2.5 Policy, institutions, socio-economic considerations

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This document is based on factual information and major definition and propositioning presented by a number of authors who contributed to this consultation. While suggestions are made for immediate action, the fight against desertification and the survival and welfare of the dry land population are viewed in a reasonably long-term perspective. In preparing this document it is assumed that national programmes will be determined and carried out by the various dry land countries and that these national programmes will be conceived according to agreed guidelines, The main purpose of this document is to elicit discussion on a number of institutional items which must be taken into account in designing and implementing action programmes for the development and rehabilitation of dry areas.


The arid zone environments have special features which make them, from a development point of view, very different from the temperate or humid zones. For the purpose of analysing them, they have been grouped under ecological, social and economic headings.

2.1 Ecological features

One of the fundamental development problems of arid and semi-arid lands (irrigated areas aside) is that they cannot easily be differentiated into categories for "single purpose uses". This difficulty stems from two main factors: the first is a purely natural one. Since environmental conditions are precarious and, in particular, precipitation is seasonal and erratic in distribution, it is difficult to distinguish between "forest", "bush" or "grazing lands" (as in the case of temperate regions for instance) because trees, shrubs, herbs and fortes are closely inter-mixed and ecologically inter-dependent. This close inter-dependence of various vegetation forms is epitomized by the fact that under drier conditions the vegetative period of herbaceous plants becomes steadily shorter as aridity increases and as such plants are found mainly under the shelter of trees and bushes. The second cause of the difficulty in segregating lands for single use development is of an economic nature. Due to unfavourable environmental conditions the natural vegetation is open, ranging from woodlots to scattered, isolated trees and bushes. This renders prospects for the development and management of vegetation for timber production per se uneconomic. At the same time, due to erratic patterns of precipitation, average yields of agricultural crops are not only low but also subject to wide fluctuations. During periods of prolonged droughts it is only the woody vegetation which survives and provides the natural forage for both domesticated livestock and wildlife.

Thus, forest management needs to recognize the dependence of man (and his livestock) for food, wood and fibers and for other "social services" on one and the same area of land, be it called forest, wildland or rangelands.

2.2 Social features

In terms of social features, dry land areas are often inhabited by populations which participate minimally or not at all in national development or which have not been encouraged to do so. Their land use practices evolved at a time when population and livestock demands were more or less in harmonious balance with what these lands could provide; when unwritten agreements between tribes, regulating the use of resources, had the force of law; when the nomad was an agro-silvo-pastoralist, taking full advantage of "total production" and when his management of resources was based through experience on conservation principles.

The impact of a monetized economy, disruption of traditional customs and increasing population without corresponding adjustments in practices have disrupted the former balance. As a result, many of the land use practices employed in dry lands are now antagonistic: the cereal fallow system practiced in many areas restrains both cereal and livestock production, unregulated grazing results in conflicts between livestock production and vegetation survival, speculative cultivation on fragile ecotypes contradicts basic ecological principles. The overall result of these land abuse practices is the improverishment of the land, and the onset of desertification. Because of the fluctuation in climate, this phenomenon is self-accelerating. Among adverse effects on dry land populations are hunger and emigration brought on by continued crop failure or the massive destruction of livestock, particularly in marginal subsistence societies. As droughts continue, livelihood systems will collapse altogether. Social disasters stemming from the collapse of livelihood systems are now better understood from the point of view of this disastrous effect as the national economy has to secure drought relief to the afflicted populations. Some societies have worked to incorporate their most remote and vulnerable populations into the larger community. Such actions are most effective when they support dry land peoples in their efforts to maintain sustained productivity in their harsh and demanding environment.

The incorporation of these populations in the national development process poses an important socio-economic challenge. On the other hand, the population continues to increase in the low rainfall areas without a corresponding increase in extra agricultural employment possibilities.

Any intervention in the low rainfall areas needs, therefore, to recognize the need for restoring the former balance in resource/human relationships and the incorporation of dry land populations in the mainstream of the national development process.

2.3 Economic features

While considerable progress has been made in agricultural, forestry, livestock, industrial and tourism development in the wetter zones, little has been done so far for the low rainfall areas. Low productivity of the resource base, coupled with the fluctuation in yield due to erratic precipitation, have tended to discourage investment and the development of scientific inputs to conserve and develop the productivity of low rainfall areas. Whereas the argument for giving priority for allocation of development funds to the more productive areas may seem to be justified in terms of "bankability" criteria, such policies, where adopted, have set in motion a vicious circle whereby lack of adequate investment (financial and technological) perpetuates in low rainfall areas a retrogressive management and an anaemic economy subsidized through the wasting of natural resources. Even from an economic viewpoint, the validity of this option is doubtful. Concentration on more productive areas has most often been synonymous with concentration on cash crops for which dry areas are generally ill-suited. The resulting distortion in terms of insufficient foodcrop production has had severe economic as well as social consequences in many parts of the dry region. Treatment of these areas as "anti-priorities", and hence areas to be neglected when establishing priorities for development, has accentuated socio-economic disparity within the rural sector itself, between "favourable" and less favourable land areas and their populations, thereby generating disruptive pressures. It has prevented the low rainfall areas and their people from making a greater contribution to, as well as benefitting from, overall economic and social progress.

