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Summary report

Report and recommendations of the khartoum workshop on arid lands management, 22-25 october 1978


Report and recommendations of the Khartoun workshop on arid lands management, 22-25 october 1978

Douglas L. Johnson
Clark University, USA

Dryland environments have become the focus of increasing scholarly attention over the last half century. Although the intensity of this attention has fluctuated, the effects of the 1969 1974 Sahelian drought and the recent United Nations Conference on Desertification have brought the problems of arid lands once again into prominence. Concern is now centred particularly on understanding the causes and effects of appropriate management strategies to control and, possibly, reverse desertification. Research and training are vital to this effort as much practical work remains to be done.

Background and Objectives of the Workshop


The United Nations University, founded in December 1973, is an autonomous unit within the United Nations system. its objectives stress promotion of scholarly research, improvement of action-oriented training, and enhancement of the diffusion of knowledge from centres of learning to the practical realm of everyday life. The University has undertaken a special obligation to foster the growth and interaction of Third World research and training institutions. This is done by developing specific working associations with affiliated institutions. Unlike the traditional university, the UN University maintains neither campus nor students nor regular faculty. Instead, it consists of a central administrative core, and of research and training programmes coordinated by the University and carried out by existing institutions using their own basic resources, supported in part by funds and personnel marshalled by the University. These programmes are directed towards specific activities designed to improve human welfare and encourage development.

In carrying out its general objectives, the UN University has implemented a number of programmes. The Natural Resources Programme is one of these. It contains several distinct sets of activities which were selected as priority areas in mid-1977. Given the considerable global concern regarding the degradation of dryland environments, it is necessary to make an assessment of the application of existing knowledge to these problems a feature of the Natural Resources Programme, and this is the main objective of the Arid Lands Sub-programme. Wealthy nations can afford to subsidize the populations of their dryland territories, but less well-endowed countries can seldom afford this luxury. The priority is less one of making drylands more productive for export to environmentally more favoured regions than it is of providing reasonable levels of security and livelihood to existing populations of the arid zone. For countries with substantial dryland areas the assessment of existing knowledge, its dissemination and augmentation, and the training of personnel in its application are prerequisites for national development.

The selection of the University of Khartoum as an associated institution, following the recommendations of an evaluation mission carried out in October 1977, is an important first step in moving the Sub-programme in Arid Lands Management from concept to reality. The reasons for selecting the University of Khartoum as an associated institution are compelling. In terms of size, the Sudan is the largest country in Africa; yet nearly two-thirds of its land surface falls within the boundaries of the dry world. Precisely because dryland resources make up so much of its natural resource endowment, the Sudan reflects the situation of numerous subSaharan countries. Moreover, its position in the dry tropics makes it possible to compare the Sudanese experience of dryland resource management with that of homologous climatic zones elsewhere. The possibilities of fruitful information exchange are magnified thereby. In addition, the existence of a range of traditional livelihoods, from irrigated agriculture to pastoralism, combined with the development projects of the last 40 years, makes the Sudan a microcosm of change and development for Africa and much of the Third World. The Sudan is also at the crossroads of Africa environments. Linked northwards to Egypt by the Nile through a series of physical and cultural environmeets, the Sudan is joined east-west through the Sudano Sahelian belt by patterns of migration and cultural interaction.

The University of Khartoum has considerable staff resources with which to pursue research and training. Institutes concerned with hydrology and arid lands studies have a long history at the university, and the recently created Institute of Development Studies is an active and productive enterprise. The emergence of the Institute of Environmental Studies (IES) is a promising development, since it provides a major focal point within which training activities can take place, current faculty research interests can be co-ordinated, and new interdisciplinary research can be developed. At the University of Khartoum there is a tradition of work carried out by indigenous researchers and an increasingly intensive involvement in post-graduate diploma and degree courses. There is an equally important tradition of involvement in the practical world of government decision-making. Many University of Khartoum graduates find employment in government institutions, and individual faculty members occasionally assume leadership roles in the executive branch. With over 700 faculty members, many of whom have environmental interests, the University of Khartoum is well provided with competent personnel who, with some judicious and modest supplementation from outside resources, should be sufficient to meet the demands of the joint programme between the UN University and the University of Khartoum. Although the faculty is bilingual in English and Arabic, the absence of strength in other languages will complicate interaction with Francophone Africa. The Arid Lands Management Workshop represents an attempt to articulate a co-operative programme founded on the University of Khartoum's basic strengths.


