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Savoirs locaux et agriculture durable au Yémen

 | 
Frédéric Pelat
, 
Amin Al-Hakimi

EFFECT OF NEW TECHNOLOGIES ON TRADITIONAL AGRICULTURE

Adjusting to the extreme shortage of a common resource

Runoff, resource capture and social adaptive capacity

Gerhard Lichtenthäler

Texte intégral

  • 1 Van der Gun, J.A.M., 1985. Water resources of the Sadah area: main report. Report WRAY 3, YOMINCO/ (...)

1Forces of economic and social change during the 1970s and 1980s facilitated the unsustainable exploitation the Sacdah aquifer. By the early 1990s groundwater levels in the Sacdah basins, home to a farming population of about 180,000 people, were declining annually by 4-6 metres. In a worst-case scenario the area’s groundwater resources will be exhausted in a few decades1 unless a shift from water supply to water demand management (WDM) can be achieved.

  • 2 Allan, J.A., and M. Karshenas, 1996. Managing Environmental Capital: The Case of Water in Israel, (...)
  • 3 Turton, A.R., 1999. Water scarcity and social adaptive capacity: towards an understanding of the s (...)
  • 4 Ohlsson, L., 1998. Water and Social Resource Scarcity – An Issue Paper Commissioned by FAO/AGLW. P (...)
  • 5 Turton, 1999, op. cit. p. 25.

2Allan and Karshenas have shown that under conditions of extreme water scarcity, such as experienced in parts of Yemen, natural resource reconstruction can take place.2 This phrase describes the process by which a social entity acts to introduce principles of water demand management, with the aim to reduce consumption by increasing efficiencies and by developing alternatives over time. The capacity to achieve a transformation of approach has been termed the adaptive capacity of a society.3 Adaptive capacity is defined as the sum of social resources available within a society that can be mustered in order effectively to counter an increasing natural resource scarcity.4 Turton distinguishes two main components of adaptive capacity.5 The structural component comprises the sum of institutional (including financial) capacity and intellectual capital that allows for the generation of alternative solutions such as water demand management strategies by technocratic elites. The social component is defined as the willingness and ability of the social entity to accept these technocratic solutions (such as water demand management strategies) as being both reasonable and legitimate.

  • 6 Turton, 1999, op. cit.

3As a result some social scientists are now making a distinction between a first-order scarcity of natural resources and a second-order scarcity of adaptive capacity.6 They argue that many manifestations of resource scarcity are in fact the result of a second-order scarcity of social resources, which in turn impacts on the way that social entities deal with the first order scarcity of a natural resource such as water.

4This paper looks at some aspects of social adaptive capacity as evident among tribal communities in the Sacdah basin. Firstly, will be shown that Sacdah’s tribal groups have demonstrated adaptive capacity over the past decades in response to changing circumstances and needs. Secondly, the study indicates that perceptions of the value of water are changing. It can thus be said that a second-order scarcity of social resources is not yet evident. Thirdly, the paper argues that the role of traditional value systems and communication media such as poetry should be investigated, in an attempt to generate “water wisdom” and to develop a viable water demand management (WDM) strategy that is regarded by the population as being both reasonable and legitimate.

Runoff and groundwater conservation

5Until the mid-1970s groundwater irrigated agriculture was not possible in the Sacdah basin. Most land was communally owned and managed. This meant that members of a tribal community shared the right to collect firewood, graze their flocks and collect fruit from trees. However, the communities were not permitted to use their grazing land agriculturally since the runoff collected from its surface area fed the fields of other communities downstream. Customary law stipulates that the right to the runoff is stronger than the right to the land. Population increase and development of infrastructure after the end of the civil war in 1969 put pressure on the limited available agricultural land. However, suggestions to develop grazing areas were blocked by those who enjoyed rights of access to runoff. Consequently, water scarcity was at the heart of most tribal conflicts. Resulting feuds were often drawn-out, and their resolution difficult and costly.

