Rangelands are vast landscapes in the world’s poorest non-tropical dry areas characterized by low productivity and potential. A large number of rural communities use range resources – including wood products and livestock forage in agricultural work. However, repetitive droughts and overgrazing have led to widespread land degradation.
In an attempt to increase the productivity of rangelands and design sustainable and efficient rangeland rehabilitation and restoration programs, Dryland Systems has researched best-bet methods to improve rangeland management. They found that traditional monitoring methods are still used by rural communities and these should be replaced by scientific techniques. Furthermore, rangeland monitoring requires repeated observations of ecosystems, which are stretched over vast areas of land, requiring significant levels of equipment and human resources.
Reflecting this need, a ‘training of trainers’ was recently organized in Jordan to build the capacity of National Agricultural Researchers (NARS). Twenty field experts representing Syria, Jordan, India, Tunisia, Tajikistan, Algeria, and Pakistan attended the training – their attendance was sponsored by Dryland Systems, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS), an IFAD-funded project, Crop Livestock Conservation Agriculture (CLCA), and a US AID-funded project, Promoting Science and Innovation in Agriculture in Pakistan (PSAIP).
The first part of the training focused on rangeland assessment. Participants were informed about the dynamic nature of plant community responses to climate fluctuations (drought or wet conditions) and man-made disturbances (mainly overgrazing), which make short and long-term monitoring of rangelands essential. Ground cover is another key indicator of rangeland degradation due to the high percentage of litter and the portion of bare ground exposed to the erosive impact of rain.
“Technology advances in the geo-spatial sciences have created new opportunities for vegetation and ecosystem monitoring. We have been implementing recent scientific techniques and have introduced ‘Digital Vegetation Charting Technique’ to our trainers,” says Mounir Louhaichi, a senior rangeland expert and a leader of the Rangeland Ecology & Management activity within the Dryland Systems research team. “We think it will improve the performance and decision making of local field experts to analyze what happens in their areas and to propose informed policy options to their institutions when needed,” he says.
Digital vegetation charting technique (DVCT) employs an automated classification of digital images using VegMeasure® software. It allows an accurate analysis of vegetative ground and field-based images that can be easily taken with a digital camera. Participants were also introduced to data handling & viewing, measurement of plant frequency and density, measurement of biomass, creation of a Geo-Data Base, and data archiving and long-term handling.
Course Participants got hands-on experience using customized software to assess rangeland vegetation. They will take this knowledge back to their home country, not only to implement the new technique, but also to disseminate this knowledge to national institutions. Moving forward, there are plans to repeat the training throughout the dryland regions targeted by the Program.