The objectives of the workshop can be briefly summarized. First, participants were asked to provide advice on the institutional structure of the joint programme to be undertaken between the UN University and the University of Khartoum. These programmes will be vested primarily, but not exclusively, in the IES. The perspective from which this advice was to be given was that of the United Nations University in general and its Arid Lands Sub-programme in particular. Consideration of appropriate research and training programmes in relation to the national needs and priorities of the Sudan was the second objective. Finally, recommendations were solicited on appropriate linkages between the University of Khartoum as an associated UNU institution and organizations with similar interests elsewhere. Attention was to be directed first towards the possibilities of research, and, particularly, training interaction between the University of Khartoum and other institutions in the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa. Equally important was an assessment of the sharing of experience and knowledge with institutions elsewhere in the world dealing with analogous problems,

Themes Discussed

It was the second of these objectives, that dealing with research and training programmes, that received the bulk of attention at the workshop. Emphasis was placed on identifying areas where substantial knowledge existed but where application to current problems had proved difficult. Research that extends existing knowledge was deemed important, but outside the purview of the workshop. In addition, a focus of discussion was the question of whose existing knowledge was under consideration, for it was recognized that formally trained scientists and local resource users might have very different perceptions of the knowledge pertinent to dryland management. The themes receiving the most attention, which are summarized below, were research needs, training requirements, and both existing and potential programme and information linkages.

Research needs

A substantial array of research themes was discussed at the workshop. Some of these were of a fundamental nature, often requiring lengthy and costly investigation. Other themes focused more specifically on assessment studies. These might help to define subsequent basic research priorities, but were envisaged in the first instance as being more limited in scope. The constrained financial circumstances of the United Nations University constituted a recurring theme which emphasized that the University's monetary contribution was "seed money" in mutually agreed joint programme areas rather than a total underwriting of the IES budget and activities. This section of the report refers in general terms to the wide array of issues discussed even though many items were tangential to the direct purpose of the workshop.

Basic studies

Several study areas were suggested at the workshop which might more appropriately be considered "basic studies," or investigations requiring considerable investments of funds and time. Much of the interest in this tropical area revolved around the need to identify appropriate case study regions which could be monitored for trends over long periods. Such study sites obviously require the establishment of adequate baseline data where they do not already exist, if changes are to be noted and measured. The need to monitor the recovery of physically degraded areas was particularly stressed, as was the need to build appropriate monitoring systems at varying scales (satellites, aerial photos, ground sampling, etc.) and intensities into all investigations. Detailed investigations of improved land management techniques related to local need that would enhance productivity also found favour among commentators. In this connection, considerable attention was directed to the need to determine physical and human dryland types in the Sudan. Work has been carried out on this topic from a land-use perspective, but its utility is not always clear to planners. Moreover, where existing data, ethnographic and physical, are lacking, basic investigations might be required. Generally, these themes were not pursued in great detail by the workshop, which focused its attention on assessment activities and the identification of obstacles to applying existing knowledge.

Assessment studies

That obstacles to the application of existing knowledge to dryland problems were considerable was a widely shared judgement among workshop participants. Less clear agreement on reasons for this pointed to the need to identify the factors influencing project success or failure. One reason frequently mentioned for repeated inability to match project expectations with the reality of performance was the tendency to move too quickly to project implementation. Instead, more careful attention to pre-project planning in which local perception of the rational use of resources was taken into account might give a better success rate. Another reason cited as limiting the successful application of knowledge was the limited circulation of existing results and information. Private consultants, consulting firms, and both governmental and non governmental organizations had produced a considerable number of reports and studies. These seldom were readily available. IES was urged to consider establishing a documentation centre/ library where such material could be collated, and the possessors of the same were urged to relinquish their material for a higher good.

