Promoting sustainable rangeland management

ICARDA works with communities across West Asia to enhance the productivity of rangelands

A sustainable rangeland management initiative —including planning, improved seeding, and periodic resting— illustrated how such projects can improve both the agricultural landscape and the economic outlook of its inhabitants.

Suffering from a ‘crisis of the commons,’ rangelands across the dry areas have been overgrazed by ill-managed livestock breeding and land management schemes. Overgrazing has often led to erosion, further soil degradation and to poorer livelihoods for pastoralists and agro-pastoralists.

In an effort to ensure long-term agricultural viability for Bedouin inhabitants, ICARDA and its partners used data gathered from pre-conflict Syria to evaluate the adoption of sustainable rangeland management practices (SRMPs) targeting pastoral lowlands (landscape depressions), with an emphasis on providing better technical interventions and incentives that would allow for long-term restoration of the land. Three SRMPs were recommended as optional management alternatives to the current system:

  • Periodic resting. Creating a protected area for two years, so that natural vegetation can recover.
  • Direct seeding or broadcasting. Planting hardy shrubs best suited to agro-ecological climes with zero-tillage methods to decrease erosion.
  • Shrub transplantation. While highest in cost, this method involves planting already-nurtured seedlings in order to promote faster bio-mass creation in a shorter amount of time.

The authors of “Financial incentives: Possible options for sustainable rangeland management?” postulated in their study that a combination of the methods above would lead to increased shrub areas and better grazing and agro-economic opportunities for the Bedouin communities.

However, they found that without attractive financial incentives for what is, in essence, a long-term investment with long-term pay-offs, communities — which without incentives were likely to prefer drought- and erosion-vulnerable barley crops — would be unlikely to implement such changes. However, as the study notes, SRMPs could lead to carbon sequestration, flood erosion control, conservation of native biodiversity, and better economic results for inhabitants. The study has implications for rangeland communities throughout West Asia and beyond.

Funding was provided by the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock Agri-Food Systems and OPEC Fund for International Development.