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Management strategies for drylands: available options and unanswered questions

Douglas L. Johnson
Clark University, USA

Low productivity per land unit is a salient feature of most dryland ecosystems. Limited rainfall inputs, small and highly localized surface water resources, scanty or non-existent vegetation, and low population totals combine to place constraints on the total productive capacity of both the cultural and physical components of dryland eco-systems. These constraints tend to encourage the development of relatively low-intensity, extensive resource-use systems.

However, there are exceptions to these low productivity situations. Wherever primary resources exist in close juxtaposition, such as in oases or exotic river valleys, zones of intense, highly productive development are found. Thus, a considerable range of resource-use strategies using both extensive and intensive techniques presently exists, exploiting available dryland resources with varying degrees of success, technological sophistication, and environmental impact. Such management strategies provide a rich experience from which development planners and local entrepreneurs can select a mix of opportunities suited to local needs and objectives.

Attention in this paper is focused upon the strategic level of resource management. This is considered to be an intermediate stage of conceptualization between grand theory about development on the one hand and the technical aspects of project implementation on the other. The articulation and advancement of the theory and philosophy of development is being ardently pursued elsewhere (e.g., Hettne and Wallensteen, 1978) and is beyond the scope of this paper. Concern for resource management strategy extends to the more specific tactical level of project implementation technique, local change, and the institutional support required for development (Jigging, 1978), but such issues are only tangentially considered here. Rather, the intent of this paper is threefold. First, it identifies the major factors that promote the development of dry-land resource management strategies. Second, it inventories the characteristic types of strategies that are used in dry environments. Finally, it indicates in a preliminary fashion the major questions and gaps in knowledge that arise from examination of current management strategies.

Factors in a Management Strategy Matrix

Every management strategy is the product of a wide array of factors. These factors influence the decisions of liveli hood systems in all environments, although the precise combination of factors and their relative importance vary widely. The relevant factors can be grouped under three categories:

(1) primary resources and production systems;
(2) land-use system interaction; and
(3) socio-economic conditions.

Primary resources and production systems

One approach to assessing the potential range of strategies is to consider the primary resources available to dryland populations. Air, water, land, and earth are the fundamental elements upon which the primary production systems of the drylands are constructed. Air resources are most often amenity features such as warm temperatures or abundant sunshine, but also may include the potential wind power. Water resources, whether surface or subterranean, are generally extremely localized, whereas the land resources of soil and vegetation are most frequently extensive in space and dependent on rainfall. Earth resources include minerals and fossil fuels found in sub-surface geologic strata. Similar categories could be used to describe the resource potentials of any eco-system.

However, the resources setting of the world's drylands derives its uniqueness from the extreme paucity of its moisture endowment and the diversity of its local physical systems (Cooke and Warren, 1973). To this salient feature the resource-use strategies of the zone are adjusted. Moreover, the moisture deficiency of arid and semi-arid areas means that soils are often poorly developed, the primary productivity is low, and a boom-or-bust pulsation characterizes the ecological rhythm of the system (Noy-Meir, 1973). This pulsating rhythm, and the often lengthy period intervening between growth stages, has led many scholars to view dryland eco-systems as being extremely fragile. This fragility perspective underlies much of the literature associated with the recent World Conference on Desertification (UNCOD, 1977a; Rapp, 1974; Glantz, 1977), and has attained the status of a scientifically accepted truism. Yet there is contradictory evidence on the topic which suggests that dryland eco-systems may be far more resilient than generally supposed. When protected, some Sahelian areas have shown an ability to recover rapidly (Bradley, 1977), while in India three years of above-normal rainfall have resulted in a drastic decrease in the incidence of the dust storms previously taken as an indicator of accelerating degradation (Krishnan, 1977). Although dryland eco-systems may require more careful management than more humid areas, and may impose differing types of constraints, we are only beginning to understand the resilience-stability boundaries that define the limits of safe system-use. For this reason, if for no other, the traditional production systems of the drylands offer instructive perspectives on the ways in which primary resources can be utilized.