The role that IES might play in this process, as well as the institution's priorities and their relationship to the UNU- University of Khartoum Joint Programme was the subject of spirited, if at times diffuse and diversionary, debate, The issue of teaching versus research as the main focus of IES seemed resolved in favour of a primarily research entity with a training component. IES involvement in applied research related to contemporary problem areas such as the Jonglei Canal, the Red Sea coast, and the semi-arid zones of the Sahara fringe, also seemed definite. Considerable confusion surrounded two questions: (a) What was the structure of IES's research programmer? (b) How did the larger I ES programme relate to the specific areas of association with the UN University? The latter question was ultimately resolved in the recommended joint programme assessment studies and training activities. The more general issue of definition of IES research priorities and the use of UNU assessment funding to launch appropriate research directions await further debacle, deliberation, and decision within the University of Khartoum.

Existence of a "credibility gap" between the resource-use objectives of planners and traditional livelihood systems was a recurrent theme throughout the workshop. Sometimes seen as a communications problem between ethno-science and techno-science, two aspects of the problem were identified:
(a) perception differences, where different objectives and needs, each rational from its own perspective, lead to financial inefficiencies and losses, environmental degradation, administrative snafus, and social disruptions; and
(b) problems of institutional structure selection, where traditional control mechanisms are inadequately and ineffectually replaced by new systems.

Nomadic pastoralists were an oft-cited example of the problems of livelihood groups encountering rapid economic, political, and social pressures, but the experience could be extended to other livelihoods as well. The critical need to pay careful attention to indigenous aspirations and perspectives, administrative structures and control mechanisms, and to integrate them into the planning process, cannot be overemphasized.

Health problems for both scattered and concentrated populations attracted much attention. Water scarcity leading to competition for an overlapping use of existing supplies was one problem noted. Equally significant were periodic breakdowns of water delivery systems and the difficulties that they caused in protecting users from disease. Both impacts and alternative solutions merit research.

The need to pay careful attention to the conservation of basic dryland resources was also much discussed. Vegetative and soil resources claimed the spotlight. Not only had traditional constraints preventing environmental degradation ceased to operate, but existing environmental legislation was also not being applied effectively. Evidence that yields were everywhere declining and that this was a measure of the dissipation of basic resource endowments led to pessimistic appraisals of specific development projects and of the more general land management strategies employed so far. The role of wind in accelerating erosion, problems with fuel-wood supply, administrative difficulties in managing irrigation projects with consequent increases in salinity, rain-dependent agriculture based on windfall profits at the expense of mining soil nutrients, abandonment of fallow cycles, and others all painted a picture of gloom and impending crisis. In contrast, some hopeful signs were noted. Plant breeding to resist the effects of salinization offered prospects for yield improvements. The possibility of making greater use of trees for crops and forage through the transfer of simple technology, possibly based on experience built up in these matters by the Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), India, was another promising solution. Equally important was the research and management experience accumulated in Egypt, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Third World. In all such conservation issues, the critical factor of adequate extension work that translates new and improved techniques into resource-user adoption was stressed.

As a final thought on research contributions, the need to maintain an historical perspective on contemporary issues was emphasized. Although problems may alter in both kind and scale and the solutions presented to deal with them vary over time, much can be learned from a study of past conditions. Meroite development of hafirs, or the impact of brick-making kilns on devegetation and sand dune mobility provide valuable perspectives on contemporary development opportunities and problems. Inclusion of an appropriate historical perspective in interdisciplinary research designs was considered to be an important need.

