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Farming zones in WANA

Overview of the zone





  ABOVE 500 mm


     500 mm  to 200 mm 

    Medic overview

Deep ploughing overview

Farmers' Guide to cereals and pasture

Farmer training kits

This is a major section of the site

What cultivar?

 How does your medic grow?


  250 mm  to 150 mm

 Tenure and grazing management


Below 200  mm

Rangeland overview

Action plan for flockowners

Water harvesting


 Physical and use characteristics.

The rainfall in the arable zone is usually between 250 and 500 mm but sometimes above. The 250 mm line merges with the marginal zone. The 500 mm is only a broad indication as the zone extends into high rainfall areas where the topography is suitable for cultivation.

In most of the Maghreb the 500 mm line is approximately the line where mountains become too steep for cultivation although there are still small areas that are arable.

The land is cultivated for a variety of annual crops but mostly wheat and barley. The most common rotation is a year of cereal and a year of cultivated fallow. The farms have some livestock, which graze on fallow, cereals stubbles and parcour.

The zone is refered to as the cereal zone but the area of parcour is often greater than the area that is cultivated for cereals. The parcour has been almost completely neglected but provides a considerable opportunity for improved grazing and animal production.

The last fifty years has seen the agricultural crisis deepen in the arable zone due to the introduction of inappropriate mechanisation and exploitative rotations. Before then the rotation was a year of cereals followed by a year of weedy fallow.

The cultivation of the fallow in the spring improved weed control and made soil nitrogen available for the crop at first. In the long term no more soil nitrogen was returned to the soil, fertility declined and erosion increased because the soil is bare for six months every two years.

Attempts to break out of this cycle of declining fertility and increasing erosion have failed because at the same time (fifty years ago) deep ploughing with tractors replaced shallow cultivation with animal power.

Deep ploughing is a technology well suited to the wheat bowl of northern France but has proved a barrier to more profitable and environmentally sound farming in the Maghreb and West Asia. The deep ploughing prevents the use of legume pastures on the fallow. It also makes the use of grain legumes and annual legume forage difficult and costly.

Government policy for the arable zone has been aimed at self-sufficiency in cereals.

Pasture and livestock have been neglected. Generally these policies have not been a success.

Algeria has been the least successful. Attempts to increase cereal output particularly intensive wheat have reduced pasture production and increased cereal imports for livestock feeding.

The net effect has been increased cereal imports and degraded land. (Dyson 1999)

Interest groups with a stake in the zone.


Most of the arable area is now privately owned although there is still some ambiguity about the form of tenure for the former colonist land in Algeria and Tunisia.

 Nomadic pastoralists.

They come into the zone during the summer to graze the cereal stubbles after harvest.

This grazing is now arranged on a cooperative basis and the nomads usually make some payment.

 Other pastoralists.

Traditionally grazing of non-cultivated land has been available to all flocks. While this remains a problem in some West Asian countries (Jordan in particular) the consensus is that in the Maghreb farmers can control the incursion of outside animals.


Governments have similar welfare concerns. Again the small farmers are one of the poorest sectors of society.

The provision of services is easier than the other two zones because of the greater density of population.

Governments are concerned that the under-utilisation of cultivated fallow means lower income for farmers and more imports of livestock products for the nation.

Governments are concerned that the fallow is the major cause of soil erosion and dust pollution.

Financial Institutions.

Most governments in the region are hoping for greater private investment in agricultural development.

The cheapest and easiest means of securing loans is by mortgages on land. This requires a tradable form of land tenure.

 Existing tenure

The tenure "hot spot" is the old colonial farms. They represent the best and most fertile land.

After independence these were either sold to private owners (for example in Morocco) or converted into state or cooperative farms as in Algeria and Tunisia.

Changing political philosophies over the last few decades has led to a shift towards private ownership of this land but there are a number of issues that remain unresolved.

 Existing use

The arable land is farmed for cereals.

These are harvested for grain that is used by the family or sold.

Cereals are also cut for hay and sold to pastoralists.

The rotation is one year of cereal and one of cultivated fallow.

The potential for increased production through the utilisation of the fallow for pasture, forage or grain legumes is considerable.

While there may be some problems with the owner claiming the use of pasture which has not been sown (regarded traditionally as common grazing) these are considered by most observers to be insignificant and certainly many degrees of magnitude less important than in Jordan.

