Odeh Al-Meshan

The Badia is part of the Arab regions (defined as the semi-arid region of Jordan) and constitutes a significant part of Jordan and includes vast hyper-arid areas. As a result, the Badia has been defined based on aridity indices and is classified as a land for communal pastoral use (rangeland). It is situated in the eastern part of Jordan and is considered a home of the Bedu. The Badia stretches from the Jordan’ highlands in the west, to the east, bounded in the north by Syria, in the east by Iraq, in the south by Saudi Arabia and the west by the marginal area. The Badia area occupies the majority of the eastern area of Jordan, 85 percent of the total area of Jordan (76,500 km2), and is dominated by dry weather conditions. Of this area, 11,000 km2 is classified as a semi-arid area (100-200 mm/year) also considered a marginal area. The marginal area, located around and to the east of the highlands, is a relatively flat land with a gradual slope down towards the east where the Badia area located.

Similar to the Arab arid regions, the Badia of Jordan is currently facing severe natural challenges, specifically water resources depletion and salinization, biodiversity, and rangelands degradation. Many plant species are close to extinction due to overgrazing and frequent droughts, and many wild animals have disappeared. Contributing factors include: excessive groundwater extractions, expansion of extensive agriculture (which limits the amount of rangeland available resulting in overstocking on the remaining area), depletion of soil quality, use of vehicles to move animals to remote pastures for grazing, increases in the number of animals per livestock-holder, rangeland overstocking, shifting land ownership from the tribe or state to individuals, and the absence of a clear land use policy.
Ecologically, the terms “marginal areas”, is used interchangeably and frequently within the Jordan Badia, especially when moving gradually from areas with low and fluctuated rainfall to more precipitated areas with agricultural activities and productivity. However, the marginal areas can be identified as the transitional area between the Jordan highlands and the drier areas or steppe in the east.
In general, marginal areas are classified as arable lands for cultivated seasonal crops such as wheat and barley, depending on erratic and sporadic rainfall. Nevertheless, and over the past four decades, things have changed dramatically where huge investment in intensified irrigated farming has taken place such as fruit and vegetables production using groundwater. Despite this, the area still suffers from a big gap between land production outputs and the local communities’ consumption requirements.

Groundwater in the marginal areas is one of the biggest environmental challenges the agricultural sector faces, not only in the marginal area but for crop production in the entire country. Investment over the last three decades has been carried out by hundreds of private farmers, most of them from outside the Badia region and from the government, for drinking and industrial uses especially for major cities. This has happened often with no planning or control on the consequences of such work. Land tenure status and tribal areas interfaces are complicating the marginal areas’ development in terms of farming practices, particularly through the random use of the state land.

Biophysical constraints such as acute water scarcity, frequent drought, low soil fertility, salinity and desertification are the major restricting factors in the marginal areas. In the future it is expected that the marginal area will face severe deterioration because of climate change impacts and socio-economic factors such as population growth, an increased number of refugees from neighboring countries (uprooted), in addition to the continuation of agricultural investment. Both factors are accompanied by the expansion of poverty pockets, lack of enabling policies contributing to unsustainable resource use, unemployment, and rural out-migration.

Taking these issues into consideration, the land use in these marginal areas increases the difficulties and complexity of land use. For example: the type of crops grown should be selected on the basis of compatibility with the environment in terms of water use at all three stages in crop production: before planting, during planting and after planting in order to minimize the water consumption, reduce the cost and enhance the livelihoods of local communities.

For better achievement of food security in the marginal drylands, emphasis should be placed on diversifying and improving rural livelihoods by improving access of the rural population to available and transferred technology. This could be obtained by addressing the following topics: (1) Achieving sustainable agricultural development in its economic, social and environmental dimensions; (2) Optimum use of natural resources such as water and soil; (3) Making rural financial and marketing services available to farming households; (4) Encouraging farmers to produce organic products and switching a portion of Jordanian production towards this market to increase the yield, either in livestock production or plants or even in processed products where profit margins may be higher; (5) Developing the role of rural women to utilize their skills in order to improve family incomes by addressing the absence of facilities needed to develop skills in the areas of production and marketing; (6) Improving the marketing of agricultural products – which suffer from weak supply-demand links, high post-harvest losses, low prices, and the absence of quality control and standardization – to enhance the profit margins and quality of life for all who live in these areas.

Holistic approach to enhance marginal areas’ development:

• Managing run-off water by constructing of earth gabions and terraces to establish water harvesting systems that may irrigate crops and provide water for local domestic consumption and that can contribute to local groundwater recharge.

• Re-vegetating system that combines planting and re-seeding with native species and uses both macro and micro water harvesting techniques and schemes to capture, store and redistribute water for these crops.

• Moving from extensive animal farming to intensive animal farming with produce and providing subsidies to small farmers.

• Encouraging small livestock owners by reducing the number of animals per household.

• Leaving land under the state, stopping the private title, and solving the land tenure issues especially concerning tribal land or land under claims.

• Ecosystem restoration of rangelands with native appropriate shrubs, forbs and trees such as Atriplex species, Acacia species, Salsola species and Juncos species.

• Rehabilitation programs by adopting an atraditional/indigenous alternative system for protecting the rangelands. In this case, Hima concept is the most applicable and useful approach as an option to reverse the degraded ecosystem to the original status, and is also an attractive concept to employ as a possible model for engaging communities in a more focused effort of “self-organization” for sustainable resource management.

• Empowering local communities through the provision of stakeholders with the knowledge and skills to ensure the engagement of all the relevant stakeholders in the management and planning process.

• Using the techniques of traditional irrigation systems; understanding the interaction between animal and vegetable production; making use of old cultivars; relying on farmers’ organizations and cooperation and building on existing knowledge.

• Developing a land use plan and database for all areas in the Badia. Land uses are mainly for agricultural production.

• Stakeholder consultation and participatory planning by involving all relevant stakeholders at different levels. This will ensure that at national and governorate levels planning and decision-making for land use and water management will be better informed by local realities, leading to policy frameworks that support decision-making at lower levels. End-users will thus have a better chance to take ownership of, and accountability for the management of local water resources. This is possible by supporting networks of different stakeholders from the community to the national policy level.

Dr. Odeh Al-Meshan is Director, Badia Research Program – Amman, Jordan.