative reaction by the population. Today it is fully accepted that the area is protected for wildlife. Technicians have been trained, awareness creation material produced, animals are in excellent condition.
  • The second phase of the project is working on raising the participation of surrounding population into all activities related to the reserve (like tourism, establishment and maintenance of an ecomuseum, preparation of material to be sold through the ecomuseum).
  • The project is now observing that the protected area should be extended to a salted lake that is vital for migrating birds. Bedouins are working together with project’s staff to prepare a proposal for the government.

Lessons learned related to Bedouin population:

  • Bedouins are the users and not the owners of Al Badia. Therefore any improved management of the steppe should be proposed by them but endorsed by Government and peasant’s union.
  • Introduced changes must deal with a very arid and unpredictable climate. Therefore any planning must be flexible.
  • Participation is a long process, and all actors involved must be committed to continue and build on preceding activities. Coherence and long term assistance are therefore crucial to any sustainable option related to maintenance and production of the steppe.

Lessons learned related to the steppe environment:

  • It was proven that vegetation cover could vary tremendously ranging from 2,000Kg dry matter/ha production in good rainfall years to almost 0-100 kg production in drought years. This means that it is urgent that the government prepares and adopts drought management strategy plans based on early warning prediction of dry matter production.
  • Moreover government subsidies and support to livestock production should be coherent with an environmental protection policy and therefore promote selective reduction of grazing animals, promotion of income diversification activities, improvement of herd management through selection, breeding, and marketing prices, establishment of feeding reserves, promotion of range use and management plans by the population, promotion of integrated crop- livestock systems on cultivated arable land. The activities started by the project provided some excellent technical information related to all above issues, and we have learned that continuing the activities initiated over a longer period (going at least until 2005) will provide excellent technical, social, and economic information that will form the base for building appropriated policies and taking short, medium, long term actions to maintain production and productivity of the steppe.
  • Moreover we have learned that when preparing either a project document or an annual planning of the use of the rangeland, flexibility must be adopted since unpredictability of rainfall is the basis of any decision and action in the region.

Lessons learned related to wildlife and protected areas:

  • Specific technical expertise is necessary to establish a wildlife reserve and a protected area. But as soon as the wildlife is adapted and vegetation established, it is imperative that the population is fully involved in all operations related to management and use. For this purpose we came to the conclusion that it is advisable to establish a new concept for the use of the Jordan and Syrian steppe based on the concept of protected zones and buffer areas, so that population living in the steppe changes its attitude from being users (and often predators) to being guardians and protectors of the steppe. We have therefore developed the proposal below.

Need for Follow up

In order to consolidate project’s results in Syria and to extend them and consolidate the use of Al Badia steppe in Jordan a follow up is necessary. There are three objectives:

  • The construction of additional protected areas ( and/or wildlife reserve)
  • The creation of buffer zones around the protected areas in order to allow Bedouins living in the buffer zones to benefit from the protected areas, and to manage the area under their responsibility according to sustainable principles.
  • Continuous assistance to facilitate dialogue between Bedouins- government and other institutions. Project should in particular deal with assisting in drought management strategies, land user’s rights issues, income diversification opportunities.

The construction of additional protected areas (and/or wildlife reserve)

Following we give a short example of extension of the Talilah wildlife reserve with the creation of the Sabkhat-al-Moh Salt Flat reserve. The area covers 15,000 ha north-west of Talilah and is visited by a large number of migratory birds ( Grus grus, Ciconia ciconia), plovers, sandpipers. The area is an important wetland; it is a unique ecosystem, which provides a resting place for a large number of waterfowl. It lies along the north-south migratory flyway between Africa and Asia and thus has international significance. With its large number of micro-organism the ecosystem contributes to maintain diversity in an arid ecosystem where generally biodiversity is low. The ecosystem is threatened due to excessive use of water by surrounding farms and by poor, ladles people harvesting salt.

Recommended actions would be:

  • Capacity building
  • Monitoring
  • Fencing , infrastructures, overall management
  • Creation of income diversification for people living in the area.

The creation of buffer zones around the protected areas in order to allow Bedouins living in the buffer zones to benefit from the protected areas, and to manage the area under their responsibility according to sustainable principles.