There are, on the other hand, valid economic reasons for return on investment. For instance, if crop production were integrated with livestock, then low yields in crops could be partly offset by income from livestock products. With further integration of crops, livestock, forestry, wildlife, cottage industries, etc. investment possibilities are more likely to move from a "marginality" base into profitability.

Therefore, for physical, economic and social reasons, development strategies need to aim at "total production" through first sponsoring the horizontal integration of production (agro-silvo-pastoral management) and second, the vertical integration of the products of the land with processing and marketing in order to maximize and optimize investment.


The diversity of ecological, socio-economic and political conditions in the arid regions does not permit prescription of a universal strategy for their development. Each sub-region and zone needs to be considered in the context of its features. However, in examining the role of forestry for the development of any arid area, the following can be distinguished:

Development planners and foresters must think primarily in terms of forestry's broad role in creating Jobs, providing energy in the form of fuelwood or charcoal, contributing to higher yields of food crops and livestock and, above all, taking part in the conservation and rational utilization of soil and water resources and in the fight against desertification.

All forestry operations must be carried out for and with the people. This implies understanding land tenure and customary land use, and requires a pure service function of a flexible and active administration.


Forest policies have been essentially orientated towards defining and maintaining large forest domains. This may have appeared justified in the past, but in practice, it has forced the forest services to take on the responsibilities of administering vast, largely unproductive areas through restrictive measures and little positive action. It will be necessary to substitute servicing and developmental activities for the restrictive measures and police activities of the past.

Forestry as a land-use discipline, with few exceptions, is largely new to arid and semi-arid regions. Whatever practice there is and whatever techniques are applied, they are based on technology imported from the temperate regions. And, whereas from the technological viewpoint, the imported practice has been modified, in many cases, for application to local conditions, conceptually the spirit of forestry has been inadequately translated for infusion into the philosophy and attitude of the people. Forestry practice imported from temperate regions was developed in countries with fairly settled land tenure and land use and where more or less clear distinctions are possible as to what constitutes forestry, agricultural or grazing land situations not prevailing in arid and semi-arid regions.

Thus, the sectoral approach to forestry must be abandoned. Forestry activities should be regarded as elements of coordinated land management practices. In each region of a country, the production and social roles of forestry must be given varying degrees of emphasis in order to match the ecological and social realities of that region.

Thus, the problem is how to integrate within the same ecological zone possible land uses such as agriculture, animal husbandry and forestry. Naturally, such integration must be based on ecological principles and harmonized with general development on a national scale.

In the true desert zone, only extensive stock-raising areas of a nomadic type based on the use of wildlife and, in exceptional rainy years, on domestic animals, are possible. But in other zones, throughout the arid world, there are many more policy alternatives.

In the arid zone management options are generally confined to native pastures, extensive animal husbandry, production of ligneous material, gums, resins and wildlife, and carried out under a silvo-pastoral system. Farming should be confined to certain areas where there are sufficient ground water resources (springs and wells) or where it has been possible to concentrate surface water by run-off or to drastically modify the areas through irrigation. Rather than planting trees which grow in height, it would be better, under this bioclimate, to grow and manage low vegetation to control wind erosion and create a natural roughness for the soil. In this respect a better knowledge of the ecology, conservation and utilization of this arid vegetation is of paramount importance. This vegetation could be used for sand dune stabilization as a pasture reserve, in addition to its value as industrial material.

In the semi-arid zone there is a greater management choice than for arid areas - aboriculture, food crops and fodder products, industrial wood products, intensive livestock and a combination of such uses under an agro-silvo-pastoral management system. Trees and forestry activities have a preponderant role to play in supporting both agricultural and livestock production.

In formulating or reviewing national forest policies the following factors need to be fully considered:

Forest legislation must be improved, with realism, considering that it is above all a means for generating or encouraging a social behaviour that is favourable to the policies' objectives, concentrating the resources of the administrative institutions on the most relevant and most feasible activities conducive to applying such policies.

The first objective mentioned above requires that rural people know, understand and share the objectives of the forest legislation and that they perceive the legislation provisions as being equitable and legitimate in the light of their own interests, traditions and moral standards.

The second objective implies adjusting forestry legislation as much as possible to the socio-economic conditions and resources of the country, taking into account regional differences and keeping in mind the nature and limitation of the administration that will apply them.


The combination of management responsibility for forestry, rangeland and wildlands in general under a single administrative institution is current practice in some parts of the world with dry or arid climatic conditions.