The primary resources, and the livelihood systems based on them, can be visualized as components of a matrix (Fig. 1). The land-use systems indicated represent exemplary livelihood groups rather than a comprehensive listing. Each could be further sub-divided; it is in these activities that the bulk of the dryland population is engaged, and it is here that future management strategies will have their major impact. Each of the major primary productive systems contains a number of strategies. These can be grouped broadly into indigenous strategies employed at a local level and based on traditional native technologies, and introduced or introduceable modern strategies that have been tried in, or proposed for, a number of different socio-economic settings. By studying the positive contributions and cautionary experiences of varying combinations of activities using different technologies, it is possible to assess the merits of the options available.

Land-use system interaction

To avoid a static and classificatory analysis, the resource systems matrix must be extended in several directions. This is suggested by Fig. 2, which indicates some of the factors that must be taken into account. One need is to see each land-use system as part of an interactive framework in which both competition and symbiosis operate. Part of the resilience of traditional dryland resource-use systems derives from their ability to draw on several sets of resources. Thus, both dry farmers and pastoralists tap arboreal resources by collecting gum arabic in addition to their basic livelihood activities. Farmers and pastoralists traditionally had spatially overlapping, but seasonally discrete, use of the grass and water resources of the inland delta of the Niger, and a strict set of rules governed respective rights to those resources (Gallais, 1972). The system in dryland floodplains is even more complex than this farmer-herder dichotomy indicates, for fishing cultures actively engaged in the use of the aquatic resource potential at both local and regional scales. Moreover, the boundaries between these livelihood groups are not always immutable and individuals may shift from one production system to another as advantage offers. The result is that three livelihood modes depend on the same space at different times of the year. Fish require the seasonally flooded floodplain as a breeding ground, farmers plant crops in the moist soils as floods recede, and herders graze these areas in the dry season after crops are harvested. Any assessment of management options requires careful attention to the interactions between different livelihood modes, since a change in any component of the system can have important ramifications for the other parts of the livelihood mix.

Land-use systems not only interact with each other at one point in space, but are also linked to similar systems elsewhere. These spatial linkages exist across environmental zones. Decisions taken outside the control of local systems can have great impacts. Favouring agricultural production over pastoral systems, for example, can place the latter under severe stress. Another way to look at the same issue is to consider the role that scale plays in land-use systems. Some primary production systems depend on highly localized resources, yet have an impact on global economic health and well-being. Petroleum is a good example. Similarly, the global market price for groundouts may influence both the prosperity of dryland, non-irrigation farmers and their ability to withstand drought. Moreover, the vitality of amenity-resources activities such as tourism depends on the prosperity of the international economic system. Consideration of these scale effects in the management options of drylands is important.

FIG. 1. Primary Resources and Land-Use System in Dryland Eco-systems

Socio-economic factors

The final dimension involves integrating a variety of socioeconomic factors into the analysis of resource-use systems, environment, and scale. Some of these factors are indicated on the vertical axis of Fig. 2. The demographic dynamics of a population, the array of skills it possesses, and its propensity to migrate to labour opportunities elsewhere, for example, can have a profound impact on the ability of a livelihood system to absorb new technology or to bring degradational pressures to bear on its environment. Access to regional and global markets, degree of transportation system development, experience and depth of administrative institutions and expertise, standard of health care, technological sophistication, and many other factors are also significant aspects of livelihood-system vitality.

These socio-economic sectors are important in all land-use systems at differing scales, although the impact varies from one situation to another. Operating as dynamic processes, socio-economic factors govern both the regional mix of landuse systems and their mutual relationships. They are also important ingredients in defining the direction and rate of change.

Basic Strategies: An Inventory

Within each of the land-use systems of drylands are a number of management strategies. These can be analyzed as a series of five contrasting strategy options. For analytical purposes these five types are discussed as if they were mutually exclusive and totally contrasted. In the real world they are often mixed and blur into one another. Here the objective is to deal with the central tendency of a particular strategy rather than its multitudinous variants.

