Tenure and grazing

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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

What cultivar?

 How does your medic grow?


  250 mm  to 150 mm



Below 200  mm

Rangeland overview

Action plan for flockowners

Water harvesting

 Physical and use characteristics.

The Marginal Zone has between 250 and 150 mm of average rainfall.

It was formerly rangeland but has become extensively cultivated for cereal production over the last several decades.

The cultivators are frequently former nomadic pastoralists who have lost their flocks due to drought and have turned to marginal cropping in desperation.

Energy surplus

The cultivation is mostly mechanised and is therefore able to break the first law of thermo-botanics.

When animal traction was used cultivation was limited by the constraint that energy output Grain and straw from cereals and pasture) must be more than energy input (human and animal work) over a number of seasons.

The animals used to carry out the cultivation had to produce more energy (in the form of surplus grain) than they consumed doing the work to justified the continuation of cereal production.

The animals would be grazed on the parcour and cereal waste.

The cereal grain would be used for human consumption.

If the system failed to provide a positive energy surplus for the cultivator growing cereals would be abandoned.

Now cheap mechanised power is available and a new balance has been created that depends on the cost of tractors and low-priced fuel.

Decline in fertility

 When the rangeland was first cultivated the cereal crops were reasonable because of the years of accumulated fertility under grazing conditions.

That was quickly expended and crops are now very poor indeed.

In most years they fail to produce a sufficient yield to be considered worth harvesting and are grazed or sold for grazing. While crop failure is almost universally blamed on lack of rainfall the lack of soil fertility is of equal importance.

The low and variable rainfall means that the risks of failure are too high to allow nitrogen fertilisers to be used economically.

In parts of this zone in Tunisia tenure is being claimed using olive trees instead of annual crops.

The planting of olive trees in such marginal rainfall areas is risky and yields are erratic.

The land between the widely spaced trees is cultivated to destroy plant growth.

This is an effective method of excluding flocks but is creating the potential for more serious wind and water erosion.

Interest groups with a stake in the zone.


    The former nomadic pastoralists have used the traditional respect for a cultivated crop to claim de facto tenure.

The tradition that flocks do not graze cultivated cereal crops until after harvest is very strong in all the WANA countries and among pastoralists of all ethnic backgrounds.

Cultivation and sowing of a crop allows the cultivator to claim exclusive rights over the land for a large part of the year. Even if the crop fails to produce grain it can be grazed or sold.

Cultivation is the key to this claim.

Cultivation is costly and the major cause of soil erosion.

Nomadic flockowners.

    Nomadic flockowners pass through the zone on their way to the cereal stubbles in the arable zone.

They use the zone as a parking area in the spring for their flocks as they wait for the cereal harvest to be completed.

They graze areas that have not been cultivated.

They purchase crops from cultivators and they feed grain to their animals.

In the autumn they move their flocks into the rangeland and pass through the marginal zone.

As there is little to eat the passage is rapid.


    They have similar community welfare concerns for cultivators and nomadic pastoralists as in the rangeland although this zone is more accessible and the cultivators are sedentary which makes the provision of services slightly easier.

    The landcare concerns are more acute.

The cultivation of the land is causing an even greater rate of erosion and dust pollution than in the rangeland.

The cultivation is also totally useless (from a technical viewpoint) as more feed could be produced from legume pastures without cultivation.

The feeding of grain is more intense in this zone which creates feedlots of even more severe overgrazing.

Existing tenure.

    The cultivators are claiming the cultivated areas within the Marginal Zone using the traditional rules surrounding the cultivation and sowing of a cereal crop.

The ancient tradition respects a cultivated crop as the private property of the cultivator for the year that the cultivation was carried out.

Once the cultivator has utilised the crop (by harvesting it or grazing it or both) it reverts to public or common grazing.

This is an extremely wasteful and environmentally damaging way to claim tenure. 

In this zone the rainfall is low and unreliable.

Crop yields are low and crops frequently fail completely due to lack of rainfall. The fertility of the soil is now low and the erratic rainfall makes the use of nitrogen fertiliser too risky.

The system only continues because tractor power is cheap.

In the past the first law of thermo-botanics limited the cultivation of this zone.

It was not worth putting in more human and animal energy into the crop than was produced by the crop.

Tractors have changed that relationship completely. Tractors allow farmers to put more energy into the growing of a crop than they receive in grain or pasture. Cheap tractor fuel is converted into expensive meat and converted most inefficiently.

Existing use

    The land is cultivated year after year (to make sure that tenure is retained) and a cereal is sown.

While grain is harvested in some years the major output is grazing either for the cultivator's flock or for sale to nomads.

There have been some attempts to prevent cultivation through legislation (for example Syria) but this is difficult to enforce and is an abrupt method of control that can lead to other problems.

When cultivation is stopped the land does not return back up the ecological path it went down but is often invaded by unpalatable weeds.

These unpalatable weeds have often gained a foothold in the degraded land and can multiple quickly while the better species have disappeared completely or almost completely.

A more gradual approach of substituting a sown pasture for cultivation could prevent the weed invasion.

