Tenure and investment

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* Physical and use characteristics.

        The rangeland is the zone below about 200 mm of average rainfall and is not cultivated.

It is used for grazing mainly by sheep, although there are some goats and camels.

Below 100 mm of rainfall the rangeland becomes true desert.

Livestock species and grazing patterns change.

Above 200 mm of rainfall there is the marginal zone.

These rainfall figures are only a guide. Length of growing season is a better indicator but rainfall figures are more readily available.

The nature of the soil is also important and shallow and stony soils in slightly higher rainfall areas will not be cultivated and will remain rangeland.

The rangeland throughout the WANA region is eroded and the vegetation degraded.

This has occurred over the last fifty years and is due to the lower real cost of grain supplementary feed and higher returns for livestock products.

Fifty years ago livestock numbers were in balance on average with pasture production because periodic droughts caused widespread deaths among animals. After a drought the pasture recovered under a light grazing regime. (Sa'd Abujaber 1989)

Over the last fifty years the price of fresh sheep meat has continually increased in price and even in real terms.

Sheep meat in Algeria when related to average wages is the most expensive in the world. (Chatterton & Chatterton 1998)

At the same time grain prices have declined in real terms.

It is now a sound management strategy to feed sheep grain rather than allow them to die.

Another factor that causes local over-grazing is cheap road transport that allows flocks to be moved away from areas of drought to other pastures before the livestock die.

They are then moved rapidly back again when there is rain and some pasture but before it has fully recovered. The traditional grazing pattern with overlapping grazing paths has not been able to cope with the new economic regime.

    "The tragedy of the commons" is not the cause of the decline of the rangeland.

After all the rangeland in the WANA region has been a common property resource for many thousands of years and has survived reasonably well.

The common property nature of the WANA rangeland has contributed to the current crisis once the new economic factors removed the old limits on livestock populations

    All these factors have combined to ensure a constant high level of grazing on the rangeland pastures with no opportunities for recovery. The ecological degradation has been severe. Perennial plants have disappeared unless they are so unpalatable that are not grazed. Annuals have also become degraded with weedy species becoming dominant.

Interested groups with a stake in the rangeland zone.


    The most important group is the nomadic flockowners who use the rangeland for winter grazing.

The flocks move into the rangeland rapidly in the autumn from the cereal zone and then move gradually back to the slightly higher rainfall marginal zone in late winter and spring as pastures are eaten out and water supplies run low in the rangeland.

In summer the flocks graze cereal stubbles in the arable zone.


The government has many interests in the rangeland.

    It has interests that relate to the flockowners.

They are often the poorest sector of society and have limited access to health and education. Governments are concerned and attempt to improve income and services.

The government in some instances makes grain supplies available to flockowners at subsidised prices.

Originally this was done as a response to the most immediate symptoms of drought but in most cases has become a permanent policy.

Grain subsidies have become a severe burden on government revenues and WANA governments are seeking means to reduce them.

The government is also interested in the landcare of the zone.

Over-grazing has removed most of the vegetation and the land is being severely eroded by wind and water.

Besides the general desire to conserve the land resource, the degradation of the zone is a major cause of dust pollution in cities and towns in high rainfall zones.

 Tourist operators.

    These have a stake in the area and could provide additional income for flockowners and employment.

Livestock in the rangeland can be sold to tourists with considerable added value in the form of meals.

The vehicles used by tourists also cause environmental damage but at present this is comparatively slight in relation to the damage caused by over grazing.

  * Existing tenure

    Pastoralists or flockowners in the rangeland already have effective tenure.

This is certainly not the view of most outside experts but as far as the pastoralists themselves are concerned they have the right to graze the zone.

In law the government claims the rangeland is national land, but no one has tried to dispossess the pastoralists since the Italians in Libya confined them to camps.

Talking to government officials it is also clear that no government has the political will or the means to dispossess the nomads.

In any case without an alternative group to take over the rangeland there would be no sense in doing so.

  * Existing use

    The rangeland is grazed as a common property pasture but again there is considerable misunderstanding among outside experts as to the nature of the common property.

Much of the economic modelling on common property pasture is based on the thesis of random travel by various groups of pastoralists.

This form of random travel may occur in the true desert but for most of the rangeland (as defined by the area with a seasonal rainfall of between 200 and 100 mm) nomads follow a "grazing path".

This is a defined route that is followed each year.

A grazing path is sometimes exclusive to one group of flockowners but more often over laps the grazing path of one or more groups.

For outsiders with a culture of land tenure based on defined boundaries a grazing path is a difficult, almost impossible concept, to understand.

    For example grazing path A (with modern transport the grazing path can and does leap over obstacles) will be grazed by group A along the core and another group B or perhaps two other groups B and C at its edges.

