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Rangeland survey in the framework of pastoral development

by S.A. RISOPOULOS *

(*) F.A.O. Expert.

SUMMARY

Survey is an important tool in the process of pastoral development. Past surveys have contributed significantly to the knowledge of the range environment. However, they have not been used as much as they could have been. The author insists on integrating in the survey all factors of range production, and particularly sociological and economic factors.

If development programmes can be implemented with the present knowledge, range development, like any other, will benefit from the simultaneous use of studies and action. Surveys have to respond to needs; the integration of production factors and the scope of the survey will be different in the case of a general inventory at the national level which will identify broad ecological types and areas which require more detailed studies, from a more limited pre-development survey where socio-economic factors play a major role. To better define their needs and best utilise survey results, the governments should have a range development policy and a specialised technical service. As the detailed knowledge of the production factors frequently requires long-term investigations, range surveys will help to identify research programmes. It remains to define the best monitoring methods of range surveys to complement normal range surveys done at a point in time.

F.A.O. is interested in the conclusions of the present seminar; the first conference organised by F.A.O. on Grassland Management and Fodder Production in Africa South of the Sahara (Nairobi 1969) made recommendations dealing with range surveys. More recently, a F.A.O./U.N.E.P. Conference on the Ecological Management of Arid and Semi-arid Rangelands in Africa and the Near and Middle East (Rome, February 1975) recommended the establishment of an international cooperative programme (E.M.A.S.A.R.), the technical secretariat of which has been entrusted to F.A.O., and where range surveys and training projects will have their place.

1. Rangeland survey is an important tool in the rangeland development process. Although investments have been in general very limited in the range sector, some countries have made a great effort to finance rangeland studies and surveys, which have not always resulted in tangible benefits. On the other hand, many countries, which have a substantial part of their total land surface composed of rangelands, have only fragmentary surveys or do not have any at all, apart from botanical collections.

2. The concern of national and international institutions for the state of degradation of rangelands, particularly arid and semi-arid zones **, will put the onus on the decision-makers and the technicians who will undertake rangeland surveys, as to their common understanding of the most efficient and least costly methods of survey able to ensure a rational basis of range development. It is likely that in the future the responsibility of range survey technicians will come to the fore, taking into account the favourable increase of the demand and the expectation which will be put on range surveys.

(**) Cf. the F.A.O./U.N.E.P. Programme on the Ecological Management of Arid and Semi-arid Rangelands in Africa, the Near and Middle East. Report of the Expert Consultation (May 1974). Report of the Conference on the Formulation of an International Cooperative Programme (February 1975).

3. Range survey types and methods are numerous, and it is to be hoped that this seminar will bring information on the methods which have been used in the past, the problems which the survey was supposed to help resolve, and the cost and benefit ratio of the different survey methods.

4. Most of the surveys in the past have dealt with vegetation and soil. Generally, the definition of major units was based on soil distribution, and for each soil type a certain number of plant associations were identified. Very frequently the number of these associations was quite high, and this led to a detailed map which was used with difficulty by technicians in charge of planning or development. The major deficiency of most range surveys is the fact that they have seldom been used after their completion. Although this should not detract from the additional information they provide to the scientific knowledge of the environment, the need is, however, pressing to make them more practical and usable. FAO and more particularly, the above mentioned EMASAR programme, is highly interested in the planning of survey methods adapted to the needs of rangeland management and development. These needs do include the knowledge of physical factors of the environment and also of the socioeconomic factors.