Training opportunities

Training programme possibilities and needs were discussed at several points during the workshop. Both the M.Sc. course envisaged by IES and the UNU fellowship programme were given careful attention. The University of Khartoum was particularly interested in environmentally based training programmes for Sudanese post-graduates administered through IES. In keeping with its mission to promote the exchange of knowledge and experience across national frontiers, UNU Fellows are almost invariably supported at institutions outside their own country. These fellowships, which usally run for six to nine months but may extend beyond, would enable selected Sudanese to pursue advanced training at overseas institutions, for example CAZRI in India. Similarly, a small number of non Sudanese UNU Fellows might be engaged in a course of study at IES. But limited UNU funds, as well as the structural requirements of its programme, make it impossible to underwrite a substantial training programme involving large numbers of students.

Nonetheless, there was widespread feeling that training to increase access to information and experience developed outside the Sudan and to improve awareness of environmental problems was essential. A number of caveats were offered as essential to the success of any training programme. The need for a formal structure culminating in a certificate or diploma was viewed as important to lend credence to the programme and to provide adequate incentive. A separate structure not tied to existing faculty divisions was also emphasized as essential if training programmes were to develop an interdisciplinary character. The use of basic field sites in which to carry out training activities was mentioned, especially if these sites were the same or closely linked to those in which basic research and monitoring were taking place. Linking research and training intimately seemed important to many participants. Periodic evaluation of the programme in terms of content, effectiveness, and comparison to programmes conducted elsewhere should be an integral part of the training effort.

Most commentators on training needs stressed the existence of a communications gap between local people and planning and implementing agencies. The critical need to devise training programmes that would bridge this gap and bring existing knowledge to bear on management problems was stressed. The underlying assumption that adequate technical knowledge and land management techniques already existed and could be readily transferred, were it not for social obstacles, was unchallenged during the workshop. Problems of extension were raised repeatedly; local people had difficulties absorbing new methods, but the teachers of these methods had equal problems transmitting the desired techniques in ways that were comprehensible and meaningful. Moreover, considerable ecological problems were associated with the development process. The possibility of holding short (two- or three-week) certificate workshops on ecological problems and principles was one suggestion raised as a way to increase awareness of potential adverse effects. Similarly, the need to develop longer formal course programmes that would prepare development officials for specific tasks, bridge communication gaps, increase sensitivity to alternative perceptions of the environment and resourceuse, improve dryland management capabilities, and disseminate methodologies for increasing the involvement of local people in the development process, ail received priority attention.

A crucial ingredient in training programmes is the linkage between IES and government agencies. The workshop considered this a critical and sensitive area. Including government representatives on the IES board is a first step to wards ensuring that IES programmes possess practical relevance. A delicate balance between preserving freedom to pursue research and training while at the same time being responsive to government needs requires careful consideration of the political context within which IES programmes must operate. In practical terms, the training issue is two fold:

(a) How can government officials be made aware of the environmental implications of their decisions without IES appearing to pose a hostile challenge to their competence and authority?
(b) Can IES training and research be sufficiently practical (without losing scholarly integrity) to relate meaning fully to administrative concerns?

Because large numbers of University of Khartoum graduates were employed in governmental positions, it was felt that sufficient good-will and mutuality of interest existed on which to establish successful training programmes.

Information linkages

Supportive linkages between the University of Khartoum and other institutions, both within the dryland area and in industrialized countries, received considerable attention. Reports on the activities of several research and training programmes were made by several participants.

The Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) in Jodphur, India, was cited as an active research enterprise in a climatic zone homologous to that of the Sudan. Although several other Indian institutes also deal with specific aspects of dryland development, such as sheep and wool production or salinization problems, CAZRI is the most comprehensive institution engaged in studying resource assessment and utilization. In addition, it is involved in a number of desertification studies with international agencies such as UNEP and UNRISD. CAZRI also possesses considerable experience in the field of technology transfer, an enterprise with both successes and failures. This experience might provide valuable lessons to other countries, just as their insights would be helpful to India.