Of course grazing path B and C share parts of their land with grazing path A. Large parts of the rangeland can be defined as "belonging" to less than three groups of pastoralists not the whole community of flockowners.

This division into grazing paths is quite different from the completely free-for-all structure projected in the common property model.

Two or three groups is a manageable number of parties to re-negotiate their grazing paths.

    At Ma'in in Jordan (Jamil & Karem 1987) and J'Ravi (DDAJP 1985) in Iraq they have done that as one group has exchanged areas that were previously shared with the other so each has exclusive grazing over a part rather than common rights over it all.

    Grazing paths are represented by colours in the above chart which can be said to represent North Africa. In Jordan and Syria the farming zones are in the other direction. The grazing paths pass from zone to zone as follows:

    Autumn and Winter: Rangeland.

    Spring: Marginal Zone.

    Summer: Cereal Zone.

    Administrative units and project areas are usually based in a single zone.

They have an impact on many grazing paths but not the complete length of any path.

Grazing management will always be difficult as sheep will be moved more rapidly along the path to concentrate on the area of improved pasture.

Only by improving the grazing along the whole path in a rapid quantum leap in production can over- grazing of honey pots be avoided.

* Why change?

    The extreme rarity of these grazing path re-alignments in the WANA region shows that there is normally little incentive for the nomads to undertake long and tortuous negotiations to obtain exclusive rights to their own grazing path.

Exclusive rights would allow grazing management to be improved.

As the rangeland has become so severely degraded over the last several decades better grazing management alone will make little improvement to livestock productivity in the short term.

It is important to realise that grazing paths are not a string of Australian or American ranches under yet another disguise.

The essential distinction is that a ranch is grazed by reasonably stable number of sheep or cattle (natural increase and sale of surplus animals means that there is some variation during the course of the year) which browse the vegetation at a low grazing pressure.

The stocking rate is calculated as the number of animals per hectare as they are permanent residents for the whole year.

In the WANA region large flocks graze patches on a grazing path for short periods.

This is "vacuum cleaner" grazing.

Stock numbers in relation to the area (grazing pressure) are very high but only for short periods.

When the time factor is adjusted to an annual basis the effective stocking rate under the grazing path and ranch systems may be the same but the difference in grazing pressure has an enormous effect on the management of pasture.

To encourage nomads to negotiate "Grazing agreements" for all or parts of their grazing paths there needs to be a pasture development program that will produce a rapid increase in pasture production. (see  Action plan for flockowners  for more details of quantum leap in production)

This is a powerful incentive to establish a grazing management regime that allows the new pasture to survive.

  * Ingredients of the pasture program.

    The pasture must be suitable to the grazing method.

Ranches have been abandoned as a form of tenure throughout the WANA region because the social changes required by the nomads have been too great and because the new ranches have not had sufficient pasture to support the flocks.

That is the ranches are smaller than the former grazing paths.

In spite of abandoning the model, the technical fixes being suggested by research institutions are still biased towards a browsing system of grazing that only occurs on ranches.

A USAID project in the central Tunisian rangeland (FAO 1987) demonstrated clearly that perennial shrubs and cactus do not survive under "vacuum cleaner" grazing and the technical fixes have to be modified towards the planting of annual species of legumes that are resistant to short bursts of extremely heavy grazing.

The problem with perennial fodder shrubs is that the vegetation "on offer" represents many years of growth.

It must be browsed in a way that removes only one year of growth.

Annuals on the other hand can be "vacuum cleaned" as long as sufficient seed is left on the ground for them to regenerate.

Unless the project planners and technicians can be persuaded to develop pasture in tune with the existing "vacuum cleaner" grazing system the introduction of Grazing Agreements will have little chance of success.

As well the pasture programs must be large.

In the past when nomadic flocks have over-grazed an area the reaction of the project managers has been to increase the level of control.

Strict inspection and fierce penalties have been seen as the solution to over-grazing.

The Libyan projects at Wadi el Bab, Wadi Karuba and Benghazi Plains have shown there is an alternative. (Treasure 1982)

Instead of strict controls on grazing one can increase the area and amount of pasture.

These projects demonstrated that it is possible to sow tens of thousands of hectares of medic pasture in the rangeland in a single season.

They demonstrated that at least in the short term overgrazing could be solved by increasing the supply of pasture rather than reducing the stocking rate.

    * Institutional changes.

    If the grazing path is accepted as the unit of greatest relevance to the pastoralists, development projects should follow the path.

This is completely contrary to normal project design.

Projects normally use administrative boundaries or geographical zones as the basis of a project intervention zone.

Grazing paths can cross these neat project boundaries in an administratively disturbing manner.

Unless project managers have the flexibility to rethink their designs they will create a series of "honey pots" of developed pasture on a large number of grazing paths which will become over-grazed.

