Sustainability and Pastoralism

Guest bogger: Khalid Khawaldeh of the Dana Cooperative

Khalid Khawaldeh with Dana village in the background

For pastoralists, mobility is the answer to sustainability. In fact, it is the key tool to ensuring sustainability through the spreading of seeds; control of the growth of certain types of plants or vegetation; fertilising the soil; and lessening the impact of people and animals on areas of land.

Unfortunately, in the present day, mobility is not free and animals and people are concentrated in certain places resulting in environmental issues including overgrazing.

To ensure that pastoralists sustain their way of life and continue their positive contribution to the natural environment and local eco-system, it is vital that the traditional or customary laws of land and nature resources management are respected; and that land tenure use and management (including transboundary movement with its migratory routes and corridors) are also respected. 

Let us look for example at pastoralists within southern Jordan. Before colonisation, people from the Ata’ta Tribe (العطاعطة or العطاطة) would move between Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia. It was one large area used by tribes. Colonization changed this because the large area was divided into several small states. Boundaries were created where they had not existed before. These new boundaries limited mobility and transboundary movement, and remain the main limiting issue today.

The people of Dana are from the Ata’ta Tribe. They lost part of their customary land when the Dana Nature Reserve was established.

Like the majority of the population in Jordan, the pastoralists of southern Jordan follow the Islamic faith. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) said that water, grass and wood are for all the people and that the land is for those who use it or develop it. He said that if it is the last day on Earth and you have a seedling, you should go and plant it.

Sustainability is embedded in the tradition and culture of Jordanian pastoralists, but its application is limited because of political changes. Following on from colonisation, Jordan became a national state and as such introduced the private authority to register land as private property.

Before this development, most of the land was common land which was claimed by the people within tribes. The land was claimed either for a single tribe or for different tribes, and for use either for the lifetime of the tribe or for seasonal use. The land was not owned, instead it was available for use either for a certain time or forever.

State intervention is at odds with this practice. The state began to settle its pastoralists or Bedouin in the 1970s and early 1980s by building houses for some of them. Where the Bedouin did not want to settle in houses, they pitched their tents next to the houses and used the houses to shelter their animals.

Now when the state decides to give land to a tribe, it gives ownership of the land to individual members of the tribe. The individual can use the land for any purpose and can even sell the land. This means that the community in general loses its common land. For example, someone will plant a crop and farm it and in doing so prevent other pastoralists from using the land or moving within its boundaries.

In Jordan, as in many other countries, pastoralists and pastoralism are not recognised as serving the ecosystem, nor is the way of life valued. The traditional way of life is considered to be backward with nothing to contribute to the socio-cultural development of the country. This is not the case, and the problem is that there is no common language between pastoralists, governments and scientists.

Further Reading

Blog post: Customary Land and the Dana Nature Reserve: Impact on Traditional Life

The guest blogger: Khalid Khawaldeh is a founding member of the Dana Cooperative. He is the Cooperative’s Sustainable Development and International Cooperation Manager, and is the Interim Coordinator for the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples (WAMIP).

This blog post is the second of a two part series on pastoralism.

The first post explains how the Dana Cooperative involves local shepherds in its sustainable tourism projects, and the benefits experienced by the shepherds and also international visitors to Dana.

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