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close this bookEcology in Development: A Rationale for Three-dimensional Policy (UNU, 1984, 59 pages)
close this folder3. Illustratory
close this folderII. Pastoralism on the iranian plateau
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentThe case of Iran
View the documentThe case of Afghanistan

The case of Afghanistan

Afghanistan largely shares a common cultural heritage and geographical condition with Iran. But there are some significant differences. To begin with, Afghanistan is at the opposite end of the economic scale. With no oil income it falls in the Fourth World category of the "poorest of the poor." For that reason only, pastoralism would be much more important to the national economy in Afghanistan than in Iran. But pastoralism is also more important in Afghanistan's rural economy, providing the basis not only of meat and milk supplies but of wool and skins for the karakul and carpet industries. In what is now Iran, political power has traditionally been in the hands of the settled urbanized population; in Afghanistan, power has lain with the tribes, who form the majority of the population and have a strong pastoral bias. Thus pastoralism is much better integrated in the national life generally. We might expect, therefore, that pastoral development would not encounter the same problems in Afghanistan, and that it would be approached from a more holistic, sociologically sensitive point of view. In fact, however, it seems that the poorer the country the more technocentric, or eco-centric, the planning, and that cultural heritage has very little influence.

Livestock production in Afghanistan is estimated to contribute about 30 per cent of exports. The most economically important animal in the national herd is sheep, estimated at 14 million in 1976, down from over 21 million before the drought years of the early 1970s. The major factors limiting growth in present conditions are said to be the condition of the range and the shortage of supplementary feed, especially in winter; but once again there is no adequate information on the other factors of production, and no analysis of social constraints. Although total GNP is thought to be growing at about 3.3 per cent per annum (1965-1974), per capita GNP remains the lowest in the region, at the equivalent of about US $110 (1974). Some two-thirds of the population are involved to a greater or lesser extent in livestock production (See Sandford 1977b). The development problem is not only how to raise productivity but how to harness existing production for the national economy, especially for exports. But pastoralism is accused of causing serious environmental degradation by overgrazing and therefore, it is assumed, must be changed.

In 1974 a Livestock Development Project was begun in an area of 12,000 km2 along the Hari-Rud River in the district of Herat in northwestern Afghanistan (See World Bank 1976, 1978). At the commencement of the project, there was almost no scientific information available on the ecology of the country's rangelands, the dynamics of pastoral production and marketing, or the strategies of herding and management of the traditional pastoral systems. In 1976 the second stage of the project was expanded to cover an area of 100,000 km2. The small ruminant population of this area is estimated at 2,000,000 sheep and goats, approximately half of which are owned by villages and half by transhumant families. The main focus of the project was to raise export earnings by providing a slaughter house and sheep improvement centres and integrating them into the traditional pastoral systems. A subsidiary aim was to develop cooperatives among small producers to enable them to take advantage of institutional credit facilities. The project was supported by a comprehensive research base in the natural dimension, although it is not clear that the findings of the research were used in later work. (The Project had to be discontinued in 1979 because of the deteriorating political situation.)

The project provided for a range improvement specialist responsible for the establishment and operation of a range improvement centre with field stations. But this component does not appear to be closely integrated with the major aims of the project. However, a particularly impressive part of the results of the project is a series of reports that derive from this component. These reports go into considerable detail concerning the quantity, quality and composition of range vegetation in northwestern Afghanistan and the usage patterns and organization of work in relation to it.

Although these reports constitute one of the most comprehensive sets of data available on the interaction of traditional pastoral systems and vegetation processes on arid and semi-arid ranges, and as such are an invaluable contribution to pastoral development, there is an obvious inadequacy in their coverage. Whether or not there was any conscious intent to describe and analyse the three dimensions of the system, rather than simply the ecology and the economy, the data are exclusively behavioural. They therefore fail to explain the strategies or intentions of the pastoralists. This is of course not surprising since they were gathered according to a research design that was not socio-centric and included no provision for structuring the participation of the pastoralists in the process of planning the development of their own production systems.

Even so, the data are invaluable and the addition of the perceptual perspective could make the Herat Livestock Development Project in Afghanistan a unique step toward finding solutions to the problems of pastoral development without pressing too hard against the limits of range productivity. Like the other projects discussed in this chapter, it shows how the beginnings of a process of reorientation in the study of community environment relations can produce information that will eventually transform the development effort.

This chapter has laid out some examples of ecological problems confronting development, appraised them against the background of the three-dimensional approach and set them in historical perspective, showing how in each example the implications for ecological planning change according to how the social and cultural dimensions of the problem are assessed. Special emphasis has been given to the role of external factors (exogeny) rather than internal dynamics (adaptation) in causing both historical incongruencies and modern inadequacies of planning. In each case we have sought to provide a wider perspective by means of comparison with similar examples that differ in some but not all respects. The argument for consciously interrelating ecological, social, and cultural processes in any attempts to induce change or to account for it should by now be clear, although it might be desirable to support it with more detail for which there is not space in the present work. It remains now to summarise the significance of such an approach, from both the intellectual and the practical points of view, in the final chapter.