Dispersed versus concentrated

The contrast of small specks of highly concentred resources amid the widely dispersed, low productivity resources characteristic of dry environments is reflected in a major difference in strategy. Where resources are concentrated, as in oases or along allogenic rivers, intensive exploitation strategies are the rule. Because large, concentrated populations can be supported under such circumstances, these strategies tend to be labour-intensive. Until recently, the technology of irrigation utilizations and their political and economic stability closely correlated with the size of the labour force that could be controlled. Withdrawal or disorganization of this labour force could have serious consequences for population survival and system stability and result in a shift in system organization to lower levels of integration (Adams, 1965; Fernea, 1970). The same principle of resource concentration and labour productivity operates in smaller-scale ganat systems (Wilkinson, 1977; Redmer, n.d.) and in the terraced agricultural regimes of mountainous areas in the arid zone. Once labour is withdrawn for more productive investment elsewhere, as is the case in contemporary Yemen, preservation of the concentrated resource itself can become difficult.

FIG. 2. Scale, Environmental. and Socio-Economic Factors in Dryland Resource Systems

Mineral resource exploitation systems are excellent examples of concentrated resource strategies, because of both their limited spatial distribution and their employment of large quantities of capital and (traditionally) of labour. Without a concentrated, high value resource to exploit, the rigours of aridity discourage significant development. Essential to the development that does take place is the input of substantial support, usually in the form of subsidies to support infrastructure development, from ecologically and politically more favoured areas outside the arid zone. The expectation, at least theoretically, is that ultimately returns on the investment will justify the expenditure. At present, the industrialized world favours investments in low-water-use industry rather than in the mineral/petroleum or agriculturally-oriented water development projects that characterized the early phases of development (UNCOD, 1977b). Whether this selective and concentrated strategy is available to most Third World countries is open to question.

Where concentrated strategies are not feasible, development has focused on strategies that make use of dispersed resources but support few people. These dispersed management strategies require flexible and opportunistic utilization of widely scattered resources. The classic example of this type of strategy is pastoral nomadism. In this mode of life, movement, often over vast spaces in a seasonal cycle, permits the exploitation of seasonal or ephemeral grass and water through an animal intermediary. As specialized animal herders, pastoralists are often dependent for a considerable portion of their diet on adjacent agriculturists exploiting concentrated resources. On occasions, the two livelihood systems overlap spatially (although not temporally) in their use of resources, whenever migratory animals are grazed on post-harvest stubble or on dry-season pastures unexploited by sedentary populations.

Significantly, however, in most traditional contexts the choice is between a dispersed or a concentrated strategy. Seldom do livelihood systems select a mix of the two strategies. This extreme specialization may reflect the arid zone's position at the extreme end of a wet-to-dry ecological gradient. Boundaries between resources are so sharply defined, and the mobility required to exploit dispersed resources is so great, that livelihood specialization is the only reasonable response. Yet instances can be found where both dispersed and concentrated strategies are included in the livelihood adaptation of one social group (Dyson-Hudson, 1972; Salzman, 1972). Whether this reflects the wider range of opportunities made available by a more gradual ecological gradient or is an adaptive response to modernization and associated changes is uncertain. But in general it has proved difficult to cross livelihood-system boundaries, especially where they are reinforced by ethnic and other cultural factors (Horowitz, 1972).

Single sector versus comprehensive planning

Few examples of comprehensive planning for dryland resource use exist. Perhaps the best example of such planning as applied to water management in a semi-arid zone is Israel, where very careful controls are applied to water allocation and use (Mandel, 1977). The result is a very efficient extraction of a limited moisture supply for maximum benefit to supply competing agricultural, urban, and industrial water users. Attempts are being made to develop ecologically based development plans (Dasmann, et al., 1973) up to and including entire ecological zones (EMASAR, 1975). But these efforts are a product of ecological awareness of the last decade, and seldom plan for a variety of complex interacting land-use systems. Where this attempt is made, as, for example, at the recent UN Conference on Desertification (UNCOD, 1977c; UNEP, 1978), the results are often not applicable at the national level or are based on questionable assumptions.

Most development strategies still follow a single sector, projectby-project approach that defines project boundaries narrowly and is often uninterested in effects occurring outside project limits. This makes it very difficult to assess the success of projects following the single sector strategy, since what might be accounted as successful within the project may have unassessed adverse effects elsewhere. Efforts to extend mechanized, dry-farm agriculture can be a success if one is considering only the increased productivity generated for the agriculturists concerned; however, the long-term effects on the environment and on other livelihood systems can be severe indeed. Many of the problems encountered both by nomads and farmers during the Sahelian drought were a direct consequence of over-enthusiastic expansion of agricultural space (Unesco, 1977).

Likewise, the use of floodplain soils for large-scale irrigation schemes can have a deleterious effect on the productivity of fishing cultures. Not only is water essential to the survival of the fish diverted for other purposes (Hewitt, 1977), but also the breeding cycle of many fish depends on having access to the nutrient-rich, shallow waters of the inundated floodplain (Welcome and Henderson, 1976). Denied access to these resources, fishing cultures can be seriously undermined, with consequent impact on human dietary sufficiency. Natural aquatic systems cannot be replaced easily with aquaculture for many reasons, including unsuitable local soils, changes in water quality, and the absence of requisite skills for undertaking aquaculture among the local population (Coche, 1967; Coche, 1978). This is not to argue against irrigation. Rather, it is to stress the need to consider the interaction of a number of livelihood systems and to assess the possible gainers and losers before any development strategy is implemented.

This point attains particular significance when one considers the role that subtle factors may play in assessing the gains and losses of development. In semi-arid parts of Kenya the extension of irrigation has taken place on darker, moisture retentive soils. The farmers occupying these soil areas now use them exclusively for their irrigated crops. These farmers gain substantially in income and the nation profits from larger and more assured yields. In the past large numbers of farmers had access to this land through kinship networks; in drought periods this guaranteed most people access to minimally adequate food supplies. This opportunity is now denied, and marginal individuals become increasingly stressed (Wiener, 1977). This history could be multiplied many times over (Johnson, 1977). The crucial point is that, although the land lost to irrigated agriculture is only a small fraction of the total cultivated acreage, it plays such a critical role in the stability of the local land-use system that its diversion to other (and, when defined in a narrow sense, admittedly more profitable) uses can have disrupting impacts on a substantial part of the population.

Even within the tightly constrained boundaries of a single development project, it is difficult to determine success. Most observers would grant that the Gezira Scheme is a successful development project both in terms of its contribution to the national economy and its improvement of living conditions of farmers on the scheme. But even this level of success has been challenged by Barnett (1977) on the grounds that cash cropping increases dependent economic relationships and results in social inequities. It is also possible that a project may not attain anticipated goals and yet be a positive experience. Both Hoyle (1977) and Sorbo (1977) argue that the mixed agro-pastoral livelihoods that have grown up in the Khashm el-Girba scheme, and in the Butane generally, have been beneficial, although unintended by project designers. In this instance indigenous strategies have been combined to create mixed livelihood systems that spread risk and increase stability. In so doing they indicate the extreme flexibility and opportunism that traditional land-use systems can exhibit in integrating new opportunities. The benefits that result from this mixed approach provide support for a more comprehensive planning strategy at the regional level.

Indigenous versus introduced

An illuminating contrast can be made between strategies developed experientially over long periods of time through interaction between a culture and its environment and production strategies developed elsewhere before being brought into a new environment. The distinction is between indigenous and introduced, or potentially introduceable strategies.

It is useful to consider strategies from this perspective because their objectives are often very different.

In dealing with a fluctuating environment, many indigenous strategies are primarily concerned with risk reduction. Their objective is to guarantee food supply and thereby preserve both group identity and values (Gallais and Sidikou, 1978).

Often these strategies are designed with the worst event in mind, and coping mechanisms are structured in such a way that the survival of the group is assured. In extreme cases, such as the Kalahari Bushmen, resources that could support a larger population are left unexploited (Lee, 1969). When a drought occurs, population, food, and water are not seriously out of balance, and drastic impacts on population are averted.

