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Implicit in the plans for the scheme was the belief that labour resources would be increasingly re-allocated to the irrigation scheme at the expense of other land commitments. Indeed, without this taking place the irrigation scheme would have very little chance of economic viability. As Millikan and Hapgood (1967) have succinctly expressed it, "a combination or package of new inputs usually produces greater yields than the sum of those inputs applied singly." The labour input is clearly one of the essential elements of any such package (Blaikie, 1971; Elliott, 1969; Jackson, 1972). Labour problems may be both a cause and a symptom of lack of economic viability or success.

Labour demands in the Gummuiya area are substantially different between the irrigation land and the riverain land. On the irrigation scheme, theoretically at least, demand for labour should be fairly constant throughout the year, and because of the predominance of fodder crops there are no marked peaks. If vegetables had been grown, as planned, then the labour demand pattern would have been fundamentally different, with peaks at preparation, planting, and harvesting times. On the riverain land, labour demands are highly seasonal in nature, reflecting the flood regime of the river (table 12.4). This table seems to imply that riverain land demands labour for six months of the year. In practice, this is more likely to be for three to four months, in that if an individual plants his crop in October, this will be located towards the westerly edge of the flood plain, on the land that drains first. He will be harvesting in December or January and will therefore have no demand on his labour in February or March, unless he possesses another plot on the eastern part of the flood plain towards the river channel, where such land would be planted in December.

The plans for the irrigation scheme foresaw a much reduced proportion of labour devoted to the riverain land. Two theoretical reasons gave support to this notion. Firstly, the opportunity to maximize output afforded by the irrigation scheme would convince peasants that here was where their effort would be best rewarded. Secondly, the more even spread of labour demands throughout the year would be considerably more attractive than the existing system on the riverain land, which oscillates between periods of gross inactivity and ones of frantic activity. The practical weakness of this argument lay in considering labour duties in purely economic terms. A system which leaves six months of the year free from heavy labour demands may in fact allow the successful fulfilment of social obligations through the strengthening of social kinship ties and relationships.

Table 12.5 estimates the time spent each day by the farmer himself (on those days when he works there) on both categories of land. Of the 120 farmers possessing scheme land, only one chose not to use his own labour input, and he was a merchant who hired labour to substitute his own input. A similar pattern emerges for the farmers involved in riverain cultivation, with only five choosing not to use their own labour. The difference in hours spent per work-day was small: 4 on the scheme; 3.6 on riverain land. Clearly, there is very little difference between the labour input of the farmer himself on the scheme land and on the riverain land, and the scheme gives little sign here of attracting labour away from the riverain lands.

Table 12.6 and 12.7 present data on the contribution to total labour requirements made by members of the family. The tables suggest that there is very little difference in family labour input between the two types of land. Clearly the scheme has not attracted a significantly larger input of family labour at the expense of the riverain land. They also demonstrate the limited contribution of family labour to total labour demands. Sixty-nine per cent of farmers used no family labour on their irrigation scheme land, whilst on the riverain land this figure rose to just over 70 per cent (table 12.6). Sixty-one per cent of farmers cultivating both scheme and riverain land over the previous 12 months had used no family labour on either category of land whilst on riverain and scheme land relevant figures are 70 and 69 per cent respectively.

This relative unimportance of family labour in the Gummuiya area seems surprising. On a theoretical level, the importance of family labour in African agricultural production has been established, as a method of reducing production costs (Benneh, 1972a; Hedges, 1963). Empirical evidence is also available. Mohammed's (1975) study of Eastern Kordafan and El Fasher district stressed the importance of family labour, whilst in a study undertaken in Zaria region, Nigeria, Norman (1967) identified a positive relationship between the number of available family labour units and the area of land cultivated.

TABLE 12.3. Crop cultivation on the riverain land

Crop No. of farmersa Percentage Major cash
No. %
Dura 54 56.8 20 37.0
Lubia 31 32.6 8 25.8
Bamia 80 84.2 71 88.7
Cucurbits 29 30.6 25 86.2

a. N = 95. This is the total number of farmers cultivating land both on the irrigation scheme and on the riverain land.
b. Major cash priority applies when at least three-quarters of the harvested crop is sold.

TABLE 12.4. Labour demands by month on the riverain landa

o x x             o o o
x                     x

a. o = planting; x = harvesting.

TABLE 12.5. Average number of nours worked daily by farmers

Hours per day Irrigation scheme Riverain land
No. of farmers % No. of farmers %
0 7a 5.8 5 5.3
1 0 - 2 2.1
2 2 1.7 13 13.7
3 19 15.8 19 20.0
4 50 41.7 35 36.8
5 25 20.8 9 9.5
6 16 13.3 10 10.5
7 1 0.8 2 2.1
Total 120 100.0 95b 100.0

a. Six were not cultivating their scheme land.
b. In the survey there were 120 farmers possessing scheme land, but only 95 of them had access to riverain land as well.