Tenure changes are not needed to gain control of grazing on private farms as in the Marginal Zone.

 Conditional leases as a tenure option.

These could be used in the Arable Zone to resolve the political debate over the social structure of farming.

The conflicting directions are: -

(i) Commercial loans.

Public funds are not so readily available for agriculture as they were in the past for the state and cooperative farms and the new farmers will need loans from commercial banks.

The banks are looking for a title that can be easily mortgaged and sold in a liquid land market if the borrower defaults.

(ii) Family farms.

Many people are concerned that a liquid land market will lead to large land holdings. That previous land reform will be reversed and the bulk of the rural population will become workers for large landowners.

A conditional lease (in this case called perhaps a Family Farm lease) could resolve these opposing views.

The same basic structure would apply (see Marginal zone tenure for basic structure) but instead of conditions that required a more sustainable farming system (although these could be included) the major conditions would apply to the owner. 

The owner would need to be a family or individual with strong links to the operations of the farm

(a) Farmers mortgages leased property to bank

(b) Bank forecloses because of failure to repay

(c) Bank acquires remainder of lease absolutely

(d) At 5 year review the lease is not renewed because not "family owned".

(e) Bank must sell lease on to "family owner" or risk cancellation at the end of 25 years.

Libya has insisted on owners of land reform farms being occupiers and workers.

In addition the conditional lease could be used to prevent excessive sub division of family farms (as for example in Jordan) by establishing a system whereby heirs under the Sharia inheritance laws can be easily registered as "tenants in common" with designated shares in the undivided property but these shares would not automatically lead to the division of the land and the lease. "Tenants in common" have designated but undivided share of a property.

Fragmentation of farms is potentially a severe problem in the Maghreb because of the high level of mechanisation.

Algeria has double the number of tractors per hectare compared to Australia. (Chatterton & Chatterton 1998) Other Maghreb countries are not as mechanised.

Small farmers do not have the economies of scale if they buy tractors.

Animal traction is also expensive. The profit from keeping 10 sheep instead of I mule is considerable and is an opportunity cost for animal traction.

 Partial and short-term tenure.

Share farming and short-term leases have been considered exploitative in land tenure circles over many decades.

Many countries have tried to ban them, restrict them or perhaps tolerate them with great reluctance.

They were exploitative because they were undertaken by two parties with vastly unequal power.

The landowner had the land and access to capital while the small farmers and landless workers had nothing but their own labour which was in a weak competitive position as the market was oversupplied.

Rural society has changed and is continuing to change rapidly in the Maghreb and West Asia. Many small farmers or their adult sons are migrating to the cities or overseas. At times they leave their families behind.

Flexible arrangements for share farming and short-term leasing are needed so the migrating and resident populations can exchange resources of labour, land and machinery on an equitable basis.

It is important to avoid the mistakes that were made in Italy during the 1950's when a range of laws were introduced to protect small share farmers from exploitation.

At that time they were migrating in large numbers to the cities and their previously poor bargaining position in the labour market was altering rapidly. Land use became rigid and the opportunity for a number of small cereal farms to be leased as a single large livestock farm was lost. Instead all the farmers migrated to urban centres and large areas of land were abandoned to scrub.

More flexible leasing or share farming arrangements could have allowed a few to remain as larger livestock farmers.

Migration is taking place in the Maghreb and flexible arrangements are needed so farmers who work elsewhere can lease or share farm their land with neighbours.

Small farmers are also under considerable pressure from mechanisation. Economies of scale for machinery are such that harvesters in particular are well beyond the purchasing power of small farmers.

Share farming arrangements between small farmers and machinery contractors can provide an attractive alternative to the payment of fees as risk is more evenly shared between the parties. It is important to include investment in mechanisation in any analysis as the old relationship between capital (mostly land) and labour has changed so radically to become a relationship between capital in land and capital in machinery on which the labour element depends.


Physical and use characteristics.

This is the land that is permanently not cultivated.  It is used for grazing and forestry and is usually publicly owned.

The parcour is overgrazed due to higher livestock prices (as in the rangeland) and increased population pressures but the pasture problem is mostly attributable to institutional neglect.

While this country is seen as highly productive in Australia and New Zealand and is the source of surplus sheep for export to the Mediterranean region it has been neglected not just in the Maghreb and West Asia but in the countries to the north.

