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IV. Planners' and participants' perceptions of development in the semi-arid lands of Sudan: A case study of the Khashm el Girba scheme

The problem
The Khashm el Girba scheme
Differences in perception between planners, management, and participants in the scheme
Scheme participants' adaptive responses
Towards a restructuring of the scheme

From the preceding studies it is clear that a most important factor encouraging, or discouraging, the acceptance of new innovations in the arid lands of Sudan has been the degree to which participants in the process have been able to identify with the proposed development In particular it has been noted that the result of the provision of better water supplies in southeastern Kordofan was different from what the government expected, and similarly the expansion of mechanized agriculture in the Nuba Mountains area has had unexpected results. It is true that some of the results should have been foreseen, but the main reason they were not lies in the assumption that "development" means the same to everyone and that people's reactions can be dependably predicted on the basis of experience elsewhere, especially when a blueprint for irrigation-scheme development has been adopted. This was the case with the Khashm el Girba irrigation scheme in eastern Sudan, involving the use of 500,000 feddens of land west of the Atbara River for irrigation by gravity flow from a dam across the river in 1964. The model for the development was the analogous Gezira irrigation scheme covering some two million feddans in a similar general region in central Sudan.

That these assumptions are unjustified has been made plain by various authors who have written on the success and failure of the Khashm el Girba Scheme (Sorbo 1971, 1977; Fahim 1973; Thimm 1979). This report deals with the varying attitudes, aspirations, and perceptions of planners and officials on the one hand and the various groups of settlers on the other. The main conclusion is that the various groups have widely different viewpoints and, unless these can be brought more closely together, the scheme is unlikely to achieve a high degree of success. The main lesson for aridland development is the overriding need for a full assessment of the perceptions of the participants if success is to be achieved and waste minimized.

- H. R. J. Davies


The problem

Complex modern gravity-irrigated schemes in sparsely settled parts of central Sudan have become a distinguishing feature of contemporary agriculture in the country. These schemes are stereotyped in design and objectives constitute a basic challenge to the participants' perception of development and socio-economic structure, as both of these are ignored in the planning of the schemes. This neglect results in a serious conflict between the management responsible for the implementation of the planner's model and the settlers or participants who are to be integrated into the scheme. This conflict of interest is one of the major causes of the continuous decline in productivity displayed by so many major agricultural development schemes in the semi-arid areas of Sudan.

Consequently such schemes have failed to attain the desired socio-economic transformation and full involvement of the settlers. In addition most of the schemes have failed to recover their establishment and even operating costs.

A typical example is the Khashm el Girba Scheme. A study assessing and evaluating the scheme shows how tenants respond adaptively to the new opportunities and how these responses are considered inadequate by scheme planners and management. Yields from cash crops are declining rapidly; attachment of settlers to the scheme is increasingly weak; and, unexpectedly, off-scheme interests - particularly in animal husbandry, which dominated the area before the scheme - have rapidly expanded. Health conditions among the tenants, especially those combining agriculture with pastoralism, are deteriorating. This community is unable to decide between the scheme as a gateway to change and modern life and the old, self-administered but risky economy of livestock rearing. This has resulted in a loose attachment to the scheme and an enduring attachment to a livestock economy in spite of its risky nature.

It is believed that the difference between planners' and participants' perception of "development" is a prime cause, limiting the ability of such a scheme to generate the expected changes among agro-pastoralists. This difference constitutes the major obstacle to management's transmitting the scheme model to settlers and responding to feedback from them. The result is a misuse and waste of scarce resources, leading to environmental degradation of the scheme and its environs and to an inability to generate change in the traditional economy of livestock-keeping. Not only does this difference in expectation lead to the failure of management to achieve the aims of the scheme, but it also threatens any proposed sound strategy for integrated regional development.

This study has three main objectives:

- to examine the structure of the Khashm el Girba Scheme and identify its relevance to a proposal for integrating nomads
- particularly the Shukriya
- into the modern economy, in order to ascertain how best to design a settlement programme for this purpose, paying special attention to people's perception of development (this requires analysis of how the planners' model represented by the scheme differs from the participants' expectations and how this has created obstacles to the transmission of the model to the participants!;
- to examine the adaptive responses of participants resulting from such differences in perception and to establish their significance in the deterioration in productivity, health, and general scheme environment;
- to investigate the possibility of combining the planners' and participants' perceptions of development to ensure a more rational use of the scheme and the grazing land in the Butana as a strategy for full use of resources in such marginal areas in a complementary way.

Interest in this problem arose out of a realization of the adverse consequences from the application of a technically sound model of development which ignored the perception of users and the socioeconomic structure of their society. This resulted in a series of responses derived from dissatisfaction (and not satisfaction) with the conditions of the scheme. This dissatisfaction is manifested vividly in Shukriya oral poetry. Available literature on the scheme and its operation were consulted. Most of it deals with technical and financial aspects, and none that I know of considers the perception element.

Field and questionnaire surveys were carried out, using a stratified sample of nine villages inhabited by agropastoralists. Four were inside the scheme and are described as "permanently settled" villages; four were off-scheme but tied to it through tenancy ownership and are referred to as "partially settled" villages, and one village of Nubians was included for comparison. A separate questionnaire was designed for officials at different levels of management. A health survey was made of 50 visitors (nomads) to a private clinic in New Halfa.

Frequent visits were made to the area throughout 1980. Field data and questionnaire results were tabulated, checked, and crosschecked manually. Folk poetry was collected and analysed, as it is a potent source of political and socio-economic protest in Shukriya society and an invaluable tool in understanding their perception. I have had a long acquaintance with the Butana area.

Perception is the creation of an image in the mind as a result of response to stimuli from the surrounding environment. People perceive things from the self as centre, and so their awareness, convictions, and actions are always to be explained from this viewpoint. Perception results from past experience recorded in the memory and arises from personal attachment to culture and place. It is dynamic -changing with changes in culture, in the processes of interaction, and in economy and with developing experience. It may or may not be in accord with objective reality. Figure 1 summarizes the process of change in perception among agro-pastoralists as a result of contact with the new form of economy and culture represented by the Khashm el Girba irrigation scheme. The important variables for perception and decision-making in this situation are detailed in figure 2.

FIG. 1. Perception and decision-making among tenants on the Khashm el Girba Scheme (Nubians exciuded)

The wider the cultural and economic gap between communities, the further apart is their perception. Three forms of perception are encountered in the Khashm el Girba scheme at present: the scheme planners' end management's perception arising from a Western education and urban background, the Nubians' perception arising from a rivera in sedentary background, and the tenant nomads' perception derived from a rural nomadic background. Both the Nubians and the nomads come from semi-closed cultural systems which have been exposed to large-scale interaction for the first time in the scheme over the last two decades. The resulting "perception gap" has been one of the major factors responsible for the deteriorating performance of the scheme.

This gap will be evident if we look into what is meant by development in the minds of each of the groups involved in the scheme. Planners and management, under their perception of what people need, design and manage the scheme on the basis of a simple cost/benefit analysis. The participants at the other end see development as change generated from within, which implies a gradual transformation of the economy starting from what people are pursuing at present. The joint interest in the scheme and a narrowing of the cultural gaps between the parties resulting from increasing contact are expected also to narrow the perception gap between management and participants and among the participants themselves, but at present the parties are still too far apart for any level of flexibility to facilitate co-ordinate action.

FIG. 2. A simplified model of decision-making variables in the Khashm el Girba Scheme (Nubians excluded) [after Fitzgerald 1974]

FIG. 3. The Khashm el Girba Scheme


The Khashm el Girba scheme

The Khashm el Girba Scheme occupies the eastern part of the Butana plain, running parallel to the western bank of the Atbara River between Khashm el Girba town, where the dam is, to the Saba'at Hills (fig. 3). It is 95 km long and 20-35 km in width. The average gradient is about 43 cm per kilometre in a north-westerly direction. The annual rainfall ranges between 250 and 300 mm. The population of the scheme in 1980 was about 350,000, of whom 150,000 were tenants and members of their families. About 30 per cent of the tenants are Nubians (table 1). Butana nomads constitute over 60 per cent of total tenants and 80 per cent of the nomadic tenants. The Nubians are distributed in 25 well-equipped villages with all services. The nomads are concentrated in 51 villages (38 inside the scheme and 13 on its fringe). These villages are poorly equipped with necessary services. Each community is spatially segregated in special villages of its own.

The scheme area comprises 440,000 feddans (1 feddan = 0.42 hectares) of almost flat clay or loamy soils, of which 330,000 feddans each year are under the three main crops-cotton, wheat, and ground-nuts-which are grown in an annual rotation with a maximum area of 110,000 feddans each. The average cropping intensity is in the range of 91 per cent for cotton, 88 per cent for wheat, and 48 per cent for groundnuts. Dura has been gradually replacing wheat or ground-nuts among the nomad tenants since 1979. Of the rest of the irrigated land, 25,000 feddans are allocated for a sugar-cane plantation, 24,000 feddans for freehold land, mainly for the Nubians, and 2,000 feddans for forests. The main limitations to the cropping intensity are water, the availability of machinery, the level of tenant interest, and off-scheme interests such as livestock rearing.

TABLE 1. Tenant population of the Khashm el Girba Scheme (1980)

Ethnic group Number of tenants % of nomadic tenants % of all tenants
Nomadic groups      
Shukriya 7,089 48 32
Lahawin 2,290 15 10
Beja 2,201 15 10
Ahamda 1,089 7 5
Kawahla 1,003 7 5
Rashaida 685 5 3
Kawalda 443 3 2
Total nomads 14,800 100  
Nubians 6,553   29
Others 1,014   4
Total 22,367   100

Source: New Halfa Agricultural Production Corporation 1980 estimates

The irrigation system is by gravity flow, taking water from the Khashm el Girba storage dam through a main canal and a network of subsidiary canals with suitable regulators. In spite of the neat canal system, water losses are great and irrigation efficiency is low. Loss from evaporation and seepage is about 17 per cent, and field-application losses amount to some 14 per cent, leaving less than 70 per cent of the flow for irrigation. These water losses are exacerbated by a decreasing dam capacity resulting from silting. Water deficiencies disturb the cropping system and reduce returns and hence tenants' confidence in the scheme.

The main scheme objectives as set out by the planners were (1) to resettle 52,000 Nubians and compensate them for their land submerged by the reservoir behind Egypt's
Aswan High Dam, following the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement between Sudan and Egypt, and (2) to provide tenancies for Butana nomads whose grazing lands were lost to the scheme. The latter objective falls within the general government policy of sedentarizing nomads. Both objectives were to be facets of the national policy for the expansion of modern agriculture. For the planners this strategy amounted to a replication of the Gezira model.

In the national context, the scheme must be seen not only as the utilization of the Butana plains and the Atbara River waters for intensive farming and the future development of agro-industry but also as contributing to the country's balance of payments by increasing the production of cotton and ground-nuts for export and of sugar and wheat to avoid importing such strategic food crops.

It is evident that the scheme objectives are contradictory in the sense that it is difficult to satisfy the aspirations and objectives of the settlers as they perceive them and the national interest, which is generally beyond their comprehension. The result is the present conflict of interests, which is adversely reflected in scheme economic performance and productivity.

The scheme is designed to use the 1,620 million m of water provided by the Khashm el Girba Dam on a model nearly identical with the Gezira Scheme. It is divided into standard 15-feddan tenancies producing only three crops: cotton, wheat, and ground-nuts. Nearly all agricultural operations are scheduled on a tight system which every tenant is required to follow closely or else he will lose his rights of tenancy. This stereotyped system of cropping allows no room for tenants' preferences and initiative even within the system itself.

The New Halfa Agricultural Production Corporation is the central agency responsible for management of the scheme within the framework of the objectives set in the original plan. Its main function is to provide farm-support services to the tenants. It is especially interested in cotton-the proceeds on which are shared equally between the corporation and the tenants. It is responsible for deciding the crops to be planted and the areas to be cultivated, for timing and ensuring the execution of the various agricultural operations, for providing water and fertilizer, for keeping joint accounts and setting pricing policy, and for the allocation of tenancies and field supervision. Its linkage with the tenants is defective, and so the flow of information and instructions between management and tenants is unsatisfactory. This has resulted in serious problems of misunderstanding between the parties due to misinterpretation of instructions or lack of information. This failure to communicate effectively has resulted in a wide perception gap between the management and the settlers. The result has been a lack of feeling of belonging or identification with the scheme among the majority of the tenants.

TABLE 2. Average yields of main crops per feddan in the Khashm el Girba Scheme, 1964/65 - 1980/81

1964/65 0.45 0.50 3.50
1965/66 0.40 0.30 2.50
1966/67 0.50 0.75 2.80
1967/68 0.39 0.95 3.60
1968/69 0.48 0.46 4.90
1969/70 0.35 0.34 4.68
1970/71 0.52 0.51 4.80
1971/72 0.41 0.52 4.11
1972/73 0.61 0.70 2.62
1973/74 0.28 0.67 3.88
1974/75 0.60 0.80 4.02
1975/76 0.29 0.32 1.77
1976/77 0.18 0.76 3.69
1977/78 0.36 0.43 2.78
1978/79 0.13 0.20 1.93
1979/80 0.12 0.23 1.10

Source: New Halfa Agricultural Production Corporation, 1981

TABLE 3. Cash returns from an average herd in "wet" and "dry" years

Herd composition Gross returns (S) Difference
Wet year Dry year S %
Sheep and camels 13,000 7,400 5,600 76
Cattle and camels 9,450 5,400 4,050 75
Sheep and cattle 8,450 5,000 3,450 69
Sheep and goats 5,600 3,850 1,650 42
Cattle and goats 4,050 2,250 1,200 53

Source: 1981 field survey

The scheme appeared to be successful during its first five years. Since then, the shortcomings of management, problems of water shortage, and lack of spare parts and other vital inputs have caused a serious decline in productivity (table 2) and a shrinkage in the areas cultivated, with an inevitable resultant decline in tenants' incomes.

The fluctuating yield, together with the increasing cost of production, has reduced the net returns from a tenancy to less than S 200 a year on the average for a tenant cultivating all three crops. The average net income from livestock economy is well over S 600 for the average herd-owner. In the 1979/80 season 60 per cent of the tenancies had a net income of less than S 200 each. Yields in cotton had dropped from the targeted six kantars per feddan to about one kantar (1 kantar = approximately 45 kg). Net returns per tenancy were estimated at S 57 from wheat, S 135 from ground-nuts, and less than S 30 from cotton. However, not all tenants cultivate the three crops annually, and their attachment to farming varies widely, with a high rate of absenteeism and engagement in non-cropping activities such as livestock-rearing.

The scheme model not only overlooked the settlers' perception of development and change and hence their likely expected response, but it also ignored such natural variables as declining fertility, weeds, and water availability. The water available from the reservoir is only 775 million me, of which 650 million m is reserved for the sugar plantation incorporated into the scheme at a later stage, leaving only 125 million m for the rest of the scheme. At the present rate of siltation, the water available will be only 500 million m by 1997, creating a serious water shortage unless an alternative source is found. The only alternative under consideration is another dam on the Setit River, a tributary of the upper Atbara. Under these circumstances it is hardly surprising that tenants do not have full confidence in the scheme's economy. (The scheme was originally designed to use 1,620 million m per year.)

Nearly all official evaluations from the planners' perspective identify the scheme constraints in purely technical terms. None stress the basic question of the difference in perception between the planners and management on the one hand and the settlers on the other of what the aims and objectives of the scheme should be as a possible cause of poor performance. There can be no denying of the magnitude of the technical constraints, but a clearer understanding of the different human perceptions is also vital in achieving a better performance for the scheme. The management has been relatively more satisfied with the scheme than the settlers. This stems from the scheme's positive if modest contribution to national income. In 1980 it produced about 33 per cent of the country's medium-staple cotton, 14 per cent of the ground-nuts, and 21 per cent of the wheat-worth S 5.9 million, S 1.5 million, and S 1.8 million respectively. This total of S 9.2 million is only marginally greater than the S 9.0 million in foreign exchange earned by livestock sales from the scheme in 1980. This gives strong support to the economic rationale of officially integrating livestock into the scheme economy.

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