It would be better to follow a smaller number of grazing paths and develop them wherever they go so sheep numbers and pasture are in a rough balance.

    Arbitration systems would be a desirable further development.

It is hoped that groups can negotiate their own Grazing Agreements but there will need to be some mechanism for resolving disputes by independent arbitration.

    Grazing Agreements will probably be written although that is not essential.

The grazing agreements that were developed at Ma'in (Jordan) and R'Javi (Iraq) were developed without special legislation. (DDAJP 1985)

    If they are written the next stage is registration with a "Grazing Council" in which case it is important to identify the signatures to the agreement, as they could over time become the owners of the grazing path.

As this will take time and add to the complexity of the agreements it is important that signatures in the interim are made "on behalf of a family group."

In the future it may be necessary to define this further. It is important to stress that these institutional changes can be developed simultaneously and should not be seen as a barrier to initiating pasture improvement/grazing agreement projects.

  * Tenure and property rights

    It seems from the above that the present tenure based on traditional grazing rights will creep towards a form of freehold title similar to many of the rangeland areas of Australia and USA.

Many people believe that this is an essential ingredient for development and should be the first step.

They believe that the common property nature of the resource needs to be destroyed through private property rights and that private freehold title provides the security for investment in the rangeland.

    We are not arguing this case.

While the grazing agreements may creep towards some form of land title it is not the same as freehold title and is of little value for investment purposes.

It is important to realise that the flockowners already have existing rights to graze.

Let us assume that grazing paths are converted to property rights similar to those existing in the farming zones.

Let us also assume that these new titles are used as security for loans from banks.

There is then a further assumption that the existing grazing rights have been abolished.

The step by step process is as follows.

The title to the grazing path - or at least the part in the rangeland - is issued.

The flockowners lodge this with a bank as security for a loan.

Let us say the development fails.

The mortgage to the bank is foreclosed.

The land title reverts to the bank.

The bank must then expel the flockowners and find another group prepared to purchase that area of the rangeland.

This is common practise in Australia and USA but is it realistic in the WANA region where traditional grazing rights predate any attempts at tenure?

It doubtful whether the flockowners would leave the grazing path that is now the property of the bank or that others would take their place.

      Hybrid title

    A hybrid title may develop for the rangeland in the WANA region which is a mixture between the negotiable titles of the farming zones and the traditional titles that have been granted to Australian aborigines and Canadian Inuits

Traditional title that includes mineral right are not a realistic proposition.

Neither are freely tradable titles based on a farming zone model.

The starting point should be the grazing.

Titles should be discussed on the basis of a grazing right converted into a title.

As grazing rights already exists the only point of converting them into a title is to provide a strong legal backing to the grazing agreements.

In other word the process may develop as follows:-

    + Neighbouring flock owning groups discuss swaps of grazing areas along their grazing paths.

    + Agreement is reached.

    + Investment takes place in pasture development along the grazing path areas that have become exclusive grazing zone.

    + These areas continue to be respected by flockowners who have swapped their grazing rights.

    + The developed pastures are granted titles signed by the other flockowners and by the government.

    + In future these may be swapped again in some further reorganisation of grazing paths but cannot be sold to a outside interest or mortgaged to a bank.

  * Investment.

      Outsiders consider that the basic problem of the rangeland in the WANA region is lack of investment.

They then jump to the conclusion that lack of investment is due to lack of property rights.

If property rights are provided the development will flow.

    We argue the opposite.

Pasture improvement is the first step and provides the incentive to disentangle the grazing paths.

Property rights have limited value as security for loans if traditional grazing rights are stronger.

There is little incentive to change present grazing patterns until flockowners can see some improvement in output.

There is also a need to consider the type of investment.

In Australia and USA rangeland investment has been into labour saving. Fences eliminate shepherds. Water pipes reduce the need to cart water.

In the WANA region this type of investment would create even more unemployment without increasing output.

    In Australia and USA there is virtually no investment in the pasture.

The products of their rangelands are considered too low value to justify fertilisers or pasture improvement.

In the WANA region the meat from the rangeland is highly prized and pasture improvement rather than labour reduction should be the investment priority.

    Pasture development will require investment.

Grazing Agreements will be required for public investment in pasture development but are unlikely to be considered as sufficient security for commercial lenders.

Even the development of full blown land titles may not be sufficient if the banks and other commercial lender believe they will not gain possession of the land under mortgage.

At least at the initial stages investment will need to come from governments.

One way of justifying the funding is to see it as a capital sum representing the accumulated future subsidy on grain.

  * Other forms of security

    Commercial lenders may become involved in the longer term and use the security of the flocks rather than the land for their loans.

It is doubtful whether a grazing path is saleable to another group and therefore not suitable for a commercial mortgage but if the group has established its own exclusive grazing path and can convince commercial lenders this will increase livestock productivity it may be possible to use the flocks as security.