Why change?

If the land was converted to a legume pasture based mainly on medic and fertilised with phosphate fertiliser:-

    * Production could be increased two or three times.

    * There would be large savings in cost as the land would not be cultivated and cereal seed would not be purchased or saved each year.

    * The land would be protected from erosion and dust pollution reduced.

    All the interested parties would gain.

    * The farmer or cultivator would have a larger amount of pasture to use and sell.

He would make more profit particularly as the cost would be lower.

    * The flockowner would have more and better pasture to purchase.

Once the medic pastures expanded the price per feed unit would fall.

The cultivator would still increase his profits from larger amounts at lower costs but the purchase would benefit too from lower prices per unit of feed.

Even without a fall in unit cost of feed the flockowner would still benefit from purchasing more pasture rather than more expensive grain.

    * The nation would benefit from less erosion and the local community in particular from less dust pollution.

Such a win - win scenario should provide a strong incentive for change.

    A major difficulty is to develop a tenure system that allows the person who sows the pasture in the first instance and then fertilises it in subsequent years to claim grazing rights in spite of the fact that it is "not cultivated" land and therefore open to public grazing.

It is possible to muddle through with a second best grazing management system for the first year (see  Pastures and grazing ) or even for a few years but the tenure problems must be resolved in the longer term.

Tenure options

   * No change to State land

In the past there has been a reluctance on the part of governments to grant titles of any kind to cultivators in the marginal zone.

They have seen the cultivators as squatters on public land and have been reluctant to give State endorsement through land titles to these squatter.

Governments have also been concerned about land speculation. Both these concerns can be tackled through the conditional lease system (see below)

The concern that the squatters are receiving a title to State land is off-set by the conditions on the lease which demand that the owner of the lease is forced to improve, develop and manage pasture on the land and reduce erosion in return for a continuation of the lease.

It is not a simple gift of State endorsement to the squatters but a contract with obligation on both sides.

Additional conditions can be applied to the leases concerning the form of ownership.

For example, the lease can have conditions regarding  "owner occupier" or "family farmer." Outside corporate groups or large land owners are prevented from accumulate holdings by these condition unlike the Australian rangeland where there are no restrictions.

If such owner occupier conditions were imposed on the leases it would not restrict the ability of the lease holder to mortgage the lease for an investment loan.

The bank or other lender could still foreclose on the mortgage if it is in default.

The bank would acquire the lease but would fail the review (see below) as a condition of the lease is that the owner is an owner occupier or family farmer.

The bank must sell the lease to some one who satisfies these conditions or risk failing the next review in five years.

If the bank ignores the condition it will fail all the reviews over the 25 years of the lease and the lease will be cancelled.

    * Freehold title

At the other end of the scale are those policy makers who wish to grant freehold title with no restrictions of any kind.

They claim that only freehold title will give owners security of tenure for investment and bank security for loans.

This is not true as the Australian experience has shown.

Banks are prepared to lend on long-term leases as these leases are in effect perpetual provided the owner fulfils a few conditions.

While the development of pasture may seem obvious as it is so beneficial to the lease holder (see above) that is not always sufficient.

Some additional pressure through lease reviews will hasten the pace of change.

Again and again it has been shown in the WANA region and elsewhere that economic incentives are not always sufficient to push forward the process of change.

    We live in a part of Italy where farm land was abandoned in the 1950s and early 1960s when small scale cereal farming was no longer economic. In spite of many economic incentives to introduce other land uses most of this land is still abandoned.

    * Farming by regulation

    Other policy makers place their faith in legislation on land use to force change.

This side steps the question of land tenure.

These policy makers have persuaded politicians to pass laws that forbid cultivation or impose some other conditions on the cultivators and flockowners.

This approach has many difficulties.

It is difficult to pass laws that suit all the diverse environments of the marginal zone.

As stated above it is in every ones' interest to stop cultivation in the  zone but wadi beds are an exception where small areas of cereals can be grown in rotation with pastures. The complexity of such detail can be better handled in individual conditional leases than general laws.

Another problem is the application of penalties.

If a cultivator disobeys the law and continues to cultivate the land what is the appropriate penalty.

Should he be fined?

Should he go to prison?

Will these penalties help the development of alternative land use?

We stated above that to stop cultivating the land completely without a replacement pasture may not always be the best strategy.

A conditional lease allows a more gradual approach.

For example a conditional lease may require a minimum of 25% to be in pasture after five years and another 25% every five years after that.

Conditional leases are more likely to be accepted by cultivators and hence carry less political risk.

Introducing a law to forbid cultivation requires a high level of acceptance.

If all the cultivators decide to disobey and protest there is little that the government can do.

The idea of enforcement against universal opposition is unreal in all but the most authoritarian states such as the Soviet Union.

A conditional lease should include the majority within the conditions.

Only a minority will fail.

They will not fail completely and have a further opportunity to return to full tenure.

As long as the majority can be taken along a step by step path to improvement the risks to the government are low.

If those who fail are reduced until only a small group fail completely the government will have achieved its objective of sustainable development without social disruption.

