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II. The human response in the White Nile

5. Agriculture west of the white nile
6. The changing nature of nomadism in the northern white nile region
7. The cheese industry and underdevelopment in the White Nile
8. Marketing and trade in White Nile province
9. Man's socio-economic response to drought in the White Nile
10. Local administration, water supply, and community participation in White Nile province



H. R. J. Davies

The nature of the geology and geomorphology outlined in chapter 1 provides little room for optimism for the development of any mineral industry. The absence of any truly scenic areas suggests only the smallest possibility for tourist development, and this conclusion, at least for foreign tourists from temperate lands, is borne out by the chapter on climate. The future development of this region, without fossil fuel or useful mineral deposits, appears to be in agriculture and allied occupations; and any manufacturing industry is likely to be associated with the processing of agricultural and similar products.

The review of soils suggests that with care many of the soils have considerable inherent fertility providing the necessary moisture can be made available. Of the landscape units identified in chapter 1, the chapter on soils (ch. 2) identifies the clay plains of the White Nile flood plain and the area immediately to its west, along with certain wadi floors, as having the best potential for crop growing. The sandy qoz lands to the west have more limitations, though they can yield reasonable crops of millet; however, they may have more potential for pastoralism.

The chapter on rainfall indicates quite clearly that wide fluctuations in fall from year to year and in area in any one year are to be expected, and that runs of "good" and "bad" years must also be added to the norm. Only in the south does rainfall become less problematic. The low totals suggest that, apart from fuel plots, timber would be unlikely to play a role in any development. The other possibility lies in the fishing industry in the waters of the Jebel Aulia reservoir, with potential markets in the Gezira and the Three Towns, as well as locally. On land, however, crop growing and livestock-rearing seem to be indicated as the basis for future development.

Comments in each chapter, but especially in chapter 4, point to a marked decline in vegetation due to land clear ance and increasing pressures on rainland from a growing population (at a rate of 2.8 per cent per annum), which must be fed and supplied with charcoal and firewood for domestic purposes. A dramatic increase in livestock has also made the situation worse by encouraging overgrazing. The irony is that so far attempts to encourage rural development have exacerbated the situation. The substantial increase in irrigation has improved and stabilized agricultural production, but at the same time has attracted newcomers from the west. Such developments have reduced the land available for grazing and for rain cultivation but have not, unfortunately, reduced the pressure on these lands. Increased numbers need more fuel and the improved standard of living of many irrigation farmers and others has increased the demand for animal products. All this is further exacerbated by the rapid population growth in the capital and the improvement in infrastructure, in particular the new tarred road along the east bank of the White Nile linking Khartoum to Kosti.

The nature of these pressures and their significance for rural change are explored in the following chapters, which are devoted to various aspects of agriculture and pastorallism. Here the significance of the landscape units, the soils, and the climate for man's activities are demonstrated. If rural change is to come-as it must-in the White Nile, the outlook and attitudes of the people must be understood. Chapters 9 and 10 are devoted to this problem

5. Agriculture west of the white Nile

A. Trilsbach


Agriculture is the single most important economic activity in the Sudan. From earliest historical times the banks of the Nile have been cultivated and in the central and southern regions heavy dependence has also been placed upon rain-fed cultivation. This basic pattern remains today, but significant changes have taken place to modify the situation. Of particular importance has been the introduction of large-scale irrigation schemes over the past 60 years, especially in the part of Sudan encompassing the Blue and White Niles. A small section of this region is examined in this chapter.

The area under discussion lies between latitudes 14░ and 14░45'N and is located west of the White Nile, extending as far as the provincial boundary with North Kordofan (called the research area in this publication). It lies in the semi-arid belt of Sudan with an annual average rainfall decreasing from 250 mm in the south to 200 mm in the north. The most striking characteristic of the rainfall is its tendency to fluctuate significantly from year to year.

Mohammed (1980) identified three agricultural zones from east to west, parallel with the river: irrigated agriculture on the clay plain; rain-fed agriculture on the clay plain; and rain-fed agriculture on the qoz (compare figs. 5.1 and 5.2). These zones clearly correlate with the landscape units and major soil types identified in part 1. However, two further subzones on the clay-plains ought to be added to this primary threefold division, namely (i) the seasonally flooded White Nile flood plain (gerf) and (ii) the small private irrigated pump schemes (as opposed to the larger state-run ones).

Since the completion of the Jebel Aulia Dam the White Nile flood plain in the research area has been submerged by its reservoir for approximately eight months each year, but it is still a significant agricultural subregion when the water recedes (April to July). Crops are cultivated in two ways, the most important being on the gerf (areas of fertile soil exposed during the withdrawal of the annual flood, but retaining sufficient moisture for the growth of quickmaturing crops); this is ideal for watermelon (Citrullus vulgaris), cucumber (Cucumis), and bamia (lady's fingers, Hibiscus esculentis) (Abdulla, 1974). Adjacent to the river itself, crops such as maize (Zea mays) and lubia (Dolichos /ablate) are grown by utilizing water raised by shadouf (a lever-type instrument) to irrigate small fields. Some fishing also takes place here, which is most lucrative when shoals are confined to the course of the pre-dam river channel (Abdulla, 1974).

Adjacent to the flood plain is the clay plain, which varies in extent from less than 1 km up to 10 km. Traditionally this area was used for the rain-fed cultivation of aura (great millet, Sorghum vulgare) by the teras method. This involves making bunds across the clay plain to trap the flow of rain-water, allowing it to infiltrate the soil. This was particularly effective along the edges of the qoz dunes (Mohammed, 1980), but is now reduced in significance by the widespread introduction of irrigated agriculture into this zone.

Besides larger-scale irrigation schemes administered by the state-owned Agricultural Corporation, small privately owned schemes exist (rarely larger than 40 feddans: see Appendix). Their significance lies not so much in their total area but in their greater willingness to experiment and their greater flexibility in reacting to changing demands. They were in the forefront of diversification away from cotton and aura, taking up wheat (Triticum vulgare), onion (Allium cepa) and rice