The concept of mortgages on livestock has a long history in Australia and is accepted by many quasi banking institutions.

It would not appeal to the standard bank as they have little knowledge of livestock but a suitably structured livestock credit union could provide funds for pasture improvement.

* Some conclusions for the rangeland.

A package of:

* Grazing Agreements

* Appropriate pasture technology.

* Large-scale "quantum leaps" in pasture production.

Should provide:

* More pasture for flocks.

* Less dependence on imported grain.

* Better vegetative cover, less erosion less dust pollution.

* Better incomes for pastoralists.

    The step by step process is:

    * Pasture improvement is the key to improving animal nutrition.

    * Pasture improvement can only be sustained by grazing management.

    * Grazing management can be introduced in the short term by quantum leaps in pasture production.

    * Quantum leaps in pasture production are obtained from sowing large areas of the rangeland with annual legumes (refer back to pasture improvement).

    * Grazing management needs to linked in the medium and longer term to grazing agreements. These will begin the process of disentangling the grazing paths.


Background information on the rangeland and marginal zone, soil erosion, degradation of the vegetation and other factors in the decline of the two zones is comprehensively researched in the report of the Ksar Chellala Integrated Steppe Development Project. In particular Annexe 2 Soils, Topography and Geology in the Mission Report 12 months and Chapt 2, 3 and 4 in Vol 2 of the Final Report 36 months dated March 1983
Ksar Chellala is a town in the central Algerian rangeland and the project zone is typical of many areas in the Maghreb from 150 mm through the marginal zone to about 400 mm in the arable zone. The report is available from the High Commission for the Steppe who can be contacted through the Algerian Ministry for Agriculture and Agrarian Revolution in Algers, Algeria.

BRDP (1997) Badia Rangeland Development Programme Phase 1 Syrian Arab Republic, Damascus. Syria.

The definition of the zones, the area of the zones and the livestock populations are available from the FAO database (available from the web site ) but interpretation is more important than crude numbers and a number of papers by Qureshi provide a useful analysis of the two zones.

Qureshi, Abdul Wahab, (1984) Current trends and the possibilities of increasing small ruminant production in the Near East. Expert consultancy on small ruminant research and development in the Near East. 23-7 October 1984 Tunis. FAO, Rome.

Qureshi, Abdul Wahab. (1987) "Strategies for Livestock Development in the Arab Arid Zones and FAO’s relevant programmes" in Proceedings of International Conference on Animal Production in Arid Zones, Held at Damascus Syria Part One pp 50-81 ACSAD Damascus 1987

Exchange of grazing rights at J'Ravi and Ma'in. The J'Ravi project documents are available from the Director General of Applied Research in the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture.

The Ma'in project was managed by Jamil M working for the Queen Nour Foundation and project reports can be obtained from that source.

Jamil, M & Karem, H (1987) A study about Socio-Economic Farming Systems in Ma'in Pilot Area, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Department, Amman, Jordan.

Quantum leaps in pasture production at Wadi el bab, Wadi Karuba and the Benghazi plain are described in the work reports of the supervising teams of farmers from the South Australian Seedgrowers Cooperative. These reports are in the archives of the Jabel al Akhdar Development Authority in El Marj, Libya and the Secretary of the People?s Committee on Agriculture in Tripoli, Libya.

Also Chatterton B. and Chatterton L. (1987) Increasing livestock production in dry zones: some policy options for the Middle East and North Africa, Land Use Policy. Vol 4 No 2 pp 121 — 133 Butterworth Scientific.

Technical data on the use of legumes in the rangeland and marginal zone from 150 mm to 250 mm is available from the annual reports of the Jefara Plains Development Authority, Tripoli, Libya. The annual reports and research papers of ICARDA are also useful but their work relates to Syria, which has a much colder winter and is therefore a harsher environment for pasture legumes. The Libyan work is applicable to most of the Maghreb with the exception of the high plateau (mostly Algeria) where cold winters are also a difficulty.

Chatterton Brian and Chatterton Lynne (1989) Fodders for the Near East: annual medic pastures. FAO 97/2 Rome.

DDAJP (1985) Final report and recommendations. Development of dryland agriculture , Jezira project, Northern Iraq. Western Australian overseas projects authority, Perth, Australia.

FAO 1987 Report of expert consultation on annual medic pastures in North Africa and the Near East. In Sidi Thebet. Organised by the OEP of the Ministry of Agriculture and supported by FAO, Rome. In particular the working paper from M. Chukli.

Sa'd Abujaber, R. (1989) Pioneers over Jordan - the frontiers of settlement in Transjordan 1850 - 1914. I.B. Taurus, London.

Treasure. G. L. (1982) Report to the Jabel el Akdar Authority, El Marj. Libya.