Research for Development in the Dry Arab Region: The Cactus Flower

Research for Development in the Dry Arab Region: The Cactus Flower

Research for Development in the Dry Arab Region: The Cactus Flower

Research for Development in the Dry Arab Region: The Cactus Flower


They will feed beside the roads and find pasture
on every barren hill. They will neither hunger nor thirst,
nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them.
He who has compassion on them will guide them
and lead them beside springs of water.

Isaiah 49:9-10

Wind -swept and sun-parched in the summer, snow- capped and bitterly cold in the winter, Arsaal, like all mountainous drylands, lives between the two extremes which have forged it: the environment harsh and unforgiving which threatens life at all times, and the unstoppable will to survive of its people, its plants and its animals.

Drylands are aptly named for the lack of water, the basis of life. Besides a severe lack of natural resources, the predicament of drylands is also man- made: rapid population growth, poverty and inequality, and protracted political instability. Under these pressures, dryland communities are breaking down and disasters are expected. And these are indeed occurring: famines, severe land degradation, rural exodus and so on.

However, hidden in the highlands of Arsaal, some unlikely events are unfolding. This village for centuries subsisted on a traditional agropastoral economy based on small-scale farming and seasonal transhumance. In the past 50 years, rapid social, political and economic changes occurred and coincided with the introduction and successful production of rainfed stone fruit trees. Today, about two million trees cover its mountains, planted one by one, against all odds. This is the Arsaali paradox: at a time when the global trend is one of loss of trees and other vegetation, Arsaal, the driest part of Lebanon, is covered with orchards. Yet, every change has its price. The massive introduction of fruit trees resulted in increased fragmentation of the grazing common land, making it less accessible to other users and creating conflict between pastoralists and fruit tree growers.

The paradox was bound to attract the attention of researchers, a breed that lives on the dissection of unlikely events. Thirsty for freedom, yet boxed in disciplinary pens, we, the researchers, rammed our way out of the enclosures in search of job satisfaction. After many false starts, we . . .

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