Other traditional strategies exhibit more flexible adjustments, but still keep this risk factor very much in mind. Nomadic strategies are very much oriented towards increasing land size during rainy periods as rapidly as possible in order to convert as much of the primary production as possible into mobile animal units. These can walk away from drought-stricken areas and either be converted into food and food products for direct consumption or sold in urban market systems. Dahl and Hjort (1976) have demonstrated that these pastoral strategies represent sound management techpiques, given the objectives of the local group. Precisely because indigeneous strategies differ in their objectives from introduced systems, serious dislocations, both environmental and social, can attend the uncritical and incomplete transfer of exogenous techniques (Ravignan, 1977).

Introduced management strategies are generally designed to produce sustained yields over long periods. In pastoral schemes this usually emphasizes the quality of output rather than quantity. In agricultural activities the emphasis is placed on maximizing yields. In both livelihood modes new management skills and technology are frequently, if not always inevitably, integral components of introduced strategies. It is because the skills, technologies, and objectives of these new systems are at variance with indigenous experience that most of the difficulties arise.

Two sciences exist, one an ethno-science and the other a techno-science. Their view of problems and opportunities is likely to be quite different. Whyte (1977) describes an example of this in central Mexico where indigenous farmers view erosion on hillslopes and the subsequent entrapment of soil behind checkdams in valley bottoms as a positive benefit, whereas technicians are more concerned about stabilizing hillslopes and retarding erosion. Because there is often a wide gulf between indigenous and introduced viewpoints, improved communications systems that can sympathetically bridge this gap are needed. This task has scarcely begun.

Pulse versus homeostasis

Pulse and homeostasis strategies continue the juxtaposition of indigenous versus introduced strategies into another dimension. The critical issues here are twofold: (a) what are the acceptable exploitation limits to which a dryland ecosystem can be pushed; and (b) what are the best models to follow, opportunistic or steady-state strategies?

Pulse strategies emphasize the capture of enough productivity during positive pulses in the physical environment in order to survive negative swings by using stored reserves. A certain amount of gambling with the environment is inherent in this type of strategy, but over time coping mechanisms become deeply imbedded in the land-use system and risk becomes minimized. All persistent cultures possess this feature. Pastoral livelihoods accomplish it by forgoing consumption in the present, encouraging rapid herd growth when fodder is abundant, converting surplus animals into land, jewelry, or other consumer durables, and reconverting these "banked" resources into animals when herds are decimated by drought. Irrigation livelihoods accomplish the same resistance to flood or drought by elaborating social controls over individual labour, storing food in central granaries, and organizing labour to maintain and defend the system. Dry farmers scatter their fields with the same end in view. The adjustment of Great Plains farmers to semi-arid conditions was a complex process requiring nearly 100 years (Warrick, 1975), and the process is still not complete. Where indigenous coping mechanisms do not exist, or have been destabilized, extraordinary efforts must be made to rectify the situation. The Indian Drought-Prone Areas Programme is an attempt to build development on a flexible, pulse-oriented strategy that stresses both preparation for bad periods and contingency planning to take maximum advantage of favourable periods.

While such devices can minimize the effect of recurrent hazard, they are always vulnerable to sudden, unexpected levels of stress or to activities that undercut the bases of their adaptation. Gibson (1974) has suggested that social pressures, for example, may have encouraged shortened fallow cycles, increased salinization, and ultimately promoted the collapse of large-scale irrigation civilizations in ancient Iraq.

To survive in a dryland environment requires an ability to cope successfully with often extreme productivity fluctuations. Many introduced strategies, because they are oriented towards sustained yields, essentially envisage a homeostatic adjustment. The desire is to stock rangeland, for example, at some level below absolute maximum capacity that will permit sustained yields despite environmental fluctuations. The difficulty lies in determining what the safe level of exploitation might be, and how much productivity is to be surrendered to attain security. In extreme cases the exploilation levels advocated are so low that only massive depopulation would make their attainment possible, an exploitation strategy analogous to that of the Bushmen, but with politically unacceptable implications.