Also noted was the global wisdom of dryland management enshrined in the United Nations Conference on Desertification Action Plan. This plan represented a compilation of generally accepted strategies by means of which dryland degradation could be controlled and reversed. The antidesertification struggle will continue to be co-ordinated by a small unit in UNEP. This unit will maintain an information centre and publish a Desertification Control Bulletin in order to keep workers in the field in touch with the most recent developments. To a considerable extent desertification processes represented a failure to apply existing knowledge appropriately. Thus, the strengthening of extension capabilities by drawing field staff, university researchers, and government research units into closer collaboration was an important extension of the antidesertification effort.

Efforts to delineate the base line from which changing trends could be observed was also part of any dryland management programme. This could be accomplished in a number of ways, and the Swansea-University of Khartoum Joint Research Project was cited as one such mechanism. The linkage between the two institutions arose out of long-term personal contacts between academic staff and was formed under the sponsorship of the Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas. Both training in England and in the Sudan and co-operative research in a study area north of Khartoum and west of the Nile, as far as the Wadi cl-Milk, are being undertaken. The studies are comprehensive in scope and are designed both to assess the present situation and trend and to recommend remedial action where appropriate. This long-term, periodically evaluated, co-operative research provides one model for inter-institutional linkages.

A different model is provided by the Research Centre on Development in Tropical Dry Areas at the University of Rouen. An array of case study sites throughout Francophone Africa is being investigated by a team of researchers. This research emphasizes the relationship between agriculturalists and pastoralists and the impact of drought on traditional livelihood strategies and development schemes. Its aim is to be broadly comparative not only within West Africa but also with analogous areas in South America and India. The experience developed by this network of research studies has direct relevance to the Sudan.

Training constituted the paramount feature of the University of New South Wales Fowlers Gap Arid Zone Research Station near Broken Hill, Australia. Partly based at the field station and partly in Sydney, courses of varying length would train present or perspective resource managers in dryland management techniques. Animal husbandry would be the focus of the programme and the characteristic features of managing physical systems would receive the bulk of the programme's attention. Use of this training model requires careful translation of land management techniques into a vernacular appropriate to particular Third World cultural contexts.


The workshop's deliberations on research priorities and training needs were extensive, thorough, and productive. These discussions formed the background for intensive deliberations by separate working groups dealing with research and training respectively. The reports of the working parties were formally presented to the workshop as a whole and culminated in a series of recommendations.

Research priorities: themes and topics

In considering research priorities for the UNU-University of Khartoum Joint Programme in the assessment of the application of knowledge to arid lands problems, the workshop focused its attention on assessment studies rather than on basic research. Integral to the joint programme, these assessment studies constitute only a portion of IES research interests in dryland management. Identification of problem areas and obstacles in the implementation of existing knowledge from an action-oriented, field perspective was the initial focus of discussion. Particular attention was paid to the following general themes:
(a) conservation of resources,
(b) community acceptance of new ideas,
(c) differences in perception of resources,
(d) administrative structures and the linkages between plans and action, and
(e) the flow of research information.

To the extent that existing knowledge was not being utilized, two types of barriers were noted (a)situations where knowledge existed but was not translated into action; and
(b) settings where knowledge was applied but either was not working or had produced unanticipated, and generally undesired, results. A broadly based interdisciplinary approach was suggested as necessary to an understanding of these problems.

Turning to a consideration of specific research priority areas, participants considered the implications for research derived from papers presented and discussions held at the workshop. Discussion concentrated upon isolating problems for which solutions existed, but which had not been implemented or had failed to achieve anticipated results. On this basis four specific topic areas were identified as being of high priority for research, although this list should not be viewed as exhaustive. It was assumed in preparing the list that the physical and biological processes operating in the drylands were adequately understood and that the major uncertainties were found in social system behaviour. It is expected that University of Khartoum faculty members will formulate detailed research proposals for submission through appropriate channels by early 1979, and that a modest number of studies (four to eight) will be selected and initiated by April 1979.

