A series of experiments on communally-owned grasslands in the barley–livestock zone of north Syria were conducted to test the hypothesis that introduction of Mediterranean annual legumes will increase productivity. The experiments were preceded by a survey to determine farmers' attitudes, describe the farming systems and to select appropriate collaborators. The first experiment examined the establishment of medics (Medicago spp.) and clovers (Trifolium spp.) distributed by hand, and monitored their effects on biomass and seedbank size. Later experiments extended these results to other villages. The principles of farmer participation in research were used to overcome the constraints imposed by the communal ownership of land.
The survey revealed that the average size of the 20 villages was 36 families and that each village owned 887 sheep and 790 ha land. All villages had access to communally-owned grasslands, although their dependence on income from sheep varied greatly. These villages were subsequently divided into groups of high, intermediate and low potential.
Of the 11 clovers sown in the first experiment, seed numbers of T. tomentosum, T. purpureum, T. haussknechtii, T. pilulare and T. resupinatum increased over three years. By 1996, there were more than 3000 legume seeds m−2 in the seeded treatment compared with less than 2000 in the unseeded treatment (mainly the naturally-occurring Trigonella monspeliaca). The number of medic and clover seedlings also increased significantly, while the number of Trigonella seedlings decreased significantly. Biomass production increased in the final two years and there was no response to added phosphorus.
There were similar results in the later experiments. Seedbank size was greater in seeded treatments than in unseeded treatments, there were more seedlings in the seeded treatments, and the most successful species were T. campestre, T. tomentosum, T. speciosum and M. rigidula. The response in biomass was limited to the legume component, although total biomass increased in at least one of the two years. The highest biomass produced was 1112 kg ha−1 and there was no response to added phosphorus.
The results suggested that the on-station research previously conducted at ICARDA headquarters was applicable to communally-owned land, although important modifications were needed. For example, at ICARDA phosphorus was necessary to stimulate the growth of legumes; in contrast, it was necessary to sow legumes at the four villages involved in these experiments. The results also suggested that the grasslands were common property, owned and controlled by defined groups of farmers.