Sheep grazing in a Hima Kafarzabed

Opportunities for Improvement of Pasture Resources

The improvement of livestock production in Lebanon and the empowerment of this vital sector will be through improvement of the pasture resources, sustainable management of the grazing ecosystems (woodlands, rangelands, pastures…), their improvement whenever possible, and the increase of the share of fodder crops in agricultural production. Improving the livelihood systems of farmers, providing them with the necessary veterinary, hygiene, handling and transformation equipment and services, will also improve the quality of the milk and milk-products and increase the income generated from the livestock production, mainly at the scale of the small herders.

Dairy production: problems and proposed solutions
The “FAO/UNDP Recovery and Rehabilitation of Dairy Sector in Bekaa Valley and Hermel-Akkar Uplands (LRF-OSRO/LEB/901/UNJ)” project has identified the intervention needs at the level of the project and the necessary interventions. Kayouli (2010) has detailed major constraints, their main causes and proposed solutions. These mainly relate to the production systems, farm management skills, health of the herds, milk and dairy product quality and their marketing. The production of fodder crops and the improvement of the pastures were not directly addressed through this project, although farmers were encouraged to start planting fodder crops for more efficient production systems. Undoubtedly, the planting of fodder crops and better feeding practices will contribute considerably to improving the profitability of small-scale dairy production. Data on fodder crops is unfortunately somewhat lacking; because of their limited quantity and the limited area devoted to their cultivation, fodder crops were not captured as a separate entity in the agricultural censuses that were undertaken in 1999 and in 2010.

Pasture and Fodder Crop Research
However, some research has been undertaken on the feed quality of the natural ecosystems and on the feeding systems of small ruminants, mainly goats. These studies have shown the nutritional value of some species and the behaviour of the animals in terms of feeding habits, along with the effect of the different feed on milk and meat production. The feeding behaviour of the goats (mainly “Baladi” goats) is related to the diversity of species. The forests and woodlands where the goats graze are usually rich in terms of diversity of species, and thus are able to provide a rich and varied diet throughout the feeding seasons. In regions where goats and sheep graze in mixed rangelands, moving from woodlands to open pastures and crop residues (mainly in the Bekaa), the diet is rich thanks to diversity of the species and quality of nutrients available. However, the provision of feed additives has shown an improvement in the milk quality (Hajj et al., 2007; Kharrat et al., 2008; Kharrat, 2004).

Trials to improve open pastures, rangelands and degraded lands through seeding of high quality legumes and cereals and the addition of fertilizers were also undertaken in different stations and research institutes (see Table 11). Such marginal lands are used for grazing but provide a minor quality of feed, because of the presence of unpalatable species, forbs and xerophytes. The seeding of legumes (Medicago and Trifolium sp.) as well as selected grasses from wild origins and the addition of phosphates has led to pasture improvement and the provision of a better feed quality in the experimental plots. Such experiments could be replicated in the degraded and desertified lands in some parts of the country, where goats and sheep herds spend part of the year (Haddad, G., Nassar, A. and Kahwaji, J. 2010).

Such studies were undertaken at the School of Agriculture of the Saint-Joseph University (Ecole Supérieure des Ingénieurs Agronomes de la Méditerranée – ESIAM), at the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) and at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

The experiments undertaken by LARI (the Department of Rangelands and Development of Forage Crops) between 1998 and 2001 on the improvement of the rangelands through seeding and fertilizing were interrupted in 2001 and unfortunately never continued. The experiments were supported by several partners who provided different kinds of inputs, such as:

Water Harvesting: International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)/ Smallholder Livestock Rehabilitation Project/ Lebanon (SLRP)

Experimental design and management: Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI)/ Forage & Pasture Department (FPD)

Seeds: International Centre for Agricultural Research in the dry Areas (ICARDA)

Financial support: Machreq-Maghreb Project (M&M)

Seeds: Conservation and Sustainable Use of Dryland Agro-biodiversity in the Near East (CSUDANE).

The Ministry of Agriculture has recently established a “Seed Committee” which aims to increase the area of irrigated and rainfed fodder crops such as alfalfa, corn, vetch and barley mixtures. The Ministry is planning to provide seeds and different kinds of inputs to farmers in order to encourage the planting of such crops and to improve the efficiency of livestock production in Lebanon. Some researchers in LARI are currently trying to develop a research line on the improvement of the pastures and on fodder crops.

In addition to the experiments described above, some initiatives were implemented in different parts of the country on the sustainable grazing management of woodlands and rangelands.

Rangelands, Woodlands and Pastures
Although society is nowadays mainly sedentary, several communities still follow a nomadic way of living, building their camps wherever they find the best and most appropriate pasture for their herd. Some of those nomads are Lebanese, whereas some others come from other countries of the Region. This nomadic way of living is in conflict with other land-uses, with the increase in fragmentation and the decrease in the lands available for grazing.

Agriculture was born in the Oriental part of the Mediterranean and since man became a grower and a shepherd, his life has been a continuous struggle against wild fauna and flora, favouring domestic plants and animals. He was later able to master the art of irrigation and settled next to major rivers. However, in less favoured areas, he had to deal with a tough landscape. He started modelling the plains, hills, mountains and plateaus, thus creating the specific Mediterranean rural landscape that still survives.

