Reclaiming Al Badia: Sustainable Soil Management in Rural Damascus

by Tiffany Wey (MArch ’11) and John Todd (MArch I)

“De-rocking” is a long-standing land reclamation practice used by Syrian farmers for thousands of years to manually render the shallow, rocky soil of Al Badia (the Syrian steppe) into arable land. In the past few decades, state-initiated land reclamation projects have introduced mechanical de-rocking methods that far surpass manual methods in efficiency. Within the Syrian government’s objectives of increasing agricultural production and food security and halting migration to the towns, de-rocking has been touted as an “unmitigated success…on par with providing irrigation to dry areas”(IFAD 2003). These efforts are aimed toward empowering poor rural populations within the region to establish micro industries of agriculture, generating income and stimulating a sense of place. For this study, we traveled to farming communities in rural Damascus—areas vulnerable to rural-urban migration—to capture the technical and social narratives of de-rocking process beneficiaries. We addressed how farmers adapt technical solutions toward positive and sustainable impacts on incomes and livelihoods, producing a specific cultivation strategy which fosters local responsibility over maintaining land. Beyond documenting the accelerated transformation of the physical landscape, we investigated how mechanized land reclamation reconfigures the social structure of rural communities, restructures rural-urban identity, and reshapes the cultural landscape.