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General introduction

H. R. J. Davies

Man and environment are closely interrelated. From the simplest technological society to the most sophisticated, man has impact for good or ill upon the physical environment. In arid and semi-arid lands this impact can be quite spectacular. In the USA and the USSR large tracts of "virgin" grasslands in the semi-arid zone have suffered severely from machine cultivation, which has caused widespread gullying and soil erosion; the resulting dust and sand, borne by the wind, has in turn affected other, as yet uncultivated, areas. At the same time, both countries can point to spectacular improvements in the productivity of arid lands through the development of irrigation, with the warning that poor management here can lead to eventual loss of areas over time through waterlogging and salinization.

In developing-world countries in the arid and semi-arid zones the situation is similar. Pakistan illustrates clearly the good and evil effects of irrigation: large areas are rendered productive by the life-giving waters of the River Indus, whilst other areas suffer from severe waterlogging and salinization from the same source. Again, the large areas identified at the United Nations Conference in Nairobi in 1977 (United Nations, 1977) as suffering from, or in danger of suffering from, desertification in developing-world countries illustrate the problem of rain-fed cultivation and livestock grazing on the desert margins without such development.

The main lesson to be learned from experiences to date from arid lands throughout the world is the need for all development to be subject to "sympathetic management." Whilst it is true that such management should be applied to development throughout the world, it is much more necessary in arid lands, owing to the fragility of the ecological balance and the wide variations in climatological conditions from year to year. It was this last factor which so severely affected the USA and the USSR, where marginal lands were brought under forms of land use sustainable in years of good rainfall but not sustainable in years of relatively low rainfall.

It is also this factor of climatic variation which gives cause for concern in many developing-world countries in the arid zone, especially where rates of population increase are high (2.8 per cent per annum in Sudan). Under such conditions man has a number of potential responses. First of all, in a series of years of good rainfall he may expand his agricultural and livestock enterprises towards the desert, thereby reducing the "reserve" of vegetation, soil nutrients, and underground water supplies required to cope with the next succession of dry years. A second option is to intensify cultivation in the already occupied areas by reducing fallow periods and bringing into cultivation marginal lands on hillsides and elsewhere. A third possibility is to expand non-agricultural activities such as woodworking, straw-mat making, and similar activities using the local vegetational resources; at the same time, however, a rising population will in itself make more demands on those resources for housebuilding, furniture, and especially wood for fuel. A fourth possibility is to migrate to other agricultural areas or to the towns.

It is plain that when the inevitable series of dry years comes along the pressures intensify. Lower yields encourage even larger areas to be brought under cultivation in a desperate attempt to procure sufficient food in the short term. The pressure to make a livelihood from firewood-cutting and vegetationally based crafts increases, and a process of man" induced desertification, in the sense of a degradation of the physical environmental resources, has taken place.

Migration, which appears to be the soundest option, is not without its difficulties, especially in years of poor rainfall. New arrivals may not be welcome. They will need land, water and support from the community they try to join, which itself may be finding difficulty in maintaining its own welldeveloped life-style under adverse rainfall conditions. If the new arrivals are pastoralists moving into a crop growing area, disputes are likely to occur over access to water, trespass and crop trampling. Even for the migrants, problems of animal diseases with which they are not familiar may devastate their flocks and herds.

Those who migrate to towns join the ranks of the unemployed dependent upon government or international agency handouts of food and other necessities. Unless these urban arrivals can be found alternative forms of livelihood-and this is rarely possible in developingworld countries-they will create a permanent idle pool and potential source of violent political and social discontent. Furthermore, unless these people are to be permanently dependent on outside food supplies, their mere existence, even in town, increases the pressure on the food production capabilities of the rural areas from which they have migrated. Even oil- and mineral-rich countries have the same problems, though in the short term they may be able to buy their way out of their immediate difficulties.

An alternative solution is to modernize the rural sector by a more careful use of the available resources, by environmentally sympathetic management. The history of rural development in developing-world countries has not always been a happy one. Whilst it has been possible to identify with assurance what will grow where and how to grow it, and also to decide what crops are economically viable, it has not been so easy to ensure that people will identify with the development proposed, or that the results will be those anticipated. This problem has proved particularly acute in the arid zone.

