The role of Bedouin grazing in Sinai conservation Back :  Forward

The Bedu have traditionally managed grazing pressure using systems enshrined in customary law. They maintain that overgrazing affects chiefly those areas in which, due to modern development, they have been sedentarized: they believe that the plants need grazing in order to maintain a healthy condition.

The work of my wife Hilary has exploded the myth of bedouin "overgrazing", a view widely held throughout the literature on the Middle East but minimally supported by scientific evidence. Overgrazing narratives attribute vegetation loss to Bedu, ignoring alternative evidence, and providing a rationale for their 're-education'. Sedentarization is the issue since it prevents the nomadic lifestyle which is adapted to the local circumstances of rare and unpredictable rains. The impact of sedentarization upon bedouin livelihoods resulted in a 95% decline in flock size from the 1960s to the present day, and the loss of viability of pastoralism.

It was interesting to say the least to observe that plants of Sinai Thyme within the Protectorate's fenced grazing-exclusion sites were in worse condition than those outside it. Katy Thompson (PhD 2009-12) tested via a factorial experiment the joint effects of grazing, watering and fertilizing on the growth and flowering behaviour of thyme plants. We predicted that the bedouin view is correct: lack of grazing ages plants prematurely, while watering and fertilizing affect the tradeoff between growth and reproduction. After two years the results were suggestive, but probably mean that two years is not long enough to see the effects of grazing.

Thompson K & Gilbert F (2013) The effects of grazing on the endangered Sinai Thyme (Thymus decussatus) in a hyper-arid environment. Journal of Arid Environments 99: 14-22 [PDF]
Gilbert H (2013) Nature = Life: environmental identity as resistance in South Sinai. Nomadic Peoples 17(2): 40-67 [pdf]
Gilbert H (2013) 'Bedouin overgrazing' and conservation politics: challenging ideas of pastoral destruction in South Sinai. Biological Conservation 160: 59-69 [pdf]