TABLE 12.6. Family members (other than farmer) engaged in agricultural work on own land (preceding twelve months)

No. of family members   Irrigation scheme Riverain land
No. % No. %
0 83 69.2 67 70.5
1 23 19.2 13 13.7
2 9 7.5 10 10.5
3 5 4.2 3 3.2
4 0 - 2 2.1
Total 120 100.0 95 100.0

TABLE 12.7. Use of family labour (preceding twelve months)

  No. %
Family labour not used on either scheme or riverain land 55 61.1
Family labour used equally on both categories 18 20.0
More family labour used on scheme than riverain land 10 11.1
More family labour used on riverain than scheme land 7 7.8
Total 90 100.0

Three reasons emerge to help explain the relative unimportance of family labour in the Gummuiya area. Firstly the provision of educational facilities in the area, particularly since the mid 1960s, has resulted in the loss of young persons from the labour force. Secondly, many male members of families are attracted to employment in the Three Towns, a highly selective process whereby young males have the greatest propensity to migrate and are potentially the most productive members of the agricultural labour force. Thirdly, the social system of the Gummuiya places time-consuming demands of a social nature upon members of the community which may not always be seen to be productive when measured in purely economic terms. It seems that the use of family labour in the Gummuiya area may not be a fully reliable measure of labour input into the production system.

TABLE 12.8. Number of hired labourers used on scheme and riverain land over the preceding twelve months

No. of labourers Irrigation scheme Riverain land
No. % No. %
0 29 24.2 29 30.5
1 9 7.5 6 6.3
2 30 25.0 12 12.6
3 25 20.8 17 17.9
4 14 11.7 16 16.8
5 8 6.7 11 11.6
6 3 2.5 2 2.1
7 1 0.8 0 -
8 0 - 0 -
9 0 - 1 1.1
10 1 0.8 0 -
15 0 - 1 1.1
Total 120 100.0 95 100.0

TABLE 12.9. Agricultural tasks for which hired labour was specifically employed (preceding twelve months)

Task Irrigation schemea Riverain landb
No. of farmers hiring % No. of farmers hiring %
Preparation and/or planting 86 95.5 50 75.8
Weeding 7 7.7 10 15.1
Harvesting 53 58.2 66 100.0

a. N = 91.
b. N = 66

It appears from table 12.8 that Gummuiya farmers are making a clear choice to use hired labour as a substitute for family labour. Seventy-five and seventy per cent of farmers on scheme and riverain land respectively claim to use some hired labour. However, there is very little difference in use between scheme and riverain land. Again the expected shift of emphasis in use of labour resources, towards the irrigation scheme at the expense of the riverain land, has not materialized.

The demand for hired labour is highly seasonal, and labour may in fact be employed on a piece-rate basis to carry out specific tasks (table 12.9). This is perhaps the only area where there are striking differences between scheme and riverain activities. Peak labour demands on the irrigation scheme occur during land preparation and planting, reflecting the widespread use of tractor and plough, the hiring of which, from local private entrepreneurs, also demands the hiring of a skilled operative. The harvesting of

fodder crops does not require any marked intensity of labour demand and so can be undertaken by the farmer himself. In addition, a crop of bersim or abosabayn is often sold to a merchant in Omdurman, who is then himself responsible for the harvesting. On the other hand, land preparation on the riverain land is far less rigorous and is often within the capabilities of the farmer himself. Here, it is the harvesting period which presents the peak labour demand, as the crop is perishable (bamia, melons, etc.) and must be harvested as soon as it is ready. The singularly depressing feature of table 12.9 is the low level of importance attached to the necessity of hiring labour for weeding. In Eastern Kordofan, for instance, Mohammed (1975) noted that most hired labour was employed specifically for this purpose, but in the Gummuiya area only 7.7 per cent of farmers employed labour for weeding purposes on the irrigation scheme, with a somewhat higher figure of 15 per cent on the riverain land. The very low figure for the scheme land may be explained by the fact that weeds and grass serve to increase the bulk and are not a detriment to fodder crops.

From the above discussion a picture has emerged where labour resources have been allocated to both scheme and riverain land in very similar proportions. The transfer of labour to the irrigation scheme to maximize producttion has not materialized. Gummuiya farmers are still manifestly keeping their options open by maintaining labour input on both categories of land. These findings support the conclusions presented in the previous section.


