Gulf Cooperation Council
Network for Drylands Research & Development

شبكة دول
مجلس التعاون الخليجي لدراسات

الأراضي القاحلة و التطوير

Socio-economic and Socio-political Change

Nomadic grazing systems in arid and semi-arid regions have evolved over many centuries into a complex set of practices and knowledge that has permitted the long-term maintenance of a sophisticated “triangle of sustainability” that includes plants, animals, and people as a rational response to erratic climates with limited annual precipitation.

In recent years the accelerating economic development in most of the GCC countries has made the Bedouin way of life increasingly sedentary. The traditional pastoral nomadism as a production system no longer exists in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Dependency on range forage as a basic feed resource has declined from 100 to less than 20%. Nomadic movements have been mechanized and operations commercialized. In addition a great shift from traditional camel-rearing to sheep-raising took place. Socio-economic changes involving livestock subsidies and the introduction of water tankers increased herd sizes manifold to suit the new economic conditions. This expansion in the sizes of production operations, in addition to other social changes, resulted in a growing demand for expatriate labor. Generally, the new system of mechanized nomadism requires high levels of capital investments and cash to run livestock enterprises. Production levels are generally low.


The availability of cheap barley feed, machinery and labor expenses are the most important factors determining production expenses.

These factors tend to favor large-size operations for economy of scale. In determining the size of a viable unit that can support a nomadic family, the social traditions must be considered.

Overgrazing of available pasture has forced governments to provide more land to the Bedouin and train them in farming techniques. As the Bedouin become more settled, taking other occupations in the government and the military, their social structure is undergoing a severe change. A weakened tribal structure, individual titles to land and individual employment have diluted the solidarity and cohesiveness of different tribes. In the past – just as in many other nomadic societies in the world - it was considered shameful for a Bedouin to accept a wage-paying job. Today, many have been forced by economic circumstances into full or part-time employment, thou unemployment rates are particularly high. Furthermore the Bedouin involvement in tourism or the manufacture of Bedouin heritage for sale as a commodity is neglected and plays an insignificant role in the GCC countries. The coexistence of segmentation, markets, states, is stressed, with class divisions now becoming especially predominant in Saudi Arabia. With growing urbanization and the loss of their cultural identity Bedouin society is experiencing problems such as juvenile delinquency, crime and poverty.


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