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close this bookThe Improvement of Tropical and Subtropical Rangelands (BOSTID)
close this folderPart II
close this folderThe hema system in the Arabian peninsula
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentRights of ownership or use
View the documentThe hema system in Saudi Arabia
View the documentThe mahmia or marah, and the koze system in Syria
View the documentNeglect of the hema and its consequences
View the documentHema in the range improvement and conservation programs in the near east
View the documentReferences

The mahmia or marah, and the koze system in Syria

A reference to hema practiced in the Sweida mohafazat rangelands is made by Shibly al-Aisamy and coworkers (1962) who, while describing the troubles that occurred late in the 19th century, reported the following:

[T]he harsh injustice, which had been described clearly and in detail by the folkcloric poet (Shibley ElAtrash), created a new widescale revolution in 1897. Among the direct reasons mentioned for this revolution was that one of the guards of the hema of Urman (close to El-Qraye, rainfall about 300 mm) quarreled with a bedouin who trespassed this hema. Upon the complaint made by the bedouin to Mandouh Parsha (the military governor) in Sweida, 30 soldiers were sent to Umran [sic] under the pretext of arresting the guards and punishing them; yet the real reason had been to arrest representatives of this village who previously met secretly with representatives of neighboring villages to protest the Turks' injustice....

The previous presence of hema in this region has also been confirmed by several old shaiks of the Drouz during personal discussions. (2)

Early investigations in Syria revealed the presence of a large number of hema-like reservations, maintained at present in groups. The local name for these is mahmia (plural mahmiat), derived, like ahmia, from the Arabic word for protection. The term marah or mahmia is used along the Syrian-Lebanese border, while koze is Kurdi for hema. The reserves along the Syrian-Lebanese border (rainfall about 300 mm) are maintained chiefly for winter foraging by goats. The 1958 Forest Protection Act designed to control the foraging of goats in forest areas (including most of the mountainous areas of Syria) is enforced by confiscation of the mahmiat or by slaughter of the goats. However, in border areas, the government has not enforced the act.

In non-border areas, where the act is enforced, it has resulted in the confiscation of some 30 mahmiat. However, after control of the mahmiat was taken over by the government, poor management has resulted in excessive cutting of the edible sindyan trees (Quercus sp.) for firewood and charcoal, which in turn has denuded hills and mountains, leaving the land vulnerable to erosion. Where the mahmiat remained under the control of the Syrians, this has not occurred. These remain carefully managed and grazed to maintain good tree, shrub, and grass cover.

A mahmia studied in more detail was found to have a vegetative cover mainly composed of sindyan trees, za'rur (Crataegus sp.), Phyllyrea media, and a comparatively small number of the prickly, shrubby billan (Poterium spinosum). A rich understory of clovers, vetches, and a large number of annual and perennial grasses at an early stage of development were present. About 50 goats were grazing this 50-hectare reserve.

The vegetative cover in the surrounding areas was greatly deteriorated. The shrubby billan was the dominant plant species, indicating previous forest cover. Remnants of the heavily grazed and cut sindvan trees are scattered over the area. The mukhtar of the nearby Elhawi village stated that these trees were cut down within a few years after the 1958 Forest Protection Act. The only remaining mahmiat are the trees within the village cemetery.

These findings indicate that humans rather than goats are probably responsible for the destruction of the forests. Elimination of goats has not proven to be the answer; in fact it has aggravated the situation. As demonstrated in the protected mahmiat. a system of grazing management with the correct numbers of goats and sheep has proven its efficiency. These systems, whether named hema, mahmia, or marah, have been developed by the local people over countless decades and could not successfully be replaced by systems planned for different environmental and sociological conditions. In Syria, the result has been nearly complete denudation of its highly productive range and forest lands and a loss of about one million goats.

A mahmia system of grazing, called koze, has been traced along the Syrian-Turkish-Iraqi borders. Various kozat in the areas of Al Qamishli, Makekizeh, 'Ayn Diwar, and Tall Kushik (rainfall 400-500 mm) were visited. In principle, there appears to be no difference in the methods of maintenance and utilization for such reserves. Tribal tradition is adequate for controlling rights and responsibilities.

The local people usually are reluctant to give information about the kozat, fearing that they may lose their right of use because of government intervention. Inspection of a reserve southeast of 'Ayn Diwar, close to the Iraqi frontier, showed the plant cover to consist mainly of Chrysopogon gryllus (shafer), Palaris tuberosa (giachon), and Hordeum bulbosum (korram). Shafer is highly rated by the local shepherds, owing to its high palatability and long season of growth, especially during the drier season of the year. Its voluminous, deep root system also has great value as a soil binder.

Tribal tradition allows most of these reserves to be grazed only during the winter season, between midDecember and the end of March. Areas where strafer and/or giachon constitute most of the plant cover may be grazed in the summer season, however.

There is evidence that a number of native and/or exotic perennial plants that have proven successful at the Himo Experiment Station (Al Qamishli) could be tried for reseeding and expanding programs of the kozat system of grazing in this and adjacent regions in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.

Another type of hema has also been observed in the Hassia-Breig region, located south of Homs between the main roads to Damascus and the Lebanese borders. This unique range reserve, which covers a surface area of about 40,000 hectares of rough, poor soils, was, until 1958, part of a feudal system of land tenure that came to an end through the enforcement of a land reform act. The system of grazing in this vast hema had been organized through permits for grazing rights to be given to the shepherds belonging to the adjacent villages, against a fixed rental value of about SP1 per goat or sheep per season (that is, about US$1 per four animals). Since this hema is considered to be potential forest or subforest land, it was confiscated by the government and has been transferred to the Forest Department.

Practically the same system of grazing management has been maintained, except that about 600 ha are now completely protected from grazing to allow for natural forest regeneration (Zweitina area). The rest of the area is now grazed only by flocks of sheep; previously, it was grazed mainly by goats. It seems that a smaller number of animals are now being grazed throughout the year, compared with a much larger number during the winter season only.(3)

In the higher altitude of the hema (Zweitina area) at 80~900 m, where grazing has completely stopped (since August 1972), regeneration of Pistacia palaestina, Pyrus syriaca, and Amyzgdalus orientalis has been satisfactory. Otherwise, all over the hema, Artemisia herba-alba and Salsola vermiculata form the main vegetative cover, indicating that annual precipitation might be between 200 and 250 mm.

In a few villages south of the Hassia-Breig region, smaller mahmiat are managed as range reserves for the benefit of village flocks. Both ourf and government orders support efficient control of these reserves.

The possibility of application and use of the same system of grazing in adjacent areas and under similar conditions appears encouraging.