Syrian Arab Republic
Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform
1.6 years from January 1994 to June 1995
4.9 years from July 1995 to March 2000
US$2 810 973
4.5 years from February 2000 to June 2004
US$1 886 000
In the Syrian Arab Republic, Al Badia region is the main grazing land in the country and supports most of the national sheep herd, goats and camels. The grazing lands of this desert steppe region, which at present provide 20-40 percent of animal feed requirements, have recently decreased because of ploughing for dryland cultivation. The decrease is particularly strong in depressions, which are considered the main grazing areas and an important source of seeds for forage species. Moreover, early grazing and overgrazing by sheep populations, uprooting of shrubs for firewood, off-road driving of vehicles, and an increased stocking of cattle around boreholes and other water sources have also negatively affected the environment.
Over the last decades, the Government of Syria has put considerable efforts into improving the preservation, rehabilitating and regulating the country's natural resources. Al-Talila Wildlife Reserve (ATWR), located in Al Badia region, was initiated by the government in 1991 to rehabilitate habitats, protect wild animals and generate additional income to local communities through eco-tourism. Palmyra, area rich in historical and archaeological features, which is found close to the reserve, is already attracting tourists.
In 1992 the government expressed the wish to define a comprehensive long-term strategy for sustainable rangeland development. Consequently, Syria requested FAO assistance in carrying out a preparatory study with the objective of formulating a project for the rehabilitation of the Palmyra rangeland and the establishment of the wildlife reserve. The preparatory project started in 1994 with the title GCP/SYR/001/ITA ‘Rangeland Rehabilitation and Establishment of a Wildlife Reserve in the Syrian Steppe’ with an initial funding of US$400404 from the Italian Government.
This preparatory phase of the project was concluded in 1995, when the project’s main phase (GCP/SYR/003/ITA), again funded by Italy, was started in June 1995 with a total budget of US$2810973. This main phase, now completed, established guidelines to protect the severely degraded ecosystem of the semiarid rangeland of Al Badia, implementing findings and suggestions developed during the previous preparatory phase. It focused on wildlife preservation and reintroduction (Oryx Oryx leucouryx and Sand Gazelle Gazelle subgutturosa marica were successfully reintroduced in ATWR) and range and livestock production increase, while at the same time strengthening population awareness of the environmental degradation and eliciting the participation of local communities in project activities.
The main phase of the project achieved important and widely acknowledged results. In order to ensure a sustainable impact of project activities, the project was also instrumental in the planning and coordination of a formulation mission for a consolidation phase. Project GCP/SYR/009/ITA was thus formulated. With a total budget of US$1676000, Project GCP/SYR/009/ITA became operational in February 2000 for a three years period. With an additional budget of US$210000, the project was extended initially to December 2003 and later to June 2004.
The Donor budget covers the employment of international experts specialized in land resource management, wildlife management, communication, and community and institution. National consultants are also recruited and contractual services used for the construction of the conservation education centre (CEC) and for extension and communication material. Funds for the purchase of various seeds, seed packing material and survey materials are also available.
The general development objective of the project is to prepare government and communities to ensure sustainability of introduced range rehabilitation techniques, and to implement the conservation management plan of ATWR through participatory approaches.
The first immediate objective is to develop field-tested techniques for rehabilitation of rangelands under dry Al Badia conditions, in order to apply them to desert steppe areas. To reach this goal, an area of 1200 hectares will be reseeded, resulting in 7400 hectares improved range areas. An environment monitoring system will be established and tested, and a grazing management plan for all cooperatives will also be drafted.
The project's second objective is to prepare national counterpart institutions, including local community institutions, national project staff and project target groups to take over full responsibility for a project follow-up. In this respect project staff and counterparts will receive advanced training related to: integrated range ecosystem management; sustainable range management and wildlife conservation for extension for mobile and semi-mobile herders; and improved information flow for enhanced cooperation
The project became effectively 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 US 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. Contacts are also underway 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.