The discussion thus far in this chapter has focused on direct responses by the Gummuiya peasants to the new opportunities created by the irrigation scheme. This section examines a more indirect response, migration out of the area to the Three Towns. The theoretical position sees migration between two areas as a response to a differential in economic opportunities. In terms of the present study, this can be interpreted as a situation in which the source area has fewer attractions than the destination area. The argument can be extended, such that if the source area were to become more attractive, through the establishment of an irrigation scheme as a viable economic counterattraction, as in the Gummuiya area, then this out-migration would be correspondingly reduced.

Out-migration is at the same time both a symptom and a continuing cause of underdevelopment in a particular area or region. Friedmann (1966) for example, in his classic study, has argued that labour-exporting areas will always remain backward in relation to the recipient areas because of the out-migration of able workers, and as long as marked disparities in income and life-style, real or perceived, persist, then the movement of people from the rural areas to an urban setting will also persist (Gugler, 1969; Hirst, 1970; Myint, 1973). Clearly, therefore, the levels of migration among the Gummuiya will be an indication of the success of the irrigation scheme in providing an economically viable alternative livelihood which will compare favourably with those in the Three Towns.

TABLE 12.10. Frequency of visits to the Three Towns by Gummuiya farmers (preceding twelve months)

Frequency No. Percentage
At least once per week 75 62.5
Between once per week and once per month 26 21.7
Less than once per month 19 15.8
Total 120 100.0

Table 12.10 reveals that high levels of short-term, circulator migration take place, with over 62 per cent of those farmers interviewed going at least once a week to the Three Towns. In a sense the Gummuiya area suffers because of its proximity to the Three Towns, with the bus/lorry journey taking a little over one hour from the north of the study area to Omdurman and, at the time of the survey, costing only 7 piastres.

The common pattern is to leave the Gummuiya area any time between 4 and 8 a.m., and to return in either early or late afternoon. This type of migratory pattern is very common throughout Khartoum Province (Abdalla and Simpson, 1965) because of the relative ease of access for villages in the province to the Three Towns. The major advantage for the Gummuiya is that by adopting this migration strategy they are well able to retain their hold on two distinctive modes of life: they can participate in an urban way of life without having to make the traumatic break from their rural roots. Urban unemployment for the Gummuiya does not have the potentially disastrous consequences that it can have on other sectors of the population who have made this break. The fact that the Gummuiya are able to take part in two ways of life, and not commit themselves to one at the expense of the other, is an insurance against failure in either. This can be seen as a rational response to prevailing social and economic conditions. However, as far as the planners are concerned, the high levels of outmigration represent a depletion of the potential workforce for the scheme and must thus point towards scheme failure.

This conclusion may just be a little too superficial. If the frequency of visits by farmers is examined at the village level, then a ray of hope does emerge. Figure 12.2 shows that the villages of Shiqeila and Suleimaniya provide a very different pattern from the others, in that only 40 and 25 per cent respectively of farmers visit the Three Towns once or more than once a week, compare with at least 75 per cent from the other seven villages. The explanation for this variation lies in the location of the villages in relation to the irrigation scheme. Both villages are located within about 200 metres of the main eastern channel, which demarcates the easternmost extent of the scheme. The mean distance from home to field for Shigeila farmers was 3.1 km and for Suleimaniya farmers 2.9 km, compared with much greater distances for the southern group of villages (e.g. 10.9 km for Id el Hid and 12.4 km for Sheikh el Bashir). Accessibility to scheme land, therefore, seems to be a key variable. The greater distances involved for the southern villages act as a disincentive, and alternative livelihoods, as offered by the Three Towns, become a more attractive and realistic proposition.

TABLE 12.11. Farmers' reasons for visits to the Three Towns (n= 120)

Reasona No. Percentage
For employment or possibility of finding employment 74 61.7
To visit relatives or friends 74 61.7
To sell produce 66 55.0
To buy goods or food 44 36.7
Other 10 8.5

a. More than one reason may be given by each respondent.

The northern three villages of Samra, Garaza, and Tireis present a somewhat different explanation, Mean distances from home to field were 2.9 km, 2.8 km, and 2.8 km respectively, figures comparable to those for Shiqeila and Suleimaniya. Despite this relatively easy access, it can be seen from figure 12.2 that they all experience high levels of frequent migration by farmers to the Three Towns. However, their location means that they also have relatively easy access to the Three Towns, Tireis being only 40 minutes away from Omdurman by bus or lorry.

Furthermore, farmers from these three villages felt the greatest frustrations with the scheme. Farmers from Samra and Garaza complained of problems with regard to the supply of irrigation water on the western side of the scheme, and those from Tireis had to lose a large area of productive rainland with low operational costs to make way for the irrigation scheme, with its much higher running costs. For these villages, the attractions of the Three Towns outweighed those of the irrigation scheme.

Nevertheless, the encouraging feature, however small, is that given the right conditions the scheme may be a viable alternative to migrating to the Three Towns, as Shiqeila and Suleimaniya perhaps demonstrate. But it should not be forgotten that the migration rate to the Three Towns is still very high, far higher than would be expected if the scheme had become a truly viable alternative.

The reasons for migration to the Three Towns are shown in table 12.11. Four points arise. Firstly, over 61 per cent of those interviewed cited employment, or the possibility of employment, as a reason. Many Gummaiya make the trip daily in the "hope" of obtaining casual employment even when the chances are almost zero. As Godfrey (1969) writes with reference to West Africa, "even when it is apparent that work is scarce, the appeal remains that in the city the chances for a lucky break are ever present, as they are surely not in the village or small town." As far as these 74 Gummuiya farmers are concerned, the attraction of the scheme is still not sufficiently strong to outweigh the attraction of the possibility of urban employment.

FIG. 12.2. Farmers' visits to the Three Towns

TABLE 12.12. Chi-square contingency table for age of farmer and frequency of visits to the Three Townsa

Age group
of farmer
Frequency of visits Total
At least once
a week
At least once
less than once
a week
Less than
a month but
once a month
20-35 35 7 2 44
36-45 49 1 2 6 67
Over 45 45 17 20 82
Total 129 36 28 193

a. X2 = 13.56, significant at 0.01 per cent confidence level.

Secondly, table 12.11 confirms the importance of social ties and obligations among the Gummuiya with an equal number citing this type of reason for making the journey to the Three Towns. The maintenance of social ties is an activity which competes directly with time allocated for agricultural production.

Thirdly, all the reasons given reflect the attractiveness of the Three Towns. Not one farmer in the survey quoted economic and social conditions in the Gummuiya area itself as a factor, even though many were aware of the area's problems and shortcomings. This reinforces the view that the Gummuiya in general wish to maintain footholds in both rural and urban life.

Fourthly, the decision to migrate to the Three Towns, either daily or on a longer basis, is multifaceted. Most farmers gave more than one reason, as can be seen from table 12.11; in ail 268 reasons were put forward by the 120 farmers in the survey.

A disturbing feature of the migration process is its ageselectivity. The relationship between age of migrant and frequency of visits to the Three Towns was found to be significant at the 0.01 per cent confidence level. Indeed, closer inspection of table 12.12 reveals that it is the younger farmers who are the most mobile, with 79 per cent of the 20-35 age group making the journey to the Three Towns at least once a week. This compares with 73 per cent of the 36-45 age group and 55 per cent of the over-45 group. Conversely, the proportions for each age group visiting the Three Towns less than once a month are 4 per cent, 9 per cent, and 24 per cent respectively.

The higher levels of mobility among younger persons is a recurrent feature of contemporary African migration (see, for example, Abdelrahman, 1980; Caldwell, 1969; Mohammed, 1975). The apparent implications for the future of the Gummuiya irrigation scheme are very serious because it is the members of the youngest age group who are the most able-bodied and therefore potentially the most productive part of the agricultural labour force. But it is precisely this group who not only spend most time away from the area but are most likely to be successful in securing an urban-based job, with the likelihood of their permanent removal from the agricultural labour force.

Despite the fact that employment in the Three Towns consistently appears as a main motive for migration, only 22 farmers in the survey actually had a job at the time of the survey, and of these 16 were unskilled (i.e. Iabourer, porter, etc). Moreover, most of the unskilled jobs were filled on a weekly basis, thus creating an overriding air of instability for the farmers involved. Clearly, the possibility of obtaining a job for the majority ranks as high motivation for migration, even if few actually get one. Nevertheless, neither this nor, indeed, the establishment of the irrigation scheme has discouraged the Gummuiya from looking for opportunities in the Three Towns. Even the statement that "only the repeated failure of school-leavers to find jobs in the cities will drive the present generation back to the farm" (Fogg,1971) appears naive when applied to the current situation in the Gummuiya area. One 16year-old boy from Shiqeila school summed up the feelings of many when he said: "The scheme has meant nothing for me. It hasn't made me or my family better off, so I want to go to Khartoum when I've finished school. I know many can't find jobs, but I must make an attempt." As far as the next generation of farmers is concerned the irrigation scheme hardly appears an attraction likely to generate meaningful rural development. The continuing migration to the Three Towns can be interpreted as the Gummuiya "voting with their feet" on the success of the irrigation schemes.


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