  • 7 Lichtenthäler, G., 1999, Environment, society and economy in the Sa'dah basin of Yemen: the role o (...)
  • 8 Beck, R., ed., 1990. Environmental profile Al-Bayda Governorate, Yemen Arab Republic. DHV Consulta (...)

6A settlement negotiated by a religious scholar in 1976 became a milestone decision which opened the way for the expansion of agricultural development and consequently led to the mining of the Sacdah aquifer. The settlement stipulated that a community must give up half its grazing land to those owning rights to the runoff from the grazing land. However, if the owners of runoff preferred the runoff water over receiving half the land, no development could take place. The scholar’s arbitration was accepted unanimously by all the tribes.7 Once the issue of runoff rights had been settled, groundwater exploitation offered a way to avoid potential conflict. Moreover, groundwater appeared to provide a new measure of freedom, independence and certainty beyond the reach of customary and Islamic water rights.8

7During the 1970s, Yemeni migrant workers in Saudi Arabia were exposed to technological possibilities with respect to groundwater availability and utilisation. In addition, those staying at home also witnessed with great surprise the new and unexpected groundwater “miracle” when an Italian company, building a new road through the Sacdah basin in the late 1970s, drilled a deep-well to supply its own water needs.

8Remittances provided the cash for drilling, and equipment was brought in cheaply and tax-free from across the border. Privately owned wells promised secure water supplies, a greater degree of autonomy, and a permanent resolution to potential conflict over the resource. People were certainly not aware at the time of the long-term impact - the perception simply was that God had mercifully rewarded them with the “gift” of water as he had blessed the Saudis with the “gift” of oil. However, what became a perceived recipe for conflict resolution over water now turned into potential conflict over land rights. A number of socio-political factors and perceptions were responsible for this development. As land values soared during the late 1970, and especially as a result of the 1984 fruit import ban, claims over land led to renewed feuds, disputes and drawn-out conflicts.

9In the past runoff rights and the “restricted access” character of communal tribal land imposed “restricted access” on groundwater resources. No wells could be drilled where runoff rights were attached to communal land. It was privatisation of communal lands beginning in the mid-1970s that facilitated a change in the status of groundwater. Through privatisation groundwater became an “open access resource.” It is this shift from “restricted access” to “open access” that is leading gradually to a “tragedy of the commons” unless political feasible and social acceptable solutions can be worked out.

Runoff, resource capture and social adaptive capacity

  • 9 Lichtenthäler, G., and A.R. Turton, 1999. Water demand management, natural resource reconstruction (...)

10Privatisation of tribal lands facilitated the exploitation of much of the Sacdah aquifer. However, for a number of reasons large areas of the Sacdah basin have escaped groundwater exploitation. Firstly, conflict over tribal territory and communal boundaries has meant that extensive grazing areas could not be privatised. Consequently, no well development could take place. Secondly, tribal groups have preferred, for political, economic or social reasons, to retain their runoff rights. In so doing they have effectively stopped any attempts by their up-stream neighbours to develop new farms. Thirdly, communities are becoming increasingly aware that groundwater levels are dropping fast. In an attempt to safeguard their water resources villages have co-operated in resisting attempts of shaykhs, traders and land dealers to buy their land.9 The following case studies serve as brief illustrations.

11In one case the tribal group in possession of the rights to runoff from a large area (over 200 hectare) refused the request from the community owning the runoff area to develop their groundwater resources. While they would have received half of the runoff area in exchange for losing their runoff rights they nevertheless stopped their neighbours from drilling any new wells. Increasing fears over falling groundwater levels led this community in their decision to hold on to their existing runoff rights. In order to ensure that these rights will not be violated, an event that would spark inter-tribal conflict, the relevant shaykhs negotiated a 20-year stop to any development of the land.

