Bedouin Ethnoecology, Range Science and Sustainable Pastoralism

Project Number: 
Project Duration: 
24 months
December 1, 2009 to November 30, 2011
Institution of Principle Investigator while on this project: 
University of Arizona

Investigators (most current known information)

Research Anthropologist, Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, University of Arizona, Emil Haury/Anthropology Building, Room 316, Tucson AZ 85719, USA
TEL: +1-520-621-6972, FAX: +1-520-621-9608, Email:
Badia Research & Development Centre, PO Box 902, Amman 11941, JORDAN
TEL: +962-6-533-5284, FAX: +962-6-533-5680, Email:
Head, Department of Horticulture & Agronomy, University of Jordan, Amman, JORDAN
TEL: +962-6-535-5000 ext 22333, Email:
PhD Candidate, Arid Lands Resource Sciences, Graduate Interdisciplinary Program, University of Arizona, Biological Sciences East, Room 325, 1311 E 4th St, Tucson AZ 85719, USA
TEL: +1-520-243-3103, FAX: +1-520-621-8801, Email:

Proposal Abstract

Definition of the research problem

The Jordanian Bedouin have largely replaced dromedaries with trucks as their primary means of transport (Blench, 1998). Dromedaries now form an insignificant component of the intensified, sheep-based livestock operations in the Badia desert region. Abandonment of dromedaries in favor of sheep appears to have altered plant community composition, due to the differences in dietary preference, and the historically high grazing intensity appears to have significantly reduced herbaceous cover, increasing susceptibility to soil erosion (Blench, 1998). Inferences of causality are, however, hampered by the difficulty of monitoring rangeland condition rigorously over large areas. Nevertheless, profit margins are low and over-reliance on automobiles exposes this subsistence mode to economic disruption from the fuel price rises expected with the passage of global peak oil production. A return to mixed species pastoralism would likely be more ecologically and economically sustainable.

Efforts are underway to preserve a dromedary population in the region, to protect cultural heritage and maintain options for income diversification (BRDC, 2009). However, it is doubtful whether corresponding ethnoecological knowledge is being passed on to younger generations unused to mixed livestock operations. Loss of local knowledge accumulated over centuries could hamper effects to re-incorporate dromedaries into more sustainable use of desert rangelands. There is a need to preserve traditional knowledge and institutions for preserving rangeland, such as the Hima protected areas of Arabia; and to determine whether they can be integrated with range science to improve dryland management. Within range science, new techniques are needed to assess rangeland condition more efficiently and reliably over wide areas. Multispecies allometric models have been proposed but there have been few assessments of their accuracy or savings in time and costs.

Specific objectives of the research

All objectives relate to Jordan’s northern Badia region. They are to:

  • Describe Bedouin traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) with reference to plants, dromedaries, livestock and rangeland management, and other natural resources.
  • Determine whether TEK and range science assessments of pasture utility for forage are compatible.
  • Assess the potential for sustainably increasing livestock production by re-introducing dromedaries, related TEK and the traditional Hima system of protected areas.
  • Produce allometric models for estimating standing crop rapidly in the field, and assess the accuracy and efficiency of this approach.

Expected contribution to this year’s theme

Documenting and assessing indigenous knowledge of the environment and traditional pastoralism should facilitate the reintroduction of dromedaries as a livestock species and for transport. Resulting mixed species operations are likely to a) enhance rangeland condition and productivity in Jordan’s Badia; b) be economically viable by integration with local and regional markets and demand for meat; c) be less vulnerable to disruption by externalities, in particular global oil shortages and ensuing fuel price prices. The project should also institutionalize mutual understanding and respect between practitioners of TEK and range science, leading to greater cooperation between the academic and local communities in land management.

The overarching methodology will be Finan’s learning curve (Finan, 1996). Insights from earlier phases will inform conduct of later phases, allowing researchers to progressively approach and emic understanding of TEK. The range science components of this project will form part of this progression and will apply principles of inventory and monitoring based on standing crop availability and vascular plant allometry (Holecheck et. al., 2004; Nafus et al., 2009: Northup et al. 2005) The anthropological components will be based on Martin’s approach to enthnoecology and Berlin’s classificatory ethnobiology (Berlin, 1992; Martin, 2004).


No outcomes reported


Support for this project came from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture