Appreciation of how forest land can be managed in a sustainable way in arid and semi-arid zones (ASAZs) of centralized countries is limited. Accordingly, this thesis seeks to analyse the role of government and communities, including women, in the formulation and implementation of sustainable forest management (SFM) policy and practices in the semi-arid environment of Syria where such land is limited in extent (e.g. 3% forest and 57% rangeland) and yet where its high biodiversity value is of international significance. The thesis employs a variety of methods: a case study approach (Syria); a questionnaire (i.e. 142 respondents); face-to-face interviews (i.e. 26 interviewees); participant observation and secondary data. The SFM model was used to organise and analyse the influences of environmental, economic, social, cultural and political issues on the state of forest land in Syria. Three contrasting forest areas were selected for detailed analysis at local level: Al Foronloq had the Arab Institute of Forestry close by and the area had a high biodiversity value for landscape; Abo Kbeis contained key genetic resources and a number of women there had been trained in forest management and Abd Aziz Mountain was characterised by rangeland with traditional grazing plus a very arid environment. The main results obtained from census data confirmed that Syrian forest lands have diminished considerably since 1900 with regard to their geographical extent due to agricultural development, expansion of rural-urban settlements as well as of agricultural land onto Syrian forest land. On a more general level, the political issues in Syria (i.e. centralization and independency of the country) demand development of the internal resources of the country, such as agricultural production, in order to cover the needs of human maintenance. Scrutinising forest documentation and using results of face-to-face interviews, it was found that there were considerable changes in forest policies in terms of forest protection and plantation. In addition, there was a recent indication of adopting SFM principles in the case study area, largely as a result of action by agencies external to Syria at the national level, and the new role of NGOs in forest management at the local level. The increasing level of awareness of environmental problems; the capacity of institutions; community participation in natural resources management and achieving international agreements were also found to be paramount in any contracts between the Syrian government and other organisations. This thesis, at the local level, showed that respondents in the mountains (in the Abd Aziz Mountain (AAM) study area) seemed to be older, poorer, mostly with non-educated background, with more than three children, than in the Al Foronloq (AF) and Abo Kbeis (AK) study areas. Respondent groups in AAM were found to be more dependent upon forest resources than respondents in AF and AK; and they occupied land illegally because of their mission to develop agricultural activities, including grazing. The study confirmed that educated households in AF and AK use forest resources more than non-educated households. Conversely, non-educated households in AAM suffer from gaining a local income which may in turn affect their attitudes and behaviours in using forest resources; and as consequence, householders suffering from financial problems may be less aware of the importance of forest protection and try to solve their individual needs by increasing the pressures on the forest resources. The major constraints affecting the formulation and implementation of SFM policy are insufficient financial resources, inadequate management from national to regional and local levels; the limitations are also related to local communities’ attitudes and ignorance of the role of women in forest management. This thesis found that the contribution of women in the labour force at the local level was high in Lattakia (Al Foronloq study area) compared with other study areas (e.g. 32.9% in Lattakia against 13.4% in Hamah and 18.8% in Alhasake) (UNDP: Syrian Human development, 2005); although, there was a significant relationship between income level, family size and women’s contribution in forest management at the local level and no significant relationship with the educational level. On a more specific level, the role of religious faith in AK affects the contribution of women in the society and the workplace generally and in forest management in particular. Finally, the application of the SFM model in this study provided a flexible approach for analysis of complicated interactions between the government and communities. It also provided a comprehensive framework for different types of analytical purposes. Each of the three main components (issues, state and political decisionmakers) was divided into several sub-components which facilitate the explanation and identification of the complexities affecting the formulation of SFM policy and the implementation of such policy. It helped to provide a set of policy recommendations which may help to increase future community participation in forest management and reduce the influences of community pressures on forest resources in Syria.

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