Syrian Arab Republic
Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform
1 year and 6 months from January 1994 to June 1995
4 years and 9 months from July 1995 to March 2000
US$2 810 973
4 years and 10 months from February 2000 to December 2004
US$1 926 000
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 countryís 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 ĎRangeland Rehabilitation and Establishment of a Wildlife Reserve in the Syrian Steppeí. This preparatory project was concluded in 1995, when the projectís main phase (GCP/SYR/003/ITA), again funded by Italy, was started in June 1995. 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 (Arabian Oryx, Oryx leucoryx and Sand Gazelle, Gazella subgutturosa marica, were successfully reintroduced in ATWR) and on increasing range and livestock production, while at the same time strengthening local communities population awareness of the environmental degradation and eliciting their participation 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. Project GCP/SYR/009/ITA became operational in February 2000 for a three years period. The project was extended initially to December 2003 and later to December 2004.
The Donor budget covers the employment of international experts specialized in land resource management, wildlife management, communication, and community and institution building. National consultants are also recruited and contractual services used for the construction of the Environmental Education Centre and for extension and communication material.
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. An environment monitoring system will be established and tested, and a grazing management plan for all cooperatives will also be drafted.
The projectís 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. Serious efforts have been undertaken since the projectís start to the rehabilitation of range aras. During the past four years, more than 1100 ha have been reseeded, mainly with species of wormleaf salsola (Salsola vermiculata) and saltbush (Artriplex leucocloda) in the Arak, Munbateh and Abbasiya areas and the replanted area has been properly protected against grazing. With the objective of assessing the impact of range rehabilitation projects on livestock production and Bedouin living conditions, a monitoring program was developed and data on socio-economic conditions, vegetation and animals was also regularly collected. A technical paper compiling seven years of data on the socio-economic conditions of Bedouins, drawing conclusions and recommendations, was finalized by a socio-economic consultant.
The project also executed the ATWR management plan. Grazing management plans were developed for all cooperatives in the project area, including the mapping of customary systems. The plans allow the cooperatives of Arak, Munbateh and Abbasiya to expand into the free-grazing areas of Al-Baida. The decision to review the cooperative borders, was taken during a workshop held in Al-Badia Directorate on October 2003. 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.
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.
Thirty Sand gazelles (twenty females and ten males) were reintroduced into ATWR together with eight Arabian Oryx. The two species are being closely monitored by veterinarians who are following specific veterinary protocol to prevent diseases. With the projectís support, the Talia reserve has inaugurated an Environmental Education Centre, a hot water bath and a Botanical Garden in December 2003. The Education Centre is raising public awareness and is providing information on biodiversity in the region and its importance. The Botanical Garden has about 40 species of perennial and annuals and will provide a living reference for researchers, students and people on Al-Badia vegetation, whereas the sulphur bath is attracting visitors for its therapeutic qualities.
From its inception, the project has recognized the importance of actively involving local communities in all aspects and phases of the projectís activities and has since launched several activities for this purpose. Four successful Participatory Rural Appraisal courses were conducted targeting project staff and peasant union representatives, who work directly with Bedouins. One of the projectís most important achievements has been human capacity building. In 2002, project staff and counterparts received three months of training in the United States on integrated range ecosystem management. Thanks to this training, national staff took over the management of the Oryx and Sand Gazelle populations for this project. Two project staff received a one-month training on protected area management in Saudi Arabia, in October 2003; and a two-week study tour on income generating activities was also organized for four extension staff and six co-op members. The project selected and trained ten Bedouin facilitators to become liason officers between the project and the local community. It is worth mentioning that Bedouin facilitators played a very important role in disseminating the project conservation message to individuals of different socio-economic backgrounds, age and gender every month. In addition, the project staff made several trips and held several meetings with Bedouin communities, in order to assess the true extension needs where on-the-spot advice on animal health issues, range problems, fuel gathering and other environmental awareness matters were given. Several training sessions, especially for children and women, were also regularly organized during the projectís duration.
The project also tested a number of livelihood improvement activities, such as eco-tourism and, in so doing, an ecotourism strategy for ATWR as an ecotourism destination was formulated. Income-generating activities were developed, such as tailoring and medicinal plant commercialization, specifically addressing Bedouin households. With the Education Centre finalized, the project, which has completed activities in April 2004, has also developed educational initiatives and produced a large amount of communication materials. This includes nine leaflets, a flipchart for primary school children, several brochures, leaflets, posters, ten radio messages and five short videos. A CD-ROM and a Website on the projectís activities were also produced.
An additional contribution of US$40000 was granted by the Government of Italy to allow the production of the Arabic and Italian version of the documentary on the Ďbald ibisí.