In a country with a vast dry region, the implementation of integrated development policies for that region could be entrusted to a newly established polyvalent administration of a regional character. However, the establishment of such new institutions would be Justified only if the existing ones cannot be strengthened and adapted to perform the required tasks. In any case, whether such regional agencies are created or not, overall development requirements at the national level would still require a strong technical forestry administration at the central level.

Before setting up a new administrative institution, a country should determine in some detail the services and functions that must be ensured in its dry regions. In this respect, it is evident that, in addition to technical tasks related to forestry and range management, soil and nature conservation and tree plantation, such services should encourage supporting activities for rural development, i.e. for information, orientation and mobilization of the population and organizational backing of local efforts. The provision of services at the local level should be complemented with a gradual devolution of responsibilities and functions of the authorities aimed at motivating and involving the population. This will require the development of non-administrative institutions at the level of local human groups which may take a variety of forms. Intermediate institutions at district and regional levels would facilitate the flow of technical assistance, financial resources and organizational guidance towards the grassroot popular institutions.


Because of intrinsic low productivity, inadequate infrastructure and numerous social constraints, private entrepreneurs under a free market economy are unlikely to be attracted to invest in the development of low rainfall areas, at least in the initial stage. While, as explained earlier, this development is necessary, it is above all a matter for direct public sector involvement.

Whereas the level and magnitude of the investment resources to be allocated for the development of arid regions and the control of desertification will, naturally, have to be determined within national priorities, the finance strategy will depend on national policies to:

But, most arid countries are poor. In fact, they constitute most of the poorest countries and hence they need external assistance. The assistance has already materialized but it often seems to be too scattered and too localized for its impact to be perceptible. It would be necessary, therefore, considering the advanced stage of resources degradation and desertification, that this assistance be moved from localized project to programme assistance. To move on to programme assistance would imply not only an increase in the volume of external aid but also for governments to make a planned use of funds from donors and funding agencies. Finally, new methods of credit funds management towards the creation of local credits need to be developed and implemented.


7.1 Research

The purpose of applied research is to provide information to define and carry out action programmes with growing adaptation to circumstances and needs. It follows that the determination of research programmes and the allocation of priorities and resources to research projects should ultimately be made by the same authorities who decide on action programmes, with the advice of research institutions and practitioners.

At the present time what is most urgent is to make full use of existing knowledge, hence the need to ensure systematic diffusion of research findings among decision-makers, practitioners and trainers. The establishment of regional documentation centers would be an essential step towards this end.

Over the medium-term it would be appropriate to:

(i) strengthen the planning and organization of ecological, silvicultural and socio-economic research in general (including international cooperation aspects); of particular importance is the improvement of local multi-purpose species;

(ii) strengthen research on particular subjects (such as certain social and cultural aspects of rural life) which appear to be weak at present in view of development and resource conservation objectives;

(iii) decentralize research work according to ecological and socio-economic conditions; and

(iv) determine and carry out a systematic programme for advanced training of research workers and research administrators.


Extension (communication, motivation) activities are extremely important for the success of land-use policies, based on the understanding and support of rural people. These extension activities should be linked to action programmes that are, and can be seen as, and are, clearly beneficial to the rural population. Only in this way can any attempt to organize grazing, restrict livestock numbers, establish village plantations, etc., succeed.

While it is obvious that the basic principles of extension are always the same, it is nonetheless true that the methods to be used vary from one country to another or from one region to another within the same country. This is why extension programmes should be planned and implemented at national level. Extension workers should be "polyvalent" i.e. able to concern themselves with agricultural, pastoral, water and forestry problems.


Foresters are trained to manage natural plant communities under a multi-purpose concept which combines production and environment conservation objectives. They operate over large areas with a comparatively low input per unit of land, relying mainly on the natural production process of the ecosystems. They consider long-term effects as far as vegetation changes in natural plant communities and in the environment, are concerned. Therefore, forestry personnel at all levels already possess to a considerable extent the mental attitude, knowledge and experience required for land management in dry zones.

There is, however, a vital need for forestry education programmes, both for serving personnel and for new entrants, to place greater emphasis than in the past on:

(i) an insight into the socio-economic problems of poor rural areas;
(ii) how to come into contact with rural populations and gain their confidence;
(iii) land use under arid conditions (agro-silvo-pastoral);
(iv) soil and water conservation;
(v) fuelwood production;
(vi) wildlife management;
(vii) processing and utilization of forest vegetation and animal products;

In addition, forestry education programmes should include basic notions of related subjects such as agronomy, fruit-tree arboriculture and zootechnics.

Forestry education programmes should reduce or eliminate traditional subjects which are not directly relevant to the countries concerned.

Serving forestry personnel should be offered an intensive continuing education programme tailored to match a gradual and planned transformation of their tasks. By defining the new "profile" of forestry personnel at various levels it should be possible to determine such an education programme, combine it with other training efforts and thus reduce costs. It is likely that educative and training institutes may agree to homogenize degrees and diplomas, coordinate their courses arrange on some form of "division of responsibilities" for specialization in subject-matter areas so as to avoid duplication of efforts.

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