A significant element here is people's perception of their needs and aspirations. The planners may think in terms of money, and the people in terms of food and animal feed or less hard toil in the sun; the planners may think in terms of quality, the people in terms of quantity; or there may be differences in outlook due to custom and cultural tradition or to a national as opposed to a local perspective. What undoubtedly heightens the problem in the arid zone is the limited room for manoeuvre within the traditional agricultural structure. The range of alternative crops is severely restricted and the vagaries of the climate act as a disincentive to experimentation with other than traditionally successful methods. One of the main ways of overcoming the limitations of the existing physical environment has been to try to change it by such methods as the development of irrigation schemes. Such a solution is "revolutionary" rather than "evolutionary." The participant is expected to change from being a subsistence shifting cultivator or nomadic agro-pastoralist into a sedentary cashoriented peasant cultivator. He is expected to give up much independence of mind and action and to learn to trust and co-operate with others whose different life-style has always led him to view them with reservation and suspicion.

The White Nile Project Area

Some of these problems in relation to the Sudan on a broader canvas have already been examined in the United Nations University's programme (Thimm, 1979; Davies, 1985). In this volume an attempt is made to look at the themes already outlined in an integrated way with respect to the White Nile area of the Sudan. Comment will be confined to the west bank between Ed Dueim (14N) and Omdurman (15 371/2'N). In practice the various contributors concentrated on particular parts of the zone for their studies. However, it is believed that the generalizations arrived at are applicable to the whole of the area unless comment is made to the contrary. This is a truly critical zone, mapped as being an area with a very high risk of desertification (United Nations, 1977), and is a region too which has experienced a great deal of rural change over the past 40 years.

The White Nile was at one time an essential part of the communications system of the Sudan, and today, with the Blue Nile, it has become an increasingly important source of life support to the Sudanese people. This has been brought about by the increase in population and the desire of people to increase their incomes, and thus improve their material lives, by agricultural development. In such an arid marginal land for rain-fed agriculture, this process can only be brought about through the development of irrigation, which should ensure higher and more dependable yields of both subsistence and cash crops.

During the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium the area around the confluence of the White and Blue Niles and the Gezira emerged as the economic and political core of the country. Strategically this area was crucial for the good administration of the country, as it lay at the point where lines of communication met, and historically it has been the core of a significant political entity since at least the ninth century. Its economic dominance dates from the development of the Gezira Scheme (based upon irrigated cotton as a cash crop), after the completion of the Sennar Dam across the Blue Nile in 1925.

The project area is thus close to, but not directly a part of, the political and economic core region of the Sudan. It has experienced a drain of both resources and people towards the capital and the Gezira, but it has also benefited from some of the trickle-down effects in terms of new irrigation schemes along the river, especially after the completion of the Jebel Aulia Dam in 1937, and demands for food from both man and livestock. Pressures for changes in life-style and intensification of land use have thus affected this area greatly. Movement of people out of the region towards the capital and the Gezira has been more than made up for by migrants from the west of the Sudan, who have tended to "pile up" as they reach the western bank of the White Nile.

It was for the twin reasons of threat of desertification and pressure for rural change that the decision to look at this area in some detail was made. The study falls into three parts with a separate conclusion.

Part I examines the physical environment, reviewing the opportunities it provides and the constraints it places upon programmes for rural change. The discussion includes:an identification of the various geomorphological landscape units with their attendant soil characteristics and potential for man's use; a review of the nature of the climate with special reference to constraints placed upon the use of the area by the rainfall variability; and a brief comment upon some vegetational characteristics. The physical environment forms the stage upon which the drama of life is acted. In earlier times writers believed that it determined men's actions (Taylor, 1940) or provided the parameters which circumscribed an area's potential use by man (Herbertson, 1905). In more recent times it was downgraded, sometimes to such an extent that it did not seem to matter at all providing there was sufficient technology. Today, with stress on the need for an ecological approach, the physical environment is being seen as an organic whole with man himself as a part of it. Misuse has serious repercussions for the whole ecosystem and in arid and semiarid lands it may lead to irreversible deterioration; a detailed analysis is therefore necessary. Furthermore, environmental change must lead to a change in the human situation and response, and to a modification in the factors promoting or inhibiting rural change.