The workshop recommends that attention be given to the following research topics within the priority areas:
(a) Obstacles to the application of appropriate conservation measures in the development of drylands. Both traditional systems of cultivation and grazing and capital intensive farming schemes merit attention. An example of the specific type of study envisaged might be the failure to reduce soil erosion due to inappropriate following and ploughing techniques in dryland mechanized farming.
(b) Obstacles to community acceptance of government supported changes in dryland management, with specific reference to differences in perception between groups of potential resource-users. For example, the problem might tee attacked initially by examining the reasons for an observed gap between projected and realized resource-users performance in development projects.
(c) How administrative structure affects the development and conservation of drylands at the rural community level in terms of local government reform and conservation. Loss of control over resource management and conservation that takes place when traditional structures lose their effectiveness and are incompletely replaced by new administrative arrangements is one example of this problem area.
(d) Improvement in the flow and exchange of information vital to research, training, and planning. Aspects of this research topic needing specific attention are
-the contribution of environmental monitoring to resources planning in the Sudan; a study in this area should take a broad view on the integration of physical, biological, and social data into the planning process; inclusion of an historical perspective on contemporary problems is particularly relevant; and
-the flow of research information relating to physical, biological, and social processes in the dryland areas of the Sudan; assessment of linkages within and between agencies in the Sudan, and between Sudanese, foreign, and international institutions should be undertaken.

Training UNU Fellows in arid lands management

The Institute of Environmental Studies proposed M. Sc. programme and the UNU fellowship programme formed the starting point for discussion on training needs in the United Nations University-University of Khartoum Joint Programme. There was general agreement that the joint programme should be at the post-graduate level, should be for short. periods (usually not more than 12 months), and should have an action-oriented and in-service character. Generally, participants should come from an employment position to which they return and in which they make use of the knowledge and experience gained during training. Moreover, in order to provide feedback to the training course, participants should write a report (six months after their return) evaluating the usefulness and relevance of the training they received to their duties at home. It was agreed that the IES M.Sc. programme, when formally constituted, would provide a context for the formal instruction of UNU Fellows, and that it would be included, after suitable consultation and advice, in different ways, as appropriate to the needs and objectives of the Fellows. However, the general guidelines for the Joint Programme training were clear:
(a) to strengthen the professional and managerial abilities of the participants; and
(b) to inculcate an interdisciplinary approach and perspective to solving the environmental and managerial problems encountered.

With these general criteria in mind the workshop recommended:
(a) that a training co-ordinator from IES design a course of training for UNU Fellows and that Fellows sent to the University of Khartoum work within the context of the Joint Programmer
(b) that the terms of reference for this course should be
- the Fellow's academic standard,
- the Fellow's previous training and experience,
- the Fellow's current and future responsibilities,
- a duration of training agreed upon by the University of Khartoum and the United Nations
University, and
- the experience and resources available at the IES, other faculties and institutes of the University of Khartoum, and institutions outside the Sudan;
(c) that IES identify field areas representative of dryland problems and of monitoring drylands management, and other appropriate areas of interest; the possible use of Sudanese national components in regional trans-national anti-desertification projects, as well as existing national activities, should be considered for such training sites;
(d) that the United Nations University consider approaching bilateral and other donors for assistance (both financial and in other resources) in order to strengthen the University of Khartoum's post-graduate research and training activities;
(e) that by mid-1979 the University of Khartoum identify areas in which exchange of personnel and provision of resources and equipment are needed for training and research;
(f) that the United Nations University disseminate information on activities of the UNU network with a view to limiting duplication and saving on resources and man-power;
(g) that the United Nations University request UNEP and UNDP (Sudan) to keep the IES informed about present and projected projects and to agree to the use of these projects as training grounds for UNU Fellows;
(h) that the United Nations University inform UN, international, and regional organizations of its association with the University of Khartoum, especially when such institutions might provide specialized training for UNU Fellows, and that particular attention be paid to notifying institutions in homologous climate zones in sub-Saharan Africa;
(i) that the University of Khartoum disseminate news of its association with the United Nations University within the Sudan; and
(j) that a workshop be held in late 1980 to review the Joint Programme's assessment studies, evaluate the training activities, and recommend further action.

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