The issue is very real because little agreement exists as to what constitutes an appropriate homeostatic level. If it is set too high, the risk of vulnerability to an extreme, infrequent, and random event is heightened (Holling, 1973). Since instrumental (although not experiential) knowledge is limited, the danger of exceeding the stability-resilience boundary is very real. It has been estimated (Clawson, Landsberg, and Alexander, 1971) that although the maximum flood recorded at Baghdad in the Tigris and Euphrates basin over a 57-year period is 12,000 m/second, a level of 34,000 m/second could be attained under the right conditions. Should such a flood occur, it would cause serious problems for the existing irrigation system. While this is an extreme case, the widespread efforts to sedentarize pastoralists substitute just such homeostatic systems for the flexible pulse strategy of the traditional adaptation. As has been pointed out by Asad, Cunnison, and Hill (1976) with reference to the Sudan, but with equal applicability to most other dryland settings, the consequence of this trend is not only likely to be the loss of otherwise unexploitable resources, but also social and environmental disruption in the settled zones.

Small-scale versus large-scale

Scale is a crucial factor in dryland management strategies. It is a factor in the organization of all land-use systems, since there is an optimally effective scale for each. The case that best illustrates this point is irrigation. One school of thought argues for very massive infrastructure development on a grand scale, typified by the Aswan Dam, in order to achieve a quantum leap in productivity in a short time. More impressed by the ecological problems associated with such large-scale projects, as well as by their chequered record of economic and social success, an opposing school argues for smallscale projects closer to indigenous experience that can more readily be made compatible with local systems. There is now a substantial body of evidence (White, 1978) which suggests that neither perspective is particularly valid. Small-scale projects below 1,000 ha are inefficient; above 10,000 ha irrigation projects become unwieldy and fail to achieve their objective. Only if the project is so grandiose that it is possible to bring in a substantial cadre of expatriate managers, often a politically impracticable policy, is there much hope of success. The optimal irrigation project size ranges from 2,000 to 6,000 ha. Similar scale considerations undoubtedly operate in other land-use systems and need to receive careful attention in future research.

Questions in Dryland Management Strategies

Review of current strategies for managing dryland resources indicates that there are several areas in which further research is needed. These topics do not represent total gaps in knowledge. Rather, they are often subjects about which considerable information has been accumulated, but ones where controversy still swirls around the proper interpretation to be placed on the known facts. Identification of these issues constitutes neither a research nor a training programme, but phrasing them as questions may help clarify potentially fruitful lines of enquiry.

The imminence of ecological disaster

Progressive degradation under the pressure of a relentlessly expanding population is the most common image of the future of the world's drylands. During each drought, fears are expressed that indigenous systems are on the verge of collapse and that ecological disaster is impending. Desertification is a much discussed process, the reality of which is widely accepted.

That deterioration has taken place in some areas is incontrovertible, but it is probable that the process is spatially more selective, and causation is more complex than is generally recognized. When livelihood systems return to predrought behaviour, and the ecological system shows signs of recovery, is this an indication of resilience or merely a temporary reprieve? Were people fortunate to have experienced only hardship rather than the predicted disaster, only to await a darker fate the next time round? There do not exist sufficient longitudinal surveys and adequately controlled baseline studies to present a clear picture of the extent of environmental disruption, its irreversibility, or the points at which shifts to new system states will occur. Attention needs to be paid to the diversity of dryland eco-systems, in particular to differences between wetter and drier subsystems, in efforts to determine ecological vulnerability. Not only is longitudinal monitoring of dryland eco-systems, imperative, but the development of perspectives and strategies that come to realistic terms with the reality of dryland environments is essential. Better knowledge of the levels at which accumulated stress in cultural-ecological systems causes abrupt changes to new, probably less productive states would yield useful management results.

Identifying successful development

Surprisingly enough, it is not easy to identify management strategies, and the development projects that implement these strategies, that are viewed as successes by students of development. Few are willing to express even qualified support for individual projects, let alone unbridled enthusiasm. For anyone wishing to accentuate the positive, the search for potential candidates is long and hard.

The cause of this pessimism is not an excessively critical negativistic attitude on the part of the academic community, nor the dismal record of good intentions going astray. Rather, there seems no accepted framework within which to measure success, to distinguish between positive and negative change, to trace cause and effect to reasonable conclusions, or to distinguish peculiar, local from general, systemwide factors.

Until it is possible to elucidate general principles and apply them in full awareness of the diversity of local ecological and livelihood forms, it is likely that partially successful strategies at best will result. To the extent that the peculiar constraints of dry environments are not made the starting point for management strategies, it is difficult to see how obstacles to development will be overcome. Until flexible strategies are adopted for rangelands that ensure mobile pastoralists access to, and control over, adequate seasonal pastures, until the myth of the perversely irrational traditional herder unwilling to sell animals is challenged, until land-management planning restricts dry farmers from invading excessively risky areas (or adequate forms of support and insurance are devised), or until water is allocated among competing resource-use systems at the national level, false starts will continue to outnumber productive ones.

Application of scientific knowledge

Impressive scientific knowledge about dryland problems exists in the scholarly world. The arid zone research series supported by Unesco is an important scholarly achievement containing numerous benchmark summaries. Whether the research results recorded in these volumes ever had significant pragmatic impact is, however, more debatable. At the implementation level, technologists can design impressive management systems, technology packages, and hybrid crops. Yet the efforts of scientists and technologists seem to falter frequently when they shift from laboratory or experimental plot to field implementation.

Although cost-effective, technologically compatible systems can be designed, adoption and diffusion of innovative devices and practices by the populace is an almost random business. The Central Arid Zone Research Institute at Jodhpur has impressive field trials of household-scale biogas-generating plants now under way (Malhotra, Singh, and Sen, n.d.). Technically speaking the systems seem admirable -simple, modestly priced, energy-efficient. Yet astoundingly little interest in the system seems to be exhibited by nearby families. Similar examples could be cited in every country.

The design of technical solutions to problems is a relatively simple matter; adoption is often excruciatingly difficult. Human factors impede the development process far more than technological barriers. Social scientists have relatively few answers when challenged to show and tell what will work, although the identification of what will not work is often easier. Three precepts might be offered:

(a) the human aspects of the development process need to be the point of departure, not the final consideration when all other elements are in place;
(b) institutional arrangements must be adequate at the local scale if success is to be achieved; and
(c) management strategies must be built from the ground up (within the context of a comprehensive plan) making adequate allowance for the diversity of local experience and resources. This implies that modestly scaled development projects that take their initial inspiration, although not necessarily their ultimate form, from indigenous understandings and perspectives have the greatest likelihood of success.

Ethno-science and techno-science

This in turn implies that the fundamental requirement in dryland resource management is that of developing better systems of communication between local ethno-scientific knowledge and techno-science perspectives. This is a relatively unexplored area, and one that requires a great deal of trial-and-error experimentation and monitoring.

Experience in Syria (Draz, 1977) indicates that it is possible to take indigenous strategies as a point of departure for new management strategies. Much of Syria's rangeland deterioration stemmed from unrestricted grazing permitted in the euphoric post-independence era. Once traditional concepts of protecting the tribal homeland were reinstituted, tribal control over grazing territories re-emerged, and modified versions of traditional irrigation patterns were re-established, degradation was arrested. Tied in to a system of management cooperatives, fodder warehouses, and pre-market fattening establishments, the bedouin are now commercial muttonproducers rather than the self-sufficient wanderers of popular mythology.

Given time, effort, and sympathetic understanding it is possible to bridge the gap between indigenous and introduced science. The new amalgam that emerges can become self generating, but the participation of local committed individuals and institutions is essential if the process is to succeed.