The problem in these northern countries (Sardinia, Corsica and parts of France and Italy such as the Abruzzi) is that agricultural research was directed to the arable areas and livestock production on feedlots.

The hills were neglected and the population deserted the countryside. Now there are few people interested in the development of pastures in these hill regions, as it is too late to save their populations from migration.

 Interest groups with a stake in the zone.

(i) Local farmers.

They graze their flocks on the parcour where grazing is usually very poor due to a lack of investment in fertiliser and pasture.

As they are usually common grazing lands it is difficult to develop these areas.

(ii) Forestry.

Most forestry has been carried out by the state in the past and while they are part of the government the Ministries of Forests have acquired their own independent agendas.

Now there are attempts to subsidise private interests into undertaking forestry programs.

These forestry schemes can cause conflict as they expel grazing flocks.

(iii) Government.

There has been a surprising lack of interest by governments in this zone.

They have seen it as the Ministry of Forestry's territory.

Governments have with a few exceptions not seen the potential for improved grazing and improved income for small farmers.

The government has many environmental concerns. The parcour is also the catchment of dams and overgrazing of the common pastures leads to erosion and silting.

 Existing tenure.

The land belongs to the government but unlike the vast open spaces of the rangeland the government can enforce its ownership and displace the existing users.

Some of the land is traditional forest but where forests are being expanded onto community grazing lands there is a potential for conflict.

This conflict has been expressed in Sardinia by pastoralists burning new forests to re-establish their grazing areas.

Existing use.

Where the land is not forest it is being used for community grazing.

The parcour stretches across all zones but in the high rainfall zone where the land-use conflict with forestry is most acute the pasture option is being largely disregarded because of a failure to develop a tenure and management system.

In spite of the high rainfall, pasture productivity is often extremely low because of low soil fertility, lack of some trace element, poor pasture species or a combination of all these factors.

The pasture development at Sejnane in northern Tunisia (Jaritz 1982) showed that this type of parcour could be developed with sown and fertilised pasture to carry between 8 and 10 times more livestock than the natural parcour.

The parcour areas are usually grazed by the animals of small farmers (at least in the higher rainfall zone) who cultivate the arable land in the valleys etc.

They have small numbers of animals (a few cattle and perhaps a dozen sheep) and any attempt to divide the parcour into separate grazing farms based on their existing use would be costly and impractical to manage.

Tenure options for the parcour.

The tenure conflict is not only between the government as the owner of the land and the users.

There is an additional layer of difficulty between the users.

Considerable economies of scale can be achieved by managing these parcours as reasonably large areas (as much as a hundred hectares) and it would be most efficient to convert the existing user rights into some share of a cooperative grazing area rather than attempting subdivision.

Management systems and tenure for the farmers in the cooperative need to developed as well as the cooperative's own tenure of the parcour.

In addition to the usual problems of forming an effective management structure, the cooperatives must include women.

This is not just a question of equity, important as that is, but also a question of practical management.

The population density in the high rainfall regions is high, the farms are small and many of the male farmers migrate to find work in the cities or overseas in Europe.

Women and children run the farms and tend the livestock. If women are not included in the development of the management plans these plans will have little support among the people who have to implement them.

 Price of failure.

(i) Migration.

Small farmers are already finding it difficult to produce an income sufficient to keep their families. The price of sheep meat is extremely high in the WANA region and even a small flock (by European standards) of 100 sheep with a good lambing percentage will provide an income equal to the average wage of city workers.

If flocks could be increased to this size (not unrealistic if the parcour is developed) migration would be reduced and local communities would become more prosperous.

(ii) Forest fires.

If the parcour is not developed into improved pasture there will be increased pressure to plant forests.

This may be a sound economic decision, as good forests will return more than poor pasture but more forests will still be resented by current users. Deliberately lit fires may increase in frequency.

(iii) Landcare.

While forestry provides a better plant cover than poorly managed parcour a well-managed pasture can provide good soil protection.


Changes to land tenure can play an important part in the agricultural development of the Maghreb and West Asia region provided tenure is used as part of a package of technical and financial measures.

Tenure alone is unlikely to resolve present land use problems.

In the rangeland and marginal or agro-pastoral zone tenure is a vital ingredient in a package of pasture development measures.

Tenure can also be useful in determining the social structure of the agricultural society.

Improved tenure of the parcour for small farmers in the densely populated hill country would provide a base for pasture improvement and greatly increased income.