12In a rare precedent one tribal community has acted collectively to safeguard the future use of their groundwater resources. In consultation with his tribe the shaykh ruled that no individual member was to sell part of his land to people from outside his village. This community had learned valuable lessons from a neighbouring group which sold large amounts of their land to investors, traders and tribesmen from outside the Sacdah basin. Income from other sources enables these new landowners to drill more than one well and to irrigate large citrus farms. Moreover, they have the capacity to drill deeper wells and to invest in submersible pumps in order to follow the sinking groundwater table. The disastrous results of pursuing supply options are evident in the al-Dumayd area, for example. Starting out with one well in the mid-1980s one farmer has had to add five more wells to irrigate his citrus orchard. When all the pumps combined could not supply enough water for irrigation a sixth well was drilled three kilometres away where groundwater volumes appeared more promising. Given these developments it does not seem surprising that groundwater levels in that area have dropped to alarming levels. The fact that farmers in this area now represent many different tribes and interests makes co-operation difficult. However, individuals and communities are beginning to draw conclusions and learn lessons as the village shaykh and his people have demonstrated.

13Runoff zones in areas of rapidly falling groundwater levels are likely to remain undeveloped for irrigation agriculture. Farmers without additional income from non-agricultural sources can no longer afford expensive supply management options. Many of them now prefer sustainable rainwater harvesting agriculture to unsustainable and expensive groundwater irrigation options.

14In several other cases villages and communities have closed ranks to prevent their own shaykh from buying land from them. As many of the local shaykhs have come to command considerable social and political power, individuals are usually reluctant to deny their requests to buy land. But in a recent case a number of villagers resisted the wishes of their shaykh when it emerged that he acted as a broker for a rich businessman in the capital. Why should the “haves” come and siphon off the water from the “have nots”? —is the perception of many local people. Moreover, their refusal to sell was perfectly justified by traditional values and especially the tribal notion of juwārah (neighbourhood law), which requires that land for sale must first be offered to relatives and neighbours in an attempt to protect it from being lost to the tribal community.

15The above mentioned initiatives indicate that small communities have begun to co-operate in order to protect their water resources from exploitation. It also suggests that groups have started to take a longer term perspective and one which takes into account the sustainable management of their vital groundwater resources. People from all over the Sacdah basin have commended the previously mentioned shaykh for uniting his community against selling land to outsiders. The case signals a significant change of perception in regards to the values of water.

Constraints to adaptive capacity

16Co-operation over groundwater management, however, is also constrained by tribal political factors. Since the early 1980s and especially after the fruit import ban in 1983/84 large areas of grazing land in the Sacdah basin have been sold off to individuals and families belonging to tribes from outside the Sacdah basin area. A variety of factors such as prolonged drought, land and water scarcity, tribal politics, and economic and social opportunities explain the huge influx of people. The water-stressed area of al-Dumayd provides an interesting example. Since the mid-1980s landowners there include people from the two main tribal confederations Hāshid and Bakīl with their numerous subsections as well as from the tribes of Khawlān bin cĀmir with their main subsection Rāzih, Munabbih, al-Mahadhir, Khūlī and Jumāca. With the exception of a few individuals these new landowners have not changed tribal affiliation by moving among the Sacdah tribes. They share no history of co-operation with their host communities. In fact, a primary reason for moving to the Sacdah basin may have been to break free from the need to share and co-operate over the scarce and limited water and land resources in their highland home territories. In the opinion of most locals from the area these factors inhibit the formation of local initiatives and user groups.

Harnessing social adaptive capacity

  • 10 Global Water Partnership/Framework for Action Unit, 2000. Towards water security: a framework for (...)

17Generating water wisdom among all stakeholders is a precondition for improved decision making. Raising public awareness on the importance of water and what must be done to achieve water security, and building and sharing knowledge about water, are the key challenges.10

The Role of poetry

18In the Yemeni context, poetry presents itself as a powerful yet friendly medium with which to communicate information, critique old ideas and circulate new concepts. As a literary genre, poetry is politically appropriate and culturally appreciated, and can be used to address water management issues and to change perceptions.

