A shift from traditional subsistence agriculture to commercial cropping of grain, fruit and other high value commodities has occurred throughout Syria in the past several decades. This shift has been accomplished through expansion into the semi-arid steppe, irrigation, forest clearance, leveling or terracing, and stone removal, depending on the region involved. The new crops are often irrigated with water from drilled wells or, more recently, by way of canals from constructed reservoirs. The results of these activities are major changes in land cover from largely native, to domestic species. This leaves much of the land bare seasonally, resulting in wind and water erosion, salinization, and chemical changes in soils from the use of fertilizer. Hundreds of new hamlets and expanding towns and cities are now linked with networks of roads, all of which have further altered the landscape.
The principle members of this research team are: Frank Hole and Jennifer Arzt of Yale University, and Eddy dePauw and David Celis of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).
Additional collaborators include: Roland Geerken, Ronald Smith, and Eric Hole of Yale University, Nicholas Kouchoukos of The University of Chicago, and Youssef Barkoudah of the University of Damascus.
We use time-series analysis of satellite imagery and ground truth studies to monitor and assess changes in agricultural land use over the past 30+ years. We plan to extend the time series through historical and archaeological studies and to relate land use changes to socio-economic processes. The basic goals are to identify the types and geographic distribution of agricultural systems currently in use to chart their evolution, and to assess their sustainability. This research will give planners an overview of historical trends and modern context, and alert them to impending problems through quantification of changes in area, type of crop, and intensity of cultivation. It will also provide evidence of the effectiveness of development programs and help to estimate the feasibility of other potential programs.
The research is carried out jointly at the Yale Center for Earth Observation (CEO) and ICARDA. Image analysis is done in the CEO laboratory, as is the integration of the components of the study into a Digital Atlas and a web site. The CEO team is also responsible for compiling the historical and archaeological background information.
ICARDA is contributing on-the-ground studies in support of the image analysis, and most of the physical and economic data such as geology, soils, weather records, water quality, crop yields, and infrastructure data. ICARDA scientists also carry out sociological investigations in villages in support of agro-ecological studies.
Taking Syria as a whole, we identify six basic types of agricultural systems. These systems vary with topography, precipitation, soils, current political and economic factors, and available technology. As the SWAP region develops, the trend has been for more intensive cultivation and cash cropping to replace more extensive, subsistence systems. The major types of agriculture are listed below. Photographs from the Digital Atlas illustrate typical examples of each agriculture type drawn from Syria.
Several sub-projects, focused on regions within Syria that represent one or more of these types, are currently under investigation. These are the lower Balikh, the Khabur River basin, the Lake Jabbul drainage, the Khanasser Valley, and the Bedouin Farms.