Part II is concerned with the human response to the physical environment and its changes. Of particular significance here are the challenges presented to traditional life-styles not only by climatic fluctuation but also by the changes in river regime initiated by the building of the Jebel Aulia Dam during the 1930s and the improvement of rural water supplies in the area since the 1950s, in a period of rapid population growth. Within the research area the population had reached 250,000 by 1983, an increase of 70 per cent since the 1955 census. Of much greater significance has been the population increase in Khartoum Province, where a figure approaching 2 million represents almost a fourfold increase on 1955. The impact of this development has been great because of its close proximity to the area under study in the White Nile. The lure of city life, the increased demand created for rural products, and the greater possibility of finding a good market for them have all had their effect.

Other urban developments in the Sudan have also initiated responses within the area in a similar manner. Kosti has developed rapidly as the new inland port on the White Nile and has a population of over 90,000; Ed Dueim, within the study area, has become the capital of White Nile Province with a 1983 population of nearly 40,000. In the rural sector such things as the doubling of the Gezira Scheme to nearly 2 million feddans since 1957 and the development of mechanized crop production schemes between the Niles south of Kosti, eastwards around Gedaref, and elsewhere in Kassala Province have all had their impact.

Any analysis of these areas must consider all these factors, taking special note of responses in agriculture, livestockrearing, craft industries (such as cheese production), and marketing. It must also pay particular attention to the impact of drought and man's response to it in the area, and the relationship between introduced environmental change (improved rural water supplies), its management, and the commitment of the local community.

Part III attempts to show how the physical constraints and human response to introduced rural change have been brought together in the White Nile region. It examines the Gummuiya Scheme, situated on the west bank of the White Nile between Omdurman and Jebel Aulia. Some of the various elements brought together here include a truly marginal zone where successful rain crops are the exception rather than the rule; where the people are traditionally pastoralist, but cultivate some crops along the river; and where the capital lies only 35 to 45 km away. At the same time these people have strong traditional ties with the Gezira area, and though situated to the north of the Jebel Aulia Dam their traditional patterns of life have been altered by its introduction. The Gummuiya area had to adjust itself to these changes, but in the 1970s it was called upon to make a new set of adjustments with the development of an irrigated pump scheme.

Two main conclusions emerge from this study. First, successful innovation in such arid lands calls not only for a careful assessment of the physical environment's potential and of economic possibilities within the area, but also for an understanding of people's perception of development. Such an analysis must also include a realistic assessment of the availability of trained manpower and economic resources to sustain any proposed changes. Second, successful innovation cannot be brought about without the various elements being looked at together so that coherent programmes of regional development can emerge. Success does not lie in an uncoordinated and ad hoc series of projects developed without a proper assessment as to how their various impacts will react together. These themes are further developed in part IV.

Acknowledgements and Explanation

This research study resulted from activities sponsored by the Inter-University Council (now the British Council's Committee for International Co-operation in Higher Education) through its Academic Links programme (IUC, 1975). Under this an arrangement for co-operation in geography between the University College of Swansea, UK, and the University of Khartoum was negotiated. The result is a report by 11 academics, six of them from the University of Khartoum and five from the University College of Swansea.

The editor and his collaborators wish to express their sincere thanks to their own institutions for the encouragement they received, especially the Vice-Chanceilor of the University of Khartoum and the Principal of the University College of Swansea, and for the tangible support received from the British Council through its CICHE. However, the research was really made possible by the willingness of the United Nations University to include this work within its Arid Lands Research Sub-Programme. For all the support and assistance rendered to us by the United Nations University we express our sincere thanks.

The terms "project area," "research area," and "study area" are used in the text with the following meanings.
Project area: West bank of the White Nile between Ed Dueim and Omdurman (i.e. 14N to 15371/2'N).
Research area: West bank of the White Nile from Ed Dueim (14N ) to 14 45'N.
Study area:
West bank of the White Nile from 1430'N to Omdurman (15371/2'N).


Davies, H. R. J. 1985. Natural Resources and Rural Development in Arid Lands: Case Studios from the Sudan. United Nations University, Tokyo.

Herbertson, A. J. 1905. "The Major Natural Regions." Geog. J., 25.

Inter-University Council (IUC). 1975. Co-operation through Links IUC, London.

Taylor, G. 1940. Australia: A Study of Warm Environments and Their Effect on British Settlement. Methuen, London.

Thimm, H.-U 1979. Development Projects in the Sudan. An Analysis of Their Reports with Implications for Research and Training in Arid Land Management. United Nations University, Tokyo.

United Nations. 1977. Desertification: Its Causes end Consequences. UN Conference in Nairobi Proceedings. Pergamon, Oxford.

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