Protected areas for maintenance and production of plants, feed and wildlife must be created to preserve ecosystems and their biodiversity, but must mainly be created to improve living conditions of poor people living on the resource.

To do so it is proposed to create buffer zones surrounding protected areas, rehabilitated zones, and wildlife reserves, where Bedouins continue their traditional activities (mainly livestock production) respecting and enhancing production potential of the steppe. To do so Bedouins will have to accept some basic principles (as for example reduction of total number and selection of their animals), use of the steppe within the framework of range management plans (including establishment of feed reserves, deferred grazing, short period protection of vegetation and so on). But they will be supported by the project and the government in order to change their role from simple users into "angels"(or rangers) of the steppe.

Recommended actions:

  • human capacity building
  • assistance in technical-social-economical aspects
  • creation of income diversification alternatives
  • provision of tools and , if necessary, initial ( positive) compensations

Continuous assistance to facilitate dialogue between Bedouins- government and other institutions. Project should in particular deal with assisting in drought management strategies, land user’s rights issues, income diversification opportunities.

Both Syria and Jordan are involved in the preparation of drought strategy plans, and are also aware that actual users’ rights of the steppe are very complex and today they reflect private interests rather than maintenance of the resource. The two issues are priority issues to be addressed to maintain production and productivity of the steppe and to ensure that steppe population can continue living and maintain and increase its living conditions.

Recommended actions:

  • assist steppe users in the preparation of suitable proposals and plans
  • assist governments in the adoptions of plans
  • assist governments in the setting up of a drought monitoring system

 

Annex 1. Data on Livestock Production.

The impact of drought on the socio-economic conditions of the Bedouin

Table 1 : The overall average feed cost and the average cost per head per household

Year

The overall average feed cost per household
( S.P.)

The average cost per head (S.P.)

The average of herd size

96/97

500,000

1235

405

97/98

319,840

689

464

98/99

526,042

807

652

99/2000

681,135

2070

329

S.P.: Syrian Pounds. US$1= 46 S.P.

It can be concluded from table 1 that the cost per head increased while the average herd size decreased.

Table 2 : The average cost of labour per household (feed cost excluded)

Year

The overall average of labour cost per household (S.P.)

The average of labour cost per head (S.P.)

The average of herd size

96/97

22,000

543

405

97/98

196,226

423

464

98/99

163,087

250

652

99/2000

125,877

383

329

It can be concluded from the two tables (1 & 2) that the total cost per head increased for the 99/2000 survey compared with previous years of study, while the average size of the herd per household decreased by 50% compared with the 98/99 survey. This was due to the selling of animals by Bedouins in order to buy feed for their herds.

Table 3 : Average milk production per head per year

Year

The average milk production per head per year (kg).

96/97

58.8

97/98

37.9

98/99

7.1

99/2000

24

It can be concluded from table 3 that the average annual milk production per head has decreased for the 99/2000 survey compared with the 96/97 and 97/98 surveys:

  • the survey of 99/2000 also shows that the prices for selling ewes were low compared with the previous years. This was because ewes were very weak and of low weight;
  • the survey also shows that Bedouins relied largely on crops and crop residue for feeding their animals;
  • the total number of Bedouins migrating from one place to another and out of the project area increased significantly for the 99/2000 survey.

Table 4: The price of ewes

Year

The price of one ewe- age 2-3 years (S.P.)

The price of one ewe- age 2-3 years (S.P.)

97/98

3200

2400

98/99

2100

1600

99/2000

1625

1425

It can be concluded from table 4 that the price of one ewe has dropped to about half in the 99/2000 survey compared with the previous years particularly the year 97/98.

