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close this bookCERES No. 074 (FAO Ceres, 1980, 50 p.)
close this folderUnsnarling the bureaucracy
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View the documentMaking social forestry work

Making social forestry work

'Trees for people' is a neat slogan but matching the techniques of forestry to the needs and attitudes of traditional pastoralists requires careful planning, good communicators, and not a little patience

by Mane-Christine Comte

"Do you really expect the shepherds to use picks and shovels to reach Tisfoula?" The Caid of Ain Leuh, some 150 km from Rabat in the Middle Atlas of Morocco, was angrily referring to the new sheepherders' refuge which had been built in connection with an FAO technical assistance project, some way up the mountain on the line of transhumance.

Various problems had cropped up during the last snowfalls, some with tragic consequences. According to the vice-president of the community of Ain Leuh, the refuge was inaccessible to the snowplough and thus even more so to the shepherds and their sheep; it was badly constructed, particularly the roof, which had partially collapsed because of the weight of the snow; and, finally, the fodder that was to be distributed to the animals had been under lock and key with nobody having the authority or taking the responsibility of opening up the reserves: should it have been the Direction des eaux et forets (Forestry Service) or the Direction de l’vage (Livestock Service) which should have given the orders? By early March 1979, as many as 37 000 animals had died of hunger, cold and disease.

However, it must be added that the refuge was then only three quarters completed, and that, although planned, there were as yet no provisions for the isolation and treatment of sick animals. "If we are going to do something, we must do it properly," was the bitter comment of the Caid.

Such incidents reflect the problems that have confronted the personnel of the UNDP/FAO project on the management and improvement of forest grazing grounds in Morocco since its inception in July 1975. The second stage of the project, started in 1979, is known as "silvopastoral management and community development," a title that reflects a difference of approach to the problems considered.

The project's long-term goal is to assist the Government to elaborate a coherent policy of silvopastoralism, which would include the conservation and a greater production of the state forests, the application of the national plan of forestry development and the maintenance and development of livestock reared mostly in the forest.

The forest domain of the State covers about 5 million ha of arboreal formations and 2.8 million ha of esparto grass steppes, and involves very different topographic, soil and bioclimatic conditions. It extends from the Rif mountains, now overpopulated by long-established sedentary peasantries, to the steppes of the south, inhabited by seminomadic herders.

The forest has great productive capacities, but it is inefficiently managed: the country is in fact deficient in wood. Population pressure is one of the obstacles both to greater forestry production and the preservation of the forest domain.

Most of the woods run the risk of being decimated by the indiscriminate cutting of trees by the rural people to satisfy their needs in fuelwood and to feed their livestock. Large areas of the forest thus become practically unproductive and are prone to accelerated erosion.

Where the Forestry Service has managed to implement some conservation measures, it has had to bar the people having right of use from the forest grazing grounds, with the consequence that they have been forced to reduce the size of their herds. This has contributed to reduced living standards and to increased unemployment in the countryside, and to a greater rural exodus. On the national level, the decrease in livestock has brought about a greater deficit in meat and milk products.

The question of forest grazing grounds is a very complex one in Morocco. Apart from its technical side, it has economic and social aspects of great importance, and traditions and rights of use play an essential role. One of the first components of pastoralism is that of human relationships among the users of the same grazing ground, whether it is inside or outside the forest. The traditional framework of these relationships is always a specific territory corresponding to a specific group (tribe, fraction of a tribe, village, douar). To avoid disturbing traditional economic units, rights of use had been recognized by the State as early as 1917, when it started promulgating laws on the forest domain. The Decree of 1921 defined users as "only those who are part of a tribe or fraction bordering a forest or having, traditionally, the habit of going there for transhumance.'' Therefore, no foreigner to the group may be admitted, and these rights are neither transferable nor extensible. We shall return to this point later.

Because the collective grazing grounds have been greatly reduced in favour of cultivated areas during the past few decades, the state forests have taken on a much greater importance for the survival of the livestock. As daily or seasonal pasture, it has been estimated that the forest contributes 20 percent to the food needs of the animals and, in some areas, as much as 50 to 70 percents

It is obvious that all these elements had to be taken into consideration for the elaboration of a sound forestry policy. The first requirement was therefore an enormous amount of basic studies and on-the-spot information on the various regions of the forest. Because of this preliminary work, and also because of administrative difficulties at the beginning and recurring financial problems, the FAO project got off to a slow start and has not kept up with the original schedule, which in any case seemed to be unrealistic.

