Background and Motivation

By before the Land Reform of 1962 when the structure of the rural community in Iran underwent a drastic change, soil and water resources used to be managed solely by the local users. As a result of the Land Reform Bill, new actors found roles to play in the socioeconomic arena of the rural life, the most significant being the central government and its affiliated agencies. These exogenous changes gradually led to the weakening of the traditional rural systems which ultimately lost their power and rigor.
The government intervention through its various public organizations in 1962 marks the beginning of an era when the government administrative system and its public agencies began to replace the local power of landlords in the village, a process by which the government drowned itself into increasingly huge expenditures with the unpromising entailment of weakened development plans. The following are the consequences of such ominous mistakes:

  • The costs for soil and water conservation and preservation of the (not so much favorable) conditions increased year after year. This detracted to a large extent the government’s attention away from its more important responsibility of investing in resource and infrastructure development.
  • Farmers got into the wrong habit of looking to the government for their needs and demands, and consequently began to hold the government responsible for their misfortunes and failures.
  • Increasing population led to further complication of the situation which was also coupled with technical complexities associated with the application of new technologies; hence, the opportunities that were once available for sustained and timely reforms in the traditional systems were lost.

Around three decades ago, and concurrent with fundamental events shaping the new global approach to development, the causes underlying the Iranian Revolution of 1979 gained a pivotal role in formulating national policies for self-sufficiency and self-reliance in production and manufacturing movements inside the community. This was reflected in the formation of social institutions, i.e. the Islamic councils, at the lowest level of the social scale which prepared the grounds for the creation of appropriate and efficient social systems at the village level. However, this movement lacked a well-defined methodology and, indeed, failed to find its place within the whole power structure. The newly formed backbone to erect and strengthen a suitable social structure in the rural fabric, thus, faded away.
In the first five-year national development plan written with the objective of decentralization, a great portion of the development allocations were deemed to be spent by the decision-making bodies at the lower city and town levels. This decentralization movement also failed as relevant and proper socioeconomic institutions did not exist at these lower levels and no predefined plans for organizational capacity-building were available at the time. The lack of local organizational capacity and incapability of institutions at the rural level to undertake such important and demanding responsibilities as planning and managing soil and water resources called for fundamental changes in approaches and methodologies adopted for rural development at that time.
These events at the national level together with the new development policies adopted at the global level which addressed environmental problems aimed at resolving poverty and social problems led to the development of new policies for rural development in Iran. As a result of this, it became clear that it was urgent to put an end to the vicious circle that contained a top-bottom planning and lack of planning at the bottom level.The local parties commonly found no opportunities to express their own needs, motivations, or ideas in formulating plans for meeting their demands, rather the plans were studied and developed at provincial or national headquarter offices and were, subsequently, executed with public funds without recognition of the pivotal role the local communities were to play.
These were the background conditions that warranted a sustainable management plan for the soil and water resources in the Hablehroud Watershed. As a pioneering project, it had to turn into an appropriate precedent of sustainable soil and water management to be replicated elsewhere.


 Sustainable Management of Land and Water Resources came into existence as a joint project by the Government of I.R. Iran and the UNDP in 1997. The Hablehroud Watershed with an area of 1.2 million ha was selected as a pilot area and the project was deemed to achieve the following objectives.
The main objective of the project was to develop appropriate models for planning, management, execution, operation, monitoring, and evaluation of land and water resources in a number of sub-basins in the watershed so that the results obtained could be generalized and extended into a national plan for the protection and conservation of natural resources through the rural community participation in the management of watersheds across the nation. These aggregate objectives can be broken down into two sets as follows:

Objectives in line with national policies:
  • Improved livelihood and living standards of the local inhabitants living on the natural resources in the Hablehroud Watershed as a result of sustainable utilization of land and water resources.
  • Developing an appropriate model for the integrated and participatory management of land and water resources leading to the socioeconomic development of the region such that the model could be replicated in other parts of the state with slight changes to accommodate local requirements. The mode was, further, desired to facilitate the national action plan for the same purposes.
  • Decentralization and promoting cooperation and coordination among public organizations, on the one hand, and between public organizations and the local parties, on the other, towards the development of the watershed.
  • Social development through creation and strengthening of financial and administrative tools and institutions and creation jobs in rural areas.
  • Economic development based on land and water resources and increasing the income level in the regions within the watershed.
  • Developing a participatory methodology for preparing an integrated management of land and water resources in the Hablehroud Watershed.
  • Creation of efficient and effective systems for the monitoring and evaluation of resource management and sustainable development.
  • Promotion of the successful participatory approach that is to be developed to all levels of the social strata with special attention devoted to participation by women, youths, and marginalized groups including those lack possession of land, water, or skills and technical know-how.

Objectives in line with local development:

  • Capacity building among local experts, managers and communities to play a more active role in planning and management of land and water resource and in development of their watershed.
  • Enhancing local capabilities and skills for organizing efficient production and soil and water utilization systems.
  • Defining the status of local (governmental, non-governmental, and local community) parties in planning and management of development projects.

Clearly, the ultimate goal of the project and all its activities had form and develop around public participation and sustainable development. This project is one of the National Execution Guideline (NEX) projects for local communities by UNDP in Iran which started with input and consultation from FAO. The project includes four interrelated projects:1) Desertification Control Project, 2) Irrigation and Agriculture Project, 3) The Umbrella Project, and 4) Watershed Management Project.
Eight villages in the two Delichay and Namroud sub-basins within Damavand and Firoozkouh towns, ehran Province, were selected as pilot villages. They were Hesarbon, Arou, Havir, Dehnar, Lazour, Najafdar, Vazna, and Zarman. Nine villages and two rangelands in Semnan Province were selected in the two sub-basins of Rameh and Ich. These were Chahar-Tagh, Rameh, Ghalibaf, Ich, Abdolabad, Dehnamak, Imamzadeh Abdollah, Jovein, Behvard, and Lasjerd villages and the three Sootehzar, Lazoureh, and Khonar rangelands as pilot regions.


Upon completion of Phase I, a meeting was held by the Ministry of Agricultural Jahad, (the then) National Management and Planning Organization, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the UNDP. Based on the importance of the Hablehroud Project and its outcomes, the meeting decided that it should continue to its Phase II due to its priority among national plans. An international consultant was accordingly invited to develop the document for Phase II of the project in which emphasis was to be laid upon poverty reduction and sustainable production by local farmers and rural producers in a manner to help obtain self-sufficiency goals of in producing basic commodities and achieving food security with improved productivity of basic (forests, rangeland, land, and water) resources. The document was duly prepared and signed by the parties.