5. If we examine in more detail the shortcomings of the past range management surveys, it is seen that soil, vegetation, water, and social and economic factors have been dealt with in a fragmentary way. For instance, in an area one may find a detailed and complete soil map, a more fragmentary map of the vegetation types and relationships between soil and vegetation, some study on underground water, and nothing on surface water, livestock density, land use types, marketing channels, etc. One of the first tasks that a planner will have to undertake is the inventory of past studies, the estimation of their usefulness and the identification of gaps in the knowledge of the physical and human environment which are likely to hamper the formulation of development programmes and projects. It is a fact that investments in the range sector have generally been slowed down by the lack of precise data on the range production factors. If, in many cases, development projects can be identified with the use of the existing knowledge, range development, like any other development, should benefit from a combination of actions and pre-development studies

6. Survey methods will have to respond to needs, and in each case careful attention should be given to how detailed the survey of physical and human factors will have to be. In the case of the countries which do not have a basic inventory of range resources, a quick survey of the major ecological units may help to identify areas where first development action and more detailed surveys should take place. The implementation procedure is open to discussion at this stage: one may consider that a map at the scale of 1:100,000 or 1:500,000 should suffice. This survey should be able to identify the major ecological units and indicate the areas best fit for range, crop or forestry production with the first indication of the potential, the water resources, the human and physical density, transhumance patterns and marketing channels. One subject of the present debate could be this type of survey, the means which have to be used to implement it, and the approximate cost per sq. km.

7. For the part of the national territory which has been identified as a priority area for range development, the same identification process of existing knowledge, needs and means, is to be conducted. The vegetation and soil map at 1:500,000 or at a smaller scale, as the case may be, could serve as a base, and this should be accompanied by more precise checks as regards human and livestock densities and underground and surface water. At this stage, the socio-economic factors have a paramount importance and studies have to be made on land use systems in range and crop areas, land appropriation systems, family incomes and the likelihood of the adoption of improved management methods by the population concerned.

8. At this stages arises the problem of monitoring as compared to survey done at a point in time. The last droughts have illustrated the important change which takes place from one year to another in the vegetative cover and in the forage yield per surface unit of arid and semi-arid rangeland. The rational use, associated or combined, of ground-checks, of remote sensing and such forms of remote sensing as satellite imagery, is still to be worked out for the rangelands. It should be possible to identify the most efficient and least costly method of recording the dynamics or trends of the vegetative cover of the rangelands and also of their water resources and human and livestock populations.

9. One has to consider that however practical and complete a survey has been, numerous production factors will require long-term investigations. The surveys are thus linked with the identification of programmes of applied range research and such orientative action projects as demonstration and pilot projects, as well as to development projects in general.

10. Finally, the problem of the use of survey results has to be faced. Even if surveys have been particularly good, a government can only fully use them if there exist a range development policy and a responsible and qualified range service. This presupposes an increased effort for the training of manpower in the fields of survey but also in the fields of extension, planning and research. It is in the function of its absorptive and financial capabilities as well as of the obsolescence factor of different survey types that a government should establish its survey requirements.

11. As already mentioned, FAO is particularly interested in the solution of the problems mentioned above because of the fact that the organization has been associated for many years with the process of range development in numerous countries of Africa and other parts of the world. These projects have dealt with demonstration, investment, education and training research and surveys; in the latter case these were directly executed or sub-contracted. During the first ad hoc " Conference on Grassland Management and Fodder Production in Africa South of the Sahara", organized by FAO (Nairobi 1969), the following recommendations were made: "The Conference considered that African Governments should give high priority to range surveys. Furthermore, owing to the complexity and hugeness of African grassland, and the urgent need for in-service training and the use of the most efficient means and methods of integrated resource surveys, it endorses the creation of integrated permanent Range Survey Teams to be engaged in African grassland survey".

12. FAO and UNEP have agreed more recently to promote the formulation of an international programme on the ecological management of arid and semi-arid rangelands in Africa and the Near and Middle East. This project was implemented in two phases: an expert consultation held in May 1974 and a Conference in February 1975, held in Rome. This Conference recommended the establishment of an international cooperative programme dealing with the above-mentioned regions, under the acronym EMASAR. One of the recommendations of the conference was that EMASAR assist governments upon request in arranging appropriate surveys essential for the elaboration of development plans and schemes and, subject to the consent of the country concerned, assist in collecting and disseminating required data and information. FAO is therefore interested in the conclusions of this seminar and ready to collaborate in their implementation.


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