Strong competition

Seven zones of study were planned, one in each of the great regions of the country: the North Atlantic plains with the Mamora forest of cork oaks, the Rif, the Middle Atlas (cedars), the Central Plateau (evergreen oaks), the High Atlas (holm oaks), the Atlantic

Southwest (argan trees), and the East (esparto steppes). At the same time, the project would assist the Forestry Service with its seed programme for the improvement of the grazing grounds and help to train forestry experts.

The Mamora zone includes 30 000 ha, 20 500 of which are covered by state forests. Its population was estimated at 14 000 in 1976, with an annual growth rate of 3 percent. In 1972, the zone's livestock was made up of 75 000 head of cattle and 160 000 sheep, which was then 2 to 2.5 times more than the land could bear. Sixty percent of the fodder come from the forest, but since it can theoretically provide only 32 percent of the requirements due to the time needed for regeneration, the balance is met by overgrazing and illegal cuttings.

Moreover, in order to follow the reforestation policy, large areas planted to eucalyptus, pine and acacia have been prohibited to grazing. These areas, chosen according to technical criteria, are unevenly distributed and, in fact, the users of the various communities living near the forest have not been taken into account. Here again, the discrepancies between the herders' requirements and those of the foresters can be seen, and one can say that there is strong competition between the two groups, at the local as well as at the national level. The difficult time for the herders is the fall, commonly known as the "months of hunger," when most of the grasses have been burned by the long summer. The herds are in bad shape, underfed and prone to disease. On the other hand, the Mamora is a zone of forestry exploitation and production to feed the cellulose factory of Sidi Yahia.

In this situation, the solutions were of a technical nature, so as to improve the forest cover and to establish standing reserves for the dry months. In the unplanted areas, the unpalatable undergrowth was destroyed either by hand or by machine, and various test plots were resown to forage grasses and bushes. A group of 300 breeders was organized for the manual cutting and storage of the grasses, thus providing fodder for the herds of four douars. Fertilizer was also applied to large areas of existing palatable forest cover.

The Mamora epitomizes one's idea of a forest: row upon row of straight, tall trees line the road on both sides like sentinels at attention, interspersed with batches of bushy and tangled undergrowth. The Middle Atlas and Central Plateau zones are quite different. Although the hills are crowned by cedars and green oaks, the long rocky slopes and gullies give an impression of utter desolation and seem devoid of any sign of human life. On closer inspection, however, a black dot on a hill turns out to be a Berber sheepherder's tent. A large enclosure near the tent, delimited by cut branches, holds his sheep; a smaller one contains the lambs, bleating piteously because they are separated from the ewes.

Severe damage

Accepting our gift of a sugarloaf, the herder starts the tea ceremony and talks about his life. He is from the Ait Azzonz fraction of Ain Leuh, and will spend from May to November in the hills. Three of his six children are with him, the youngest being three years old, the oldest - a girl - about twelve and in charge of the household chores as well as of the younger children. His wife has returned to the village with the last baby.

Around the middle of the summer, when the scrub grass on the hills is exhausted, the shepherd will move his herd into the cedar forest. The ground cover is generally well developed because of the trees' low density, and their branches provide more shade during the higher temperatures.

Many shepherds of the area now stay in the mountains all year round, again because of the extension of cultivated areas and prohibited grazing grounds. If they are caught by snowfalls, tree branches become the only feed available and these are mercilessly cut to save the herds. Unfortunately, the cedar is a very slow-growing tree, and the damage is therefore severe.

The cedar forests are also an important source of economic production, since cedar is a highly prized wood in Morocco. Their yield ratio per hectare is definitely superior to that of the grazing grounds, so that their protection and exploitation must be assured.

But the Berber is suspicious of the forester and all that he represents. To him, his herd is of vital importance. His animals provide him with meat, dairy products and wool; they are his means of exchange for any other product needed by his family; and they are the symbol of his social status, his prestige and his power. The Berber will tend to increase his herd whenever he can to display his riches, without enough consideration for the health of his animals: quantity is more important than quality, and the herd will often include too many unproductive animals.

