Contents - Previous - Next


This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at http://unu.edu


Lessons to be learnt

The natural environment provides the stage on which the drama of life has to be played: just as the scene has its impact on the actors, so the actors have their impact on the scene. People and their environment are in the closest interrelationship. This means that changes in either the physical environment or in human culture will have their effect on each other. Each change brings about an imp balance, which results in some kind of response leading to a new state of equilibrium between the various elements. In a closed regional system such variations are likely to be small or gradual, evolving over a long period of time. However, the regional system is rarely closed any longer, and new ideas and technologies are brought in from outside and may be revolutionary rather than evolutionary in character. Furthermore, some ideas and technologies are easier to introduce or more readily acceptable than others. Such influences lead to a different level of imbalance between natural resources and people. This may be seen as the inevitable result and very essence of rural development. The problem in Sudan, as elsewhere in the developing world, is to create a new equilibrium, and this has been the theme of this series of case studies.

One of the laudable things the Government of Sudan has attempted to do has been to improve the use made of its arid lands by the introduction of better rural water supplies (as in eastern Kordofan), irrigation (as in Khashm el Girba), and mechanized cultivation (as in the Nuba Mountains area). The net result of each venture, however, has not been as satisfactory as expected. In the case of eastern Kordofan the result has not been better use of pastoral grazing and a wider spread of rain-fed agriculture by relieving pressure on existing water points but rather the spread of the existing problems of resource use into new areas. The availability of more pasture has led to an increase in the number of animals and in the number of over grazed areas around water holes rather than better pasture utilization, and extended cultivation has had similar results. In Khashm el Girba the new irrigation scheme modelled on the Gezira has not had the success that was anticipated and appears to be in the grip of a deep-seated malaise. In another way, although crops are grown successfully at least initially by mechanized means in the Nuba Mountains area, the policy conflicts with the demand for wood for fuel and leaves wide areas clear for the ravages of the elements, leading to seven degeration of the soil.

In each of these cases one major problem has been a single thrust rather than a regional development programme. Such a thrust leads to an imbalance such that the people of eastern Kordofan do not know the best way to respond to their new rural water supplies. In Khashm el Girba irrigation introduced a revolutionary new way of life with which people have found difficulty in identifying. In the Nuba Mountains mechanized agriculture has made a few entrepreneurs rich at the expense of the local natural resources, but has done little for the local people.

Yet each of these programmes of development represents an important facet of government policy - to provide adequate water for all its people, to secure the country's food supplies through sorghum, sugar, and wheat, and to improve the country's balance of payments by encouraging agricultural exports.

A multi-faceted development programme in eastern Kordofan, using rural water as the spearhead but including marketing facilities, local craft industry, and an agricultural education drive, might have avoided some of the difficulties. Similarly in Khashm el Girba a regional programme for the Butana, bringing together and reconciling the region's traditional strengths in livestock and aura cultivation with the irrigation schemes, might have avoided some of the difficulties. In the Nuba Mountains a similar policy, reconciling the needs of traditional cultivators, nomadic pastoralists, and the modern farming sector, together with all the people's need for fuel, might have benefited all and led to better resource conservation.

Another important factor to emerge is the need not just to consider the environmental and economic factors of what will grow where and what there is a market for but to seek a better understanding of traditional views and feelings. Thus the policies applied in each of the three areas resulted from central government initiatives with little direct consultation with those to be affected. The study of buda and striga demonstrates clearly the problems and fears of rainland farmers on the desert margins who know that a false move can face them with starvation because the environmental conditions severely curtail their room for manoeuvre.

An important point stressed in both the eastern Kordofan and the Khashm el Girba studies is that the viewpoints of both government planners and rural people are impeccably rational from their own standpoints, with the difficulty being to bring them together to develop a flexible programme with which both can identify. The onus here must clearly lie with the government. The intermediary between the central government and people must be the rural councils and the new regional assemblies.

Shortcomings in administration and management are emphasized in each study. The weakness of agricultural extension work, the lack of co-ordination between ministries, the inflexibility of administration, failures to implement agreed policy decisions, unrealistic planning leading to unrealized hopes - hopes - all these are highlighted as important factors building up a barrier between government and people.

Another interesting fact brought to light by the studies, especially that on the Nuba Mountains, is that in practice all the work in rural development can be seen to have been directed toward the men. It is the women who fetch water, collect firewood, work in the fields, cook the food, and bring up the children in rural Sudan. Informed rural women therefore can have a most important impact on the use (or misuse} of natural resources and can instil in to the young the need for resource conservation so that they in thir own generation can practice it.

The main factors that inhibit rural change in these arid lands may thus be summarized:

- The physical environment allows little room for manoeuvre, so that change frequently has to be revolutionary rather than evolutionary, a fact that militates against acceptance.

- The aims and perceptions of development of government planners on the one hand and those who must participate in the development process on the other are different.

- Planning is from above rather than from the grass roots, so that important traditional and cultural characteristics are ignored, leading to a lack of identification with the project on the part of the people and confrontation with the administration. This is reinforced not only by the shortcomings of government but also by failed projects, which themselves build up a lack of confidence in government planning.

- Because programmes have been single-thrust rather than multi-thrust, coherent integrated rural-development plans for the regions have not emerged, and such important fields as rural marketing in particular have been neglected.

- The traditions of Sudanese society assume that women will fall in line with their husbands' ideas and that therefore no special drive to educate them in rural change is necessary, whereas in practice they are deeply involved in aspects of resource use outside the men's purview.

With these factors in mind, it is proposed to follow up in furture report on three subjects that merit particular further investigation:

- rural market centres and their role in the diffusion of innovations in the rural sector,
- local government as a factor in rural change,
- women's handicrafts in rural society.


Contents - Previous - Next