  • 11 Caton, S.C., 1990. Peaks of Yemen I summon: poetry as cultural practice in a North Yemeni tribe. U (...)
  • 12 Caton, 1990, op. cit. p. 48; Dresch, P., 1995. The tribal factor in the Yemeni crisis. The Yemeni (...)

19Yemen has a long history of employing poetry for persuasion and in conflict mediation as shown by a detailed study carried out in Khawlān al-Tiyal, a tribal area south-east of Sanca’.11 Moreover, within the context of contemporary society tribal poetry has been used effectively to criticise party politics, new elites and new power centres.12 An appraisal of locally produced poetry in the Sacdah area suggests that this literary genre could be utilised to increase community awareness and co-operation to bring about changes of perception vis-à-vis the sustainable and equitable use of the shared groundwater resources.

20A small pilot project is being proposed with the aim of identifying local and tribal poets and commissioning them to compose “water poetry.” These compositions could be recited at cultural events, “water days,” and tribal meetings. Moreover, poetry recorded on audiotapes could be disseminated to a wider audience. Sacdah's cultural centre (al-markaz al-thaqāfī) has indicated interest and could provide support, while an accomplished local poet has agreed to write a “water poem.” At a further stage this could be followed up with a poetic competition in which poets from various tribal groups and geographical locations take part.

The Role of religion

  • 13 Haykal, B., 1995. A Zaydi revival? Yemen Update 36, pp. 20f.
  • 14 See Lichtenthäler and Turton, 1999, op. cit., pp. 8ff.

21Sacdah is a centre of Zaydī belief and practice which, in recent years, has witnessed a spiritual renewal among the wider population.13 The revival of Zaydī scholarship in the area has led to the emergence of a younger group of religious scholars and teachers. The Islamic principle of maslahah cāmmah (welfare of the community over individual interest) is recognised and could be explored to change perceptions from private to community “ownership” of groundwater.14

  • 15 International Development Research Centre, 1998. Conference report on: Water resources management (...)

22The co-operation and help of Islamic preachers and teachers should be sought to help address solutions. That this can be done effectively through religious sermons has been shown in another Middle Eastern country.15 Relevant knowledge about water issues is shared and discussed with Muslim preachers, who then incorporate the information into their religious sermons.

  • 16 See also Lichtenthäler and Turton, 1999, op. cit.

23Most religious scholars own little land and do not have the resources to drill wells. Their immediate concerns are arbitration, teaching and education. They have no vested interests in agriculture and are therefore perceived as impartial actors. Their service should be enlisted to take a fresh look at the religious tenets that currently justify the rights to groundwater extraction on privately owned land. The Islamic principle of maslahah cāmmah should be given particular attention as it clearly recognises that the interests and welfare of the wider community have priority over and above individual rights and benefits even if these are lawful (al-maslahah al- cāmmah muqaddamah calā al-maslahah al-khassah). The Islamic saying is that "the Sharīca has to be applied wherever the general interest lies" (haythuma kanat al-maslaha fathama sharc Allah). Based on the notion of “no harm” it appears that the concept of maslaha camma could be explored to help regulate and redefine rights to groundwater abstraction and well drilling on private land.16

Conclusion

24This brief paper suggests the existence of social adaptive capacity among Sacdah’s tribal groups. In the mid-1970s all the tribes of the area recognised that it was for their common good to re-negotiate established rights to land and water when they accepted unilaterally the proposed settlement (qarār) mediated by a religious scholar. This was because the impasse caused by customary water rights affected all groups. Moreover, to borrow a term from conflict resolution theory, trading water rights for land rights appeared as a “win-win” option at the time. In addition, the solution to privatise common land initially appeared to decrease the potential for tribal conflict over shared water resources. More than two decades later and with groundwater levels dropping at an alarming rate of 4-6 metres per annum many farmers are becoming increasingly aware that regulation and groundwater management will indeed serve the long-term common interests of all their communities. Such newly generated “water wisdom” needs to be harnessed and supported. This goal is best reached by building on indigenous ideas and initiatives, and by using culturally effective, socially relevant and politically feasible forms. The Sacdah context presents an opportunity for the development of some appropriate and highly innovative WDM strategies exploring the role of religion and poetry as a vehicle for transmitting information. This could result in a special pilot project to assess the effectiveness of the approach.