The livestock of the area was estimated to number 90 000 sheep, 13 000 goats, 4 800 head of cattle and 2 600 horses and donkeys in 1978. Since it has been found that it is impossible to feed so much livestock adequately, even by improving the grazing grounds with plantings and applications of fertilizer, it has been proposed to reduce the total number of sheep by between 10 and 30 percent by 1988. This would be achieved by selecting the best breeders and by developing the efficiency of the veterinary services, so that mortality could be expected to decrease while fecundity would be raised. It has been calculated that the net income of the herders would not decrease but in fact augment, due to the higher quality of the end products.

These zootechnical measures would be supported by the introduction of forage crops, particularly in the lands that lie fallow, and by the improvement of irrigation in the cultivated areas. The collective grazing grounds in the plains, used during the winter, would be improved by plantings and fertilizer, while in the state forests, deferred grazing would be applied for a short period during the time of vegetal growth and for a longer period every five or six years to permit regeneration and natural reseeding.

In the past, Morocco had been importing most of its forage seed requirements, a costly and ineffective practice. The price was three times that of seeds produced in the country and they sometimes arrived too late for planting at the best moment. Consequently, the project helped in the creation of two multiplication centres, one for forage grasses and shrubs adapted to the subhumid areas, the other for semiarid species. The production from the two centres was 25 tons in 1978 and is expected to be 65 tons by 1981, which will more than satisfy the needs of the Forestry Service.

However, from all the above, we can see that an effective forestry management policy for Morocco encompasses much more than purely technical measures. To be successful, it must be inserted within the framework of national policies for the development of rural societies, of livestock, of agriculture. By the same token, forestry protection measures cannot be applied without some means of control that involve the users. The people must understand and cooperate if these measures are not to fall into a void. Furthermore, the improvement of the grazing grounds and the supplying of free fodder could incite the herders to increase their herds so that, after a short period of plenty, the overload would only serve to aggravate the general problem.

The Dahir of 1976 on the "organization of the participation of the population in the development of the forestry economy" stipulates that the benefits from the exploitation of a forest of a specific community will go to the budget of that community, so that the people are now directly interested in the increase of forestry products. The law also gave the responsibility for the organization of the forest grazing grounds to the communal councils and is considered the legal basis for the formation of users into silvopastoral groupings, on which the Government has requested the project's assistance.

The idea behind the concept of silvopastoral groupings is to establish a dialogue between the administrators of the Forestry Service and the users. It is hoped that both parties may be able to work together instead of ignoring each other or acting at cross-purposes as they have been doing.

To survive

Such groupings would be established on the basis of traditional rights of use. However, the first legislative texts excluded foreigners to the group, as we have seen, yet association with non-users is a common practice in the country. In certain regions, 30 percent of the tent chiefs are herders who raise livestock for owners living in the city and who are paid in kind with a fourth or even a third of the herd. This custom allows many poor families to build up a herd or even simply to survive. Therefore, the groupings must include the local collectivities, with all their subdivisions.

The groupings would allow for the integrated exploitation of the grazing grounds with different juridical status by agreement on rotation. They would also enable the authorities to control the size of the herds. Each user would be issued with a yearly card stating his allowed number of head and would be fined for any increase in his quota.

All the difficulties inherent in the formation and organization of such groupings are compounded by the in tricacies of the national administration's bureaucracy and by the competition that reigns among the various departments. The Forestry Service and the Livestock Service are part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, which is in charge of state and private lands, while the Ministry of the Interior takes care of the collective lands. It is the latter that must approve and legalize any such grouping, but each department must also have its say.

Thus, a communal group council with representatives from these departments, as well as representatives from the local authorities and the sheikhs of the fractions concerned, would also be formed in each area. Its main task would be to organize the rational utilization of the grazing grounds and to establish the measures to be taken for their improvement.

The groupings would also facilitate extension and training, which is one of the areas with which the project director is dissatisfied. "Works effected on state lands do not really mean anything to the people," said Joseph Parkan. "We must do something on collective lands, and we must do it by demonstration, not just talk. People must participate."

On a higher level, although the project has helped to train some fifteen forest rangers and forestry experts, he thinks the number very inadequate, considering the many tasks still to be done. "We should be in the field night and day," he went on, "with as many national cadres as possible, instead of sitting at a desk, writing reports. Reports are secondary. We are bad pedagogues."

However, it seems that reports also have their importance. They have certainly helped in creating an awareness in decision-making circles of the many facets that make up a coherent and integrated policy of silvopastoralism in this country. It is to be hoped that it is now only a matter of time before the measures proposed are adopted and applied effectively.