Conditional leases as a new form of tenure.

    Conditional leases (can be called Environmental leases, Landcare leases, Cooperative grazing leases or whatever conditions are most important in the lease) are a useful means of providing tenure and assisting in the change of land use. Again it is important to emphasise that tenure changes are only a part of the package that includes pasture development, grazing management and investment.

A conditional lease is structured as follows: -

(a) The occupier of the cultivated land in the marginal zone is given a 25 year lease to the land.

The 25 year term is only an example based on long-term mortgages. It can be longer or shorter.

(b) The lease can be sold, transferred and mortgaged.

Unlike most of the rangeland this is a realistic option as other people are willing to take over the land.

In the rangeland it is unlikely that a flock owning group could be removed from their grazing path by a bank who acquired the grazing path through the foreclosure of a mortgage.

In the marginal zone the lease could be sold and other cultivators found for the land.

(c) The government cannot revoke the lease for the full 25 years. It is the absolute property of the lease holder.

(d) Conditions are placed on the lease.

These will be discussed in detail below.

(e) At the end of 5 years and every 5 years after that the lease is reviewed to see if the conditions are being met.

If they are being met the lease is renewed for 5 years.

At the next review the lease will be renewed again provided the lease holder continues to meet the conditions.

In effect the lease becomes perpetual (like freehold) provided the conditions are met at each review.

(f) If the conditions are not met at the five year review the lease is not renewed for another five years.

There is still 20 years in the lease.

The owner can sell the lease at this stage at a discounted value to another owner or attempt to meet the conditions before the next review.

(g) If the conditions are met at the second year review (at 10 years and 15 year left to run on the lease) the lease is renewed for a full 10 years back to the original 25 years.

(h) If the lease is mortgaged and the owner defaults on payments the lender can foreclose and take the lease as payment for the loan.

(i) If the owner fails at every 5 year review for the full 25 years the lease is cancelled.

(j) The lease can include some fees but at this stage it is unlikely that fees will be anything but token payments.

 Lease conditions.

    * For the cultivator

    The conditions on the lease are a means of resolving the interests of the various groups that have a stake in the land.

Obviously the cultivator will own the lease and be in the most powerful position but this only reflects the present reality.

The government will wish to see the land converted to pasture and will want conditions that insist on a pasture development program and a cessation of cultivation for nearly all the land.

Wadi beds could be exempt, as erosion is slight.

They are the best soils and with additional run-off water can produce worthwhile cereal yields for the household grain requirements of the cultivator.

 The government may also wish to apply restrictions on ownership that were discussed above.

These conditions could prevent the accumulation of large holdings or the development of absentee ownership. Applied sensibly these conditions should not restrict the ability of the owner to raise mortgages on the lease.

The lease conditions are not the same as development objectives.

For example it may be the objective of a development project in the marginal zone to convert more than 50% of the cultivated land to pasture over 5 years.

The lease conditions should be set much lower.

If 50% is achieved on average, some cultivators will be over 50% and some below.

If the lease condition is set at 25% for instance it should isolate and pressurise a small group who have failed to make a substantial effort.

The majority have achieved a satisfactory review and have had their leases renewed and should have little sympathy for those who have failed.

    * For flockowners

    The most difficult conditions to negotiate will be those required by the nomads.

They are the people who will challenge the tenure granted by the lease once cultivation stops.

The flockowners will need grazing access (for which they are already prepared to pay) but on what conditions.

It is certainly in the interests of the lease owner to have the nomadic flocks to utilise surplus pasture in good years but the nomads will want better rights and a share of the pasture even in bad years.

These negotiations may appear to be difficult but there are some optimistic factors.

The cultivators and the nomads are culturally similar.

Outsiders may see this as a "cowboy and farmer" dispute as described in the US wild west but that is a false analogy as the cultivators are already selling pasture to the nomads.

If it can be explained to the nomads that there will be more and better pasture (and perhaps even cheaper) the nomads will have an incentive to agree.

The idea of the cereal fence (Pastures and grazing ) can also be explored.

These fences require the cultivation and sowing of barriers around pasture areas and can be a useful transitional measure.

Institutional changes.

    In the long term there will need to be many institutional changes but it may be possible to begin without them through individual agreements.

(i) The leases will be defined pieces of land and will need to be registered.

(ii) Many areas will be disputed. The claims will need to be registered and a mechanism of land courts to resolve them.

(iii) Procedures for establishing and changing conditions need to be set up.

(iv) Review systems and appeals against adverse reviews will be needed.

The role of fences.

    Some outsiders see fences (real fences not temporary cereal fences) as playing an important part in grazing management.

Fences in western countries play a dual role.

They define boundaries and they act as barriers for livestock.

They are mechanised shepherds.

In the marginal zone of the WANA region there is no current need for fences.

The boundaries can be marked more cheaply by some stones or a natural feature.

Livestock are more efficiently and cheaply herded using shepherds.

Fences will not survive unless they are accepted by all parties.

If they are not accepted they are cut. If they are accepted there is no need for them.