TABLE 1. Questions and Implications in Dryland Management Strategies

Strategies Questions Implications
Dispersed versus concentrated Imminent ecological disaster? Research:
(1) stability-resilience in dryland systems;
(2) substitutability of concentrated for dispersed resource-use systems;
(3) development of mixed livelihood systems; and
(4) identification of ecological principles and problems.
Single sector versus comprehensive planning Criteria for identifying project success? Training: focus on short training workshops that upgrade skills in:
(1) social impact analysts;
(2) project evaluation; and
(3) eco-system analysis.
Indigenous versus introduced Communications gap in applying scientific knowledge? Training: training programs (diploma and M.Sc.) that prepare development officers with skills required to bridge the ethno-science techno-science barrier.
Pulse versus homeostasis Design flexible resource-use systems that anticipate drought? Research:
(1) identification of the successful principles
of traditional systems that can be adapted
to contemporary conditions; and
(2) develop new coping strategies to replace destabilized adaptations.
Small-scale versus large-scale Appropriate scale for indigenous and introduced systems? Research: inventory and analysis of the most
effective operational scales for dryland livelihood systems.

Appropriate scale in dryland development

Modest-scaled activities would seem to be most appropriate if indigenous systems and inter-scientific communication are to be the points of departure in dryland management strategies. These will either feature large populations in small areas, when concentrated resources are the object of attention, or small populations in large areas when dispersed resources are being exploited. While a clear sense of the desirable scale for irrigation systems exists, less conclusive data are available for other livelihood systems. Introduced management strategies are associated with clear notions of scale, and these are usually larger than is customary in indigenous systems. Study of the proper scale to meld the two strategies has received even less attention. Of equal importance is the need to develop mixed management systems that combine several environments and land-use systems into an integrated strategy. Spontaneous indigenous responses to external stimuli seem to be more successful at accomplishing this objective than the formal efforts of planners.

Implications for Research and Training

The questions raised by examination of existing dryland management strategies have at least partial answers, for they suggest profitable research directions and training opportunities. These implications are outlined in Table 1.

Concern about the potential for ecological disaster in drylands makes it mandatory to undertake serious investigation of the stability and resilience of dryland eco-systems and of the human livelihood systems dependent on them. Equally important is the study of the extent to which dispersed resource-use systems can be replaced by, or converted into, more intensive specialized and concentrated systems. The pursuit of higher productivity is pushing development steadily in this direction. Yet it is possible that mixed livelihood systems combining agro-pastoralism might yield better long term results if seriously studied and developed. Certainly, identification of the ecological principles, both indigenous and introduced, that promote development with a minimum of wasteful ecological deterioration is necessary.

Training programmes that upgrade the quality of development-planning and emphasize the need for a comprehensive approach merit serious consideration. Such programmes would have the greatest impact if they were oriented towards current planners and were of short duration. Employing a workshop format, they might have skill improvement as their primary objective. The areas that would yield the most immediate returns in terms of broadening the sophistication of current development planning are social impact analysis, project evaluation (particularly in its social aspects), and ecosystems analysis. Concentration on these areas enables individual projects and their potential impacts to be investigated in a larger context, beyond the project site.

Observed gaps in communication between indigenous and introduced sciences are not likely to be bridged in a short workshop format. They require a richer array of skills that are more time-consuming to acquire. The development of a skilled staff dedicated to promoting interaction and communication between indigenous and introduced science and to improving extension effectiveness appears to be a critical national development priority.

Research is also an important need if flexible resource-use systems operating at appropriate scales are to be developed in drylands. This research thrust should begin by identifying the principles of resource-use employed by successful dryland livelihood systems. The specific social forms are less important than developing a clear understanding of their basic rationale. Specific social forms are likely to be quite mutable, whereas the underlying principles often are violated only at peril. Careful attention to principles and scale may make development less traumatic and more successful, as well as improving the ease with which destabilized traditional structures are replaced with new coping strategies.


The land-use systems and management strategies of drylands that exhibit the greatest potential for success are those that are firmly based upon the innate potentials and characteristics of specific regions and their inhabitants. Introduced, large-scale, single sector strategies offer seemingly attractive opportunities for rapid productivity increases, yet these efforts have attained only modest success. The encouragement of carefully integrated mixes of strategies that link complementary environmental zones and livelihood systems offer attractive alternative options. When these strategies are developed from an indigenous understanding of environment and development, the prospects for success seem greater.


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