Table 5: Mortality rate among ewes and lambs

Year

% of ewes mortality

% of lamb mortality

96/97

-

11.9

97/98

4.4

9.4

98/99

5

15

99/2000

9

12

It can be concluded from table 5 that the mortality rate among ewes almost doubled for the survey 99/2000 compared with previous years of study. This was caused by drought and infectious diseases. There was some fluctuation of the mortality rate among lambs


Annex 2. Forage Dry Matter Production and Species Composition

Table 1. Dry matter production (kg/ha) from annuals in five monitoring exclosures in the spring of 1997 (air dry basis ).

site

Plant form

1

2

3

4

5

Annual grasses

60.1

8.8

130.8

593.8

293.0

Annual forbs

3273.5

1764.3

164.3

485.6

430.5

Legumes

34.2

5.6

69.7

239.3

21.5

Total (kg\ha)

3367.8

1778.7

364.8

1318.7

745.0

Table 2. Dry matter production (kg/ha) from annuals in five monitoring exclosures in the spring of 1998 (air dry basis ).

site

Plant form

1

2

3

4

5

Annual grasses

1784

37

214.6

1238.4

1385.2

Annual forbs

2313.2

1044.4

377.6

508.27

610.4

Legumes

4.95

2.7

7.3

26.14

105.1

Total (kg\ha)

4102.1

1084.1

599.4

1772.8

2100.7

Table 3. Dry matter production (kg/ha) from annuals in five monitoring exclosures in the spring of 1999 and 2000 (air dry basis ).

This was recorded as 0 kg/ha.

Table 4. Dry matter production (kg/ha) from perennials in five monitoring exclosure in the spring of 1997 (air dry basis).

site

Plant species

1

2

3

4

5

Anabasis syriaca

522.0

0.0

0.0

137.7

0.0

Haloxylon salicornicum

0.0

0.0

561.2

0.0

0.0

Seidlitzia rosmarinus

0.0

0.0

150.3

0.0

0.0

Peganum harmala

0.0

0.0

3.7

0.0

64.0

Artemisia herba alba

1.2

0.0

0.0

7.0

282.1

Chenolea arabica

0.0

0.0

77.5

0.0

0.0

Achillea fragrantissima

1.2

0.0

0.0

246.8

0.0

Salsola volkansii

1.9

0.0

0.2

0.0

18.2

Poa sinaica

0.0

4.4

0.0

0.0

0.0

Total (kg\ha)

526.3

4.4

793.1

401.3

264.3

Table 5. Dry matter production (kg/ha) from perennials in five monitoring exclosure in the spring of 1998 (air dry basis .

site

Plant species

1

2

3

4

5

Anabasis syriaca

336

0

19.4

326

0

Haloxylon salicornicum

0

0

318

0

14

Seidlitzia rosmarinus

0

0

54

0

0

Peganum harmala

0

0

16

0

90.6

Artemisia herba alba

0

0

36

33

36.3

Chenolea arabica

0

0

5.2

0

0

Achillea fragrantissima

0

0

0

127

0

Haloxylon articulatum

0

0

0

9

0

Poa sinaica

0

2.16

0

0

0

Total (kg\ha)

336

2.16

449

494

468

 Table 6. Dry matter production (kg/ha) from the perennials in five monitoring exclosures in the summer of 1999 (air dry basis).

Species

Site 1

Site 2

Site 3

Site 4

Site 5

Anabasis syriaca

232.2

0

0

0

0

Haloxylon salicornicum

0

0

85.2

0

0

Seidlitzia rosmarinus

0

0

51.4

0

0

Peganum harmala

0

0

2.9

0.1

0

Artemisia herba alba

0

0

24.26

35.7

7.3

Chenolia arabica

0

0

0.14

0

0

Achillea fragrantissima

0

0

41.8

231.8

0

Total (kg/ha)

232.2

0

205.7

267.5

7.3

 Table 7. Dry matter production (kg/ha) from the perennials in five monitoring exclosures in the summer of 2000 (air dry basis).

Species

Site1

Site2

Site3

Site4

Site5

Anabasis syriaca

235.7

0

0

16.3

0

Haloxylon salicornicum

0

0

76.6

0

0

Seidlitzia rosmarinus

0

0

105.7

0

0

Peganum harmala

0

0

1.6

13.5

4.7

Artemisia herba alba

0

0

0.9

21

1.2

Chenolia arabica

0

0

7.1

0

0

Achillea fragrantissima

0

0

0

88.1

0

Haloxylon articulatum

0

0

0

3.1

0

Total (kg/ha)

235.7

0

191.9

142

5.9