  • 17 A tribesman from Khawlan al-Tiyal on what it means to be a qabili, Caton, 1990, op. cit. p. 26

You must teach him four things, the dictates of Islam, how to shoot a gun, how to dance, how to compose poetry.17

Notes

1 Van der Gun, J.A.M., 1985. Water resources of the Sadah area: main report. Report WRAY 3, YOMINCO/TNO, Sana’a / Delft.

2 Allan, J.A., and M. Karshenas, 1996. Managing Environmental Capital: The Case of Water in Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, 1947 to 1995, in Allan, J.A. and J.H. Court, (eds.) Water, Peace and the Middle East: Negotiating Resources in the Jordan Basin. I.B. Taurus Publishers: London.

3 Turton, A.R., 1999. Water scarcity and social adaptive capacity: towards an understanding of the social dynamics of managing water scarcity in developing countries. MEWREW Occ. Paper, Water Issues Group, SOAS, University of London.

http://www.soas.ac.uk/Geography/WaterIssues/OccasionalPapers/home.html.

4 Ohlsson, L., 1998. Water and Social Resource Scarcity – An Issue Paper Commissioned by FAO/AGLW. Presented as a discussion paper, 2nd FAO E-mail Conference on Managing Water Scarcity. WATSCAR 2.

5 Turton, 1999, op. cit. p. 25.

6 Turton, 1999, op. cit.

7 Lichtenthäler, G., 1999, Environment, society and economy in the Sa'dah basin of Yemen: the role of water. Draft of unpublished PhD thesis, SOAS, University of London.

8 Beck, R., ed., 1990. Environmental profile Al-Bayda Governorate, Yemen Arab Republic. DHV Consultants.

9 Lichtenthäler, G., and A.R. Turton, 1999. Water demand management, natural resource reconstruction and traditional value systems: a case study from Yemen. Occ. Paper 14. MEWREW, Water Issues Study Group, SOAS, University of London

http://www.soas.ac.uk/Geography/WaterIssues/OccasionalPapers/home.html.

10 Global Water Partnership/Framework for Action Unit, 2000. Towards water security: a framework for action. Global Water Partnership, Framework for Action Unit. Sida, p. 4.

11 Caton, S.C., 1990. Peaks of Yemen I summon: poetry as cultural practice in a North Yemeni tribe. University of California Press, Berkeley.

12 Caton, 1990, op. cit. p. 48; Dresch, P., 1995. The tribal factor in the Yemeni crisis. The Yemeni war 1994: causes and consequences, J.S. al-Suwaidi, ed., pp. 33-56. Saqi Books, London, p. 5; Dresch, P., 1995. Stereotypes and political styles: Islamists and tribesfolk in Yemen. IJMES 27: 405-431, p. 417ff.

13 Haykal, B., 1995. A Zaydi revival? Yemen Update 36, pp. 20f.

14 See Lichtenthäler and Turton, 1999, op. cit., pp. 8ff.

15 International Development Research Centre, 1998. Conference report on: Water resources management in the Islamic World. December 1-3, 1998, Amman, Jordan.

http://www.idrc.ca/waterdemand/news_e.html.

16 See also Lichtenthäler and Turton, 1999, op. cit.

17 A tribesman from Khawlan al-Tiyal on what it means to be a qabili, Caton, 1990, op. cit. p. 26

Auteur

SOAS Water Issues Study Group, University of London, Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H OXG, United Kingdom

© Centre français de recherche de la péninsule Arabique, 2003

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