Witnesses of the human impact, these terraces are now an integrated part of the landscape. The preservation of the ecosystems are only possible through the preservation of the different elements that compose the landscape. The lack of interest in agriculture and pastoralism, and the abandonment of the terraces have not only affected the organization of the landscape but have also modified the biological dynamics by provoking the reappearance of the forest and later by the enrichment of the area with native animal and plant species. With the passage of time, continued abandonment of agro-sylvo-pastoral activities would lead to a progressive closing of the milieu (environment), causing considerable modification of the landscape, an alteration of the biological equilibrium and a loss in biodiversity. This situation usually leads also to an increase in the risk of occurrence of forest fires because of the thick pack of litter and dead biomass accumulating in the woodland. The low income generated by the traditional forest and range related activities is one of the main causes behind the abandonment of agro-sylvo-pastoral practices (Montgolfier, 2002).

Rangelands have a direct use function as grazing lands for herds. In addition, they play an important role in soil conservation and groundwater recharge. In semi-arid areas, such as the Northern Bekaa, intensive rainfall events on degraded rangelands result in flash floods with dramatic on and off-side effects. Range rehabilitation in these areas would greatly improve water infiltration and groundwater recharge while alleviating flood events.

The Hima, a Traditional Management and Conservation System
In this part of the world, nature conservation does not always take the same form that it does in the West. Some areas are protected by custom or unwritten convention. While the status of these areas is fully binding in the countries where they exist, it is not always recognized by international conservation authorities. The Hima is one of the traditional conservation and management tools very particular to the region. Since Antiquity, the Middle East has known some form of nature conservation and management. It appears that the ancient Egyptians had a grasp of their environment that dates some 5 000 years ago. The Roman Emperor Hadrian issued a decree protecting parts of the Cedar and other coniferous forests of Lebanon as early as the 1st Century AD.

More recently, but as far back as 1 500 years ago, the Hima came to existence in the States of the Arabian Peninsula and certain other Arab and Islamic countries. The Hima is an ancient system of community-based protected areas and possibly the oldest known organized form of conservation and management in the world. The Hima is a type of common property in which local stakeholders control the use of the common property of a community in order to conserve water and vegetation in times of environmental hardship. Hima is a collective term that encompasses a broad spectrum of areas where living and non-living natural resources are protected and managed by local people for the benefit of the community. In Arabic, the term Hima is a “protected area”, “reserve” or “multi-purpose area” where local people and wildlife are the primary beneficiaries. By preserving such essential resources as forests and grazing lands, the Hima has played a vital role in the struggle to conserve the region’s limited resources. The concept of the Hima system and the pragmatic flexibility inherent in the management of Himas provide an important cultural precedent for the protection and sustainable use of natural and cultural resources.

In Lebanon, until the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, municipalities were still managing their municipal lands as Himas, hiring rangers from the local communities to protect their resources, the local farmland and the yields. A large number of areas that were designated as Himas, are not functioning as such anymore. This is due to the migration from rural areas and the abandonment of agriculture. However, thanks to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL), and in collaboration with the concerned municipalities, Lebanon is witnessing a revival of this ancient institution, with the creation of Himas in several parts of the country.

The objectives of the management plans developed in the current Hima with the local stakeholders are:

Improvement of the pasture resources;

Protection of birds in general and migrating birds in particular;

Protection of the ecosystem biodiversity;

Long term autonomous management of the project by the community;

The use of the site by local and regional communities for: conservation, education, scientific research, recreation, grazing and expanding economic opportunities.

As the initiative is recent (2004) the results cannot be measured yet. The war in the summer of 2006 and the current political crisis the country is going through are slowing down the process and are inhibiting the economic development of the sites. However, the communities are still managing the resources and protecting them, while allowing for a sustainable use of the lands for grazing purposes (SPNL, 2007).


The progressive disappearance of open spaces and of the traditional agricultural and pastoral practices could cause great losses in biodiversity and agro-biodiversity. The progressive suffocation and the invasion of bushes in the agricultural fields, fruit orchards and open spaces are one of the major causes of the degradation of the landscape. When it is abandoned, the man-built system deteriorates and is no longer able to produce all of its amenities. Man having left and the space being abandoned, a whole page of history disappears, the charm and the mystery of the site deteriorate. The space becomes wild and less welcoming; no one is left to maintain the landscape, cultivate the land and host visitors and tourists.

Managed in a sustainable way, with the participation of the shepherds in the decision-making process, grazing contributes to the conservation of the ecosystems and the promotion of the traditional management. In addition to the income generated by livestock production, the rental of the lands for grazing constitutes a good source of income for the municipalities. Used as a tool for the maintenance of the forest and open spaces, traditional agriculture will allow for the opening of the space, favour the enrichment of the biodiversity and be economically beneficial for a sustainable development policy.

The concept of the Mediterranean garden combining the hortus, ager, silva and saltus allows for the conservation of the landscape and the preservation of the natural, landscape and cultural heritage. Organized tourism, respecting the assets and the richness of the landscape, would valorise the space by adding an element to the functional mosaic. The reintroduction of the traditional management and protection systems like the Hima, would strongly contribute to the sustainability of the ecosystems, combining the forests, agriculture, rangelands and other sustainable activities. This allows for the conservation of the landscape and the preservation of the natural, landscape and cultural heritage (Asmar, 2009).

Source: Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles, Fady R. Asmar Agriculture Engineer; Management of Mediterranean Ecosystems (MSc)

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