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Bedouin sheikh visits NMSU as part of joint project for economic improvement

Ideas and strategies to improve Jordan's rangeland were exchanged recently when a Bedouin sheikh visited New Mexico State University as part of a joint effort.



(From left), Sheikh Hussein, Raed Halalsheh and Ahmad Al-Qadi discuss techniques of raising healthy sheep during a visit to New Mexico State University's Las Cruces campus. (NMSU photo by Audry Olmsted)

During his trip, Sheikh Hussein Abunwier visited faculty and staff in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and also toured the Corona Range and Livestock Research Center and the Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center, learning about topics that included rangeland restoration, livestock husbandry and animal science. Sheikh Hussein also discussed forage possibilities, women's health issues and youth concerns with area experts during his two-week stay in the United States.

"The sheikh is a real leader in thinking of new and innovative ways to improve the economy and wellbeing of his tribe," said Derek Bailey, associate professor of Range Science and director of CDRRC.

The project is a joint effort funded by the United States Agency for International Development and implemented between NMSU, the International Arid Lands Consortium and Jordan's Badia Research and Development Center.

The goal of the long-term project, started in 2005, is to educate Jordanians on the economic role of limited water, how to use water efficiently in crop and animal production, and also to improve the marketing channels for crop and animal products.

Bailey and Jim Libbin, interim associate dean of ACES, have been working on a rangeland restoration project at Sheikh Hussein's village in southern Jordan.

Through a translator, Sheikh Hussein said the people of his tribe are the most important reason for taking part in this project and that he would use the tools he gained on this trip to aid in developing new enterprises and jobs for his tribe.

"Some of these techniques I can apply in Jordan, but some of the other techniques maybe not because there is a cost issue," he said. "To know is better than not knowing about these (techniques)."

Jordan and New Mexico lie on almost the same latitude and have very similar weather and land conditions, making this effort ideal to see what practices are being done in similar regions.

Sheikh Hussein is the leader of a Bedouin tribe in Jordan that consists of seven sub-tribes. His sub-tribe is part of a large group tribe that has a population of about 6,000. Though people used to work in the farming and ranching community, many have moved on to small trade businesses and government jobs. Through this project, the sheikh said, he hopes to increase economic development for the people he leads.

The most important ideas he will take away from this journey involve animal production and animal husbandry.

Bailey said some of the opportunities they are looking at involve crossbreeding rangeland adapted sheep in Jordan with local rangeland adapted sheep, and also looking at breeding opportunities with pure Arabian horses.

The sheikh is looking at using forage kochia to rehabilitate rangelands near his village and to use as feed source for livestock. Initial results from the cooperative research with NMSU and BRDC are very promising, Bailey said, so he is considering starting an enterprise to harvest forage kochia seed for use in rangeland rehabilitation in other areas of Jordan.

Other issues the sheikh discussed with experts on his trip involved women's and health issues and youth concerns, a big topic since they will be the future of the country.

Sheikh Hussein was joined on his tour by Ahmad Al-Qadi, a project manager with BRDC; Raed Halalsheh, an NMSU graduate student in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences, who is researching the toxic compounds of snakeweed for his doctorate; and Ismaiel Abuamoud, a graduate student at NMSU who is working on a doctorate degree in economic development.

Bailey said he enjoyed taking the guests around, introducing them to different people - and various cuisine.

Halalsheh said when honored guests visit Jordan, they are served a traditional meal called mansaf. The dish is made from boiled lamb meat, served on a bed of rice with a yogurt sauce and pine nuts. It is a communal dish that is eaten by hand.

Bailey, who has enjoyed this meal during his several trips to Jordan, said in return, he treated his guests to steak on their visit to the U.S. And, the Jordanians were also served a staple of local dishes - chile.

When asked to describe the experience of eating the spicy fruit, the sheikh replied with a laugh, "It was very hot!"

Bailey said he is impressed with how easily the Jordanians adapt to new ideas and how willing and able they are to create new ideas from what they see.

"We're really happy to share more ideas with them and continue this relationship both on rangeland science and now on animal science," Bailey said. "It's been a really positive experience to have the sheikh here in this exchange program. It's been really fun and pleasurable to show him around."

Sheikh Hussein, as well as the other participants in the visit, said they were grateful to everyone for their guidance, including Libbin; Katherine Bachman, a program coordinator for the Cooperative Extension Service; Dennis Hallford, a regents professor in animal and range science; Richard Phillips, project manager for CES; and Tim Ross, interim department head for animal and range science.

Both Halalsheh and Abuamoud said they plan to use their doctorate degrees to help the Jordanian people in the future. All the participants said they looked forward to continuing this project over the years.

"It was an excellent visit," Sheikh Hussein said. "It was very nice talking with the American people and (enjoying) their hospitality. We are going to continue this relationship."