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Keywords:

  • drylands;
  • land productivity;
  • land-use dynamics;
  • land-use history

Abstract

Land-use dynamics in drylands are complex processes. In the context of a typical agropastoral village in northwestern Syria Im Mial, the effects of demographic and social changes, reduced soil productivity, changes in agricultural technologies and historical events on land use and land productivity are examined. Decreasing yields, mainly the result of reduced fallow periods and low investments in the land, and the deterioration of the grazing resources are the two main signs of the loss of land productivity in the area. The growing population forces the villagers to practise continuous rainfed barley cultivation with no or only occasional fallow, and without any application of plant nutrients. Also, technological changes, from the use of donkey ploughs and hand harvesting to less labour-intensive and time-consuming cultivation practices with tractors and combine harvesters, and the increased importance of stubble in the livestock diet have contributed to the reduction of the fallow periods. The villagers attribute the yield decreases mainly to the low rainfall in the area. The high rainfall variability discourages the fallowing of fields because continuous cultivation maximizes the chances for good harvests in years with high rainfall. There is also an expansion of cultivation into the less fertile and sloping traditional grazing areas. Population growth, increased numbers of livestock and the expansion of cultivated land into grazing areas has also put pressure on the grazing resources of the village. The possession of livestock is seen as a sign of wealth and the villagers aim to have large flocks of animals. For them, livestock is also an important means for investment of cash earned from off-farm work, which is the main source of income for most of the households in the village. There is a recent trend of increasing levels of crop-livestock integration with less free grazing that produces higher return to the land users. This may also have a positive effect on the restoration and conservation of the degraded natural traditional grazing grounds. The stabilization and productive use of the land resources in this dry environment requires the combined and interdisciplinary effort from both the land-users and the policy-makers. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.