3.4 Research, demonstration, extension and dissemination

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Professor of Forestry
Alexandria University, Egypt


Desertification is one of the most recognized problems facing the world in the last decade. The term itself has become a household word that everybody is repeating but not fully understanding. This is a good example of a global problem, where there is more talk than action.

According to Dr. M.K. Tolba, Executive Director of UNEP and Secretary General of UNCOD, the global threat posed by desertification has actually increased in the past ten years. Currently about 35 percent of the world's land surface is at risk and the livelihood of the 850 million people who live there is directly threatened (Tolba, 1984).

Drought, as a result of climatic changes, has been thought of as the principal cause of desertification. Although it may exacerbate the problem, human activities such as over-exploitation of the land through over-cultivation, overgrazing, poor irrigation practices and deforestation lead to desertification. In other words, desertification is caused by mismanagement of natural resources, rural neglect and economic and political problems. Any attempts to tackle the problem of desertification must therefore be multi-disciplinary by virtue of its nature.

Surprisingly enough, practically all reports, resolutions and plans of action put forward by national and international bodies to combat desertification have to a large extent neglected the role of research. This may be because the need to arrest desertification has been so pressing that research was considered a luxury that developing countries could not afford. Nothing can be further from the truth.

The place and role of trees and shrubs in arid areas were recently summarized by Ben Salem and Palmberg (1984) as follows:

(1) Permanent cover, (2) as a part of cropping rotation, and (3) in symbiosis with agriculture i.e. shelterbelts and windbreaks, etc. They emphasized the integration of such activities and set priorities for: (1) review and evaluation of existing knowledge about potential species, (2) dissemination of available information, (3) strengthening national capabilities and training, and (4) establishing of pilot demonstration areas.

Obviously, research into all aspects of desertification is beyond the scope of this consultation. The present paper addresses itself only to the role of forestry research and demonstration.


Research is the orderly procedure by which man increases his knowledge and is contrasted to accidental discovery because it follows a series of steps designed precisely for the purpose of developing information (Andrew and Hildebrand, 1982). Applied research is that research undertaken specifically for the purpose of obtaining information to help resolve a particular problem. It is carried out in all parts of the world, at a rate higher than basic research which is a necessity but one that only the wealthiest countries can afford. Most applied research is conducted under moderate to severe resource limitations which necessitate efficiency in the research process. The effective applied research methodology is directed toward the efficient use of available research resources to maximize the probability of achieving meaningful results to help resolve the problem.

Research oriented towards combating desertification falls under applied research which should explore alternative, socially and economically viable, integrated approaches to deal with the problem. A comparable research into desert farming systems has been devised and successfully applied to the Desert Development Center of the American University in Cairo, as detailed by Bishay and El-Lakany (1984).

Forestry research into combating desertification should adopt a systems approach, as dictated by the nature of the problem. A system is an orderly set of interdependent and interacting components, none of which can be modified without causing a related change elsewhere in the system. A forestry development system is a complex grouping of soils, water sources, species, livestock, labor and other resources and characteristics, within an environmental setting that individuals, communities or states manage in accordance with their respective capabilities and available technologies. A meaningful forestry research system aimed at combating desertification should be dealt with in terms of objectives, resources (inputs), constraints and interactions. While the general objective of the project is to arrest desertification, other specific objectives should be clearly defined. The statement of problems, hypotheses and objectives is a critical aspect of the planning of a research proposal. These are not independent from each other, nor are they independent from other portions of the proposal and aspects of conducting the research. A suggested list of priorities is furnished below.

The resources available to a research programme aiming at desertification control are in fact its constraints, namely: (a) an inhospitable environment that includes poor soils, harsh climate, limited water resources, expensive sources of energy (both financially and ecologically), and (b) the stage of development of the local populations. The design of the research programme must allow for studying interaction between all such components. Institutional and budgetary restraints, less than ideal field conditions, poorly trained personnel, inadequate background information and other similar factors have a very significant effect on the research process and therefore must be recognized in the planning stage and dealt with accordingly.

In planning and conducting research, one must distinguish between a problematic situation and a researchable problem. The first is a phenomenon which exists while a researchable problem must be identified and defined. A problematic situation can be the source of a variety of researchable problems. It is obvious that research for combating desertification falls under research in a problematic situation.


The best approach to setting priorities for research directed towards combating desertification is to examine the causes of this phenomenon then to design and plan for appropriate research. As stated before, drought is not the cause of desertification, although it may aggravate the problems. And even if it were the cause, nothing can be done to change it (Dregne, 1983).

The main causes of desertification can be categorized into environmental and socio-economic. Environmentaly, research programmes can be planned in the areas of overgrazing, cultivation and deforestation, either separately, or better still, in an integrated form. The socio-economic aspects will be dealt with in the last chapter of this paper. Specific research into overgrazing and cultivation, although related to deforestation, is not the main subject of the present paper.

Perhaps the most destructive human activity leading to desertification in arid and semi-arid regions is the uncontrolled gathering of fuelwood. The extent of damage due to excessive deforestation in developing countries has been well documented (Arnold and Jongama, 1978; World Bank, 1980). Yet research to date into corrective measures such as sustainable farming patterns for these regions and incorporation of forest trees into farming systems that are less ecologically disruptive (e.g. agroforestry) has been weak according to surveys by Burley (1980); Palmberg (1981) and El-Lakany (1984).

Traditional forestry research in developed countries has dealt mainly with industrial utilization of wood and creating new industrial plantations using genetically improved material. In developing countries, minimal research has been directed towards their major wood consumption, i.e. fuelwood and charcoal. For the majority of the developing world, the main thrust of forestry during the 1980's will be on afforestation or reforestation with fast-growing species with special emphasis on fuelwood and planting of multipurpose trees, on village woodlots as well as shelterbelts and other protective plantations (World Bank/FAO, 1981).

The complexity of the desertification problem makes it imperative to conduct multidisciplinary research. Besides looking at the problem from all possible angles, multidisciplinary research is another means of conserving scarce research resources facing nearly all developing countries. Too often a researcher in one discipline minimizes the effects of those factors commonly included by others, so that in the absence of cooperation, the results are of limited value to other researchers. Of course it is not always possible to obtain answers for more than one discipline without increasing the size and complexity of the experiment beyond manageability and available resources. But it is precisely in those cases where resources are most scarce that it is important to consider the advantages of multidisciplinary research (Kiehl, 1957). Thus, forestry research into combating desertification calls for adopting the systems approach. The proposed system may include integrated applied research into:

1 - Biological aspects

  1. situ and ex situ conservation of potential genetic resources,
  2. seed collection and handling,
  3. nursery techniques,
  4. silviculture; including tending, fertilization, supplementary irrigation, pest control, regeneration etc.,
  5. tree physiology; including water requirements, salt tolerance, drought endurance etc.,
  6. shelterbelts and protective plantations; including design, composition, effects on microclimate and crops,
  7. sand-dune stabilization, and
  8. complementary farming activities (crops, fodder, animals etc.).

2 - Technological aspects

  1. monitoring of climatological changes,
  2. site preparation,
  3. harvesting,
  4. wood properties (e.g. caloric value) and processing, and
  5. alternative sources of renewable energy (solar, wind, biogas).

3 - Socio-economic aspects

  1. demonstration plots and extension services,
  2. self-help projects,
  3. land tenure status, and
  4. economic analysis.

Naturally, as no one scientist can undertake such a programme alone, cooperation between researchers from different disciplines is a must.


Resource availability has an important effect on the nature of the research product derived and the level of precision which can be achieved or the level of confidence which can be placed in the results. Even in very limited resource situations, however, decisions are necessary and researchers are expected to provide useful information. The resources limiting forestry research in general and the research aiming at combating desertification in particular are numerous. They include: information, human, physical, financial and time resources.

4.1 Information

Information is the foundation upon which research is based; hence, one of the major tasks of the researchers is collection of information for use in the research process. Information in general and data specifically are as critical to the problem identification phase of the project as they are to the analysis of the results. Their availability profoundly affects both the quantity and quality of research which can be produced within a given period of time. In general, published data or data generated in the research process (or both) may be the source of information for analysis. Although voluminous amounts of information have been documented on the causes, processes and consequences of desertification, researchers in developing countries have limited access to it. International organizations, such as UNEP, UNCOD, IUFRO and FAO are urged to compile such information and make it available, such as what has been done for agricultural research (FAO, 1984). Many of the relevent scientific books, periodicals and reports are not issued free, and commonly a forestry or an agriculture department orders only one copy, which then remains in the headquarters and does not circulate to the field staff.

4.2 Human

As with most resources, the human element must be considered from the points of view of quantity and quality. Mere availability is not sufficient for most research undertakings; the training and capabilities of personnel must be considered when planning the research project. Except in rare instances, the time factor in applied research prohibits the training of professional personnel though there may be time to train some non-professionals such as technical assistants. A common misuse of research resources exists where elegant data collection techniques are employed but the data are not fully utilized because appropriately trained personnel are not available to make proper or correct analysis. In the short run, simpler experiments which can be analyzed readily by available personnel are more appropriate. Money saved by not conducting elegant data collection programmes may be used to train personnel to conduct and analyse more complicated and sophisticated experiments in the future.

4.3 Physical

Non-technical physical resources include transportation facilities, land, office space and other items of a similar nature. Like all other research resources, their availability must be considered when planning the research project. Technical physical resources include machinery, scientific instruments, calculators, computers etc. Certain kinds of instruments may be indispensable for particular aspects of the project some phases of the research may need to be eliminated if the correct instrument is not available or is too costly compared to expected results to Justify its use. On the other hand, a computer, while not indispensable, may substitute for other resources such as money or time. The use of a computer, when available, can sometimes shorten the time required to achieve useful results.

4.4 Finance

Funds are required for almost all research projects and their availability is an important consideration in research planning. Contrary to general belief, in some cases a lot of funds are made available to developing countries by international organizations and bilateral agreements. Unfortunately, most developing countries cannot make the best use of available funds due to other constraints listed here. It is estimated that US $ 4.5 billion are needed annually over a period of 20 years to stop desertification. The special machinery set up by the U.N. General Assembly to mobilize funds to tackle desertification has raised in its six years of existence only $ 26 million, according to Tolba (1984). Apparently, a very low percentage of this modest sum is allocated for research purposes.

4.5 Time

Time is usually not thought of as a resource in the same terms as physical facilities, information and human resources, but its effect on the planning and execution of applied research is similar. Considered as a resource, time can interact with other resources in that substitution of one for another can be made. If a decision on a particular problem is critical and time is limited, a greater number of other resources will be required to achieve a given level of confidence than would be necessary if more time could be taken. Hence, the use of more time is an effective substitute for quantities of other resources. But also, consuming more time on one project reduces the amount of that limited resource which is available to help resolve other-problems.

As most forestry research takes a long time to show reliable results, careful planning must be exercised. The problem of desertification is so pressing that the world cannot afford to wait for a long time to embark on corrective measures.

4.6 Institutions

Weak forestry research institutions in many developing countries constitute a major obstacle to development. Besides constraints mentioned above, other weaknesses include a vulnerability to arbitrary changes and a tendency to duplicate research completed or in progress elsewhere. Significant improvement in national forestry capabilities cannot be achieved without securing a strong central government commitment to forestry programmes and a clear perception of the role of forestry in the economic development of the country as a whole.

Research projects are sometimes conceived and often managed by expatriates with the inherent physical, mental and cultural separation between them and local counterparts. Well-conceived national research is likely to be more enduring than imported research. This of course does not exclude the adoption of appropriate technologies by developing countries. A group of consultants to the World Bank and FAO examined forestry research facilities and capabilities of many developing countries. At least 90 institutions have been identified, the majority of which are weak and have been severly constrained by lack of staff and funding, (World Bank/FAO, 1981). It was concluded that the first priority should be given to the strengthening of national institutions in these countries. Building up of national expertise-may be very costly and take a long time. In the meantime, technical assistance may be sought from foreign bilateral and multilateral aid agencies. A second conclusion which has emerged from this analysis is that regional forestry research institutions supported by governments of countries in a particular ecological or geographic zone have not, so far, proved to be very successful. Generally, such institutions face obstacles that impede their efficiency, particularly the need for political compatibility among participating countries, the security of finance needed for long-term forestry research programmes and the difficulties of agreeing on research priorities and staffing policies. The difficulties facing the "Transnational Green Belt" project, which is being undertaken to combat desertification across North Africa, can serve as an example to verify that conclusion.


Funding agencies often require the evaluation of research projects before further commitments are made. The huge research expenditures have created an increasing interest in techniques for measuring and evaluating research output.

Research evaluation in general must answer three main questions: (1) whether research investments are worthwhile at all, (2) how research returns compare with those of alternative investment opportunities available to the concern, and (3) whether the scientific research effort is proceeding with maximum effectiveness.

Research for desertification control is quite unique and requires the devising of special evaluation criteria. Evaluation based only on financial return is difficult and even misleading. Environmental and social impacts must be given substantial weight in the evaluation process.


6.1 Dissemination

The real skill IN applied research comes into play after the collection of the data has been completed. Experience and imagination have a particularly high pay off in the analysis and interpretation of the data and can make all the difference between a useful project and one which ends up in a file drawer. The researcher must draw conclusions from the analysis and at the end make recommendations to the user to help in resolving the problem that originated the project. This, of course, is the reason for undertaking applied research in the first place.

The researcher is the expert to whom the user is looking for help. If the researcher is unwilling to fulfil this role, there is little justification for him having undertaken the project. Flexibility and the use of the researcher's experience and his opinions in the interpretation of the data and in the analysis is encouraged. This is important to the user, but he is also entitled to a clear exposition as to what part of the conclusions result from the conjecture of the researcher and what part is attributable to the pure analysis of the data. As a scientist, the researcher is obligated to report the results of the research project honestly and objectively. As a professional hired to provide information for resolving problems, he is also obligated to interpret these results in accordance with the needs of the user.

The final stage in the applied research process is the communication of the results to the user. It is as essential that the user comprehends what the researcher has to tell him as it is for the researcher to understand the meaning of the data. The researcher is a scientist whose job is to understand complicated analysis and confusing data. The user has other interests and ordinarily does not have the same training, so the researcher must report his findings in a language that the user will understand.

6.2 Extension

The majority of applied research in agriculture and forestry serves farmers as the principal users through the activities of an extension service. Many farmers are not interested in how the recommendations came to be made but they need to know what the recommendations entail and what they may mean if adopted. The farmer depends on the researcher and the extension specialist or agent to interpret the results of the research process. In this case it is most useful to prepare a research report which presents only the specific recommendations and the nature of the effect or response which can be expected if the recommendations are followed. An excellent procedure is for the researcher to present results in a form directed toward extension specialists and agents and then work with the extension personnel to prepare a non-technical publication for use in the extension programmes. In developing countries, many researchers use the results obtained for a post graduate degree. A thesis is a research report whose language and content are directed necessarily toward other researchers -primarily the student's thesis committee. Few theses are usable in their entirety as a research report for more popular distribution, but they can serve as a basis for the generation of a series of documents, each directed toward a different user or audience. Articles for technical journals can report the factors of scientific interest which occurred in the research process. One or more popular reports or bulletins can be directed toward the ultimate users or intermediate groups such as the extension service. Finally, leaflet type publications which present the recommendations in simplified form can also be prepared if the research is applicable to a wider audience. Translation of relevant research results and other information into main languages such as Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic from English, French or German is highly recommended.

6.3 Demonstration

As a practical matter, a great deal of experimentation is carried out with an orientation that is only partly research-centered. An important example in forestry is the demonstration trial usually conducted by, or in cooperation with, the extension service. One of the purposes of this type of research is to demonstrate the results of research under real conditions, i.e. under conditions which will be applied by the user toward whom it is focused. For this reason rather poor experimental control is to be expected, and accordingly, the experimental design is nearly always quite simple. In many cases, as few as two treatments, with and without a particular input or package of inputs, are included. At times, a complete experiment is conducted at one location; in other trials, different locations are considered to be different replications of the same experiment with all treatments being repeated at each; and in some cases only one or a few treatments are conducted at each location.

It should be obvious that as more and more locations are included in a demonstration trial, exposure to the users is increased, but experimental control is decreased. Also, with more treatments in a project, more information is possible, but also, the supervision of the project becomes more difficult. Hence, the persons responsible for the project must determine, based on the orientation of the project and the available resources, what the size and scope should be.

Presenting an example of a fairly successful demonstration trial may be the best means of discussing some of the more important aspects to be considered when initiating a project of this nature. It is rather unfortunate that most professional foresters lack appropriate training in rural afforestation and extension methods. Even in the less decertified areas, where more permanent agriculture is practiced, distances between administrative centers are great; trained administrative and educational staff are limited; policy makers do not perceive the severity of the problem, and housing and communications are poor. Above all, there is a marked reluctance among professionally trained foresters and agriculturists to work in areas subjected to desertification. It is a regrettable but common feature of developing countries that professionals prefer to work in the capital-city offices rather than in the field.

Among the developing countries threatened by desertification there are considerable variations in social structures and customs, land tenure and land use policy (Burley, 1982). Given appropriately trained and motivated staff and suitable species and management methods, the remaining constraints to successful tree planting to combat desertification are related mainly to land ownership and use patterns and type of economy. For communities and individuals on a subsistence level or in a non-monitorized economy it is difficult to find the resources to establish tree plantations and government support is required initially. Further, in view of long rotation of trees, throughout which protection against fire, animals, drought and sand encroachment is required, security of tenure of land is essential. It thus becomes imperative to develop community awareness of the benefits of trees so that communally-owned land may be set aside for managed tree crops.

The actions needed to encourage tree planting vary from the village community plantation on communal land to the individual farmer's planting of single trees or rows on his land boundary. Different credit and technical facilities are needed. The extension officer should emphasize the need to use the "backage" approach to trees' growth and use. Involving the people in forestry activity through demonstration of its feasibility is highly needed.

The areas in which nomadic pastoralism prevails are very problematic. Most nomadic communities would not consider planting a long-term crop on land for which they feel no immediate responsibility and to which they may not return for long periods. They do not appreciate the service values of trees in soil and water protection, and yet their excessive herds cause damage that trees could help to repair. An integrated approach to land use and development is needed in such areas, with estimates of the carrying capacity of the pasture, and education in the concepts of limiting herd size (Burley, 1982).

Many countries have conceived anti-desertification laws, the texts of which are excellent, but they soon become obsolete. Le Houčrou (1976) listed a few examples in this regard such as prohibition of tractors on the steppe in Algeria; prohibition of growing crops on land with slope over 15% in Tunisia and Syria; prohibition of growing crops in areas receiving less than 300 mm of rain in Niger; as well as closing of boreholes during the rainy season and protection of pasture-ground around them in many arid-zone countries. In such cases education and enlightment of the local population are more effective than laws.

Promotion of tourism and handicraft/cottage industries, that are far from being fully exploited, should be encouraged, but under proper management and after careful research. This may constitute an alternative or added source of income to the local population and may reduce pressure of livestock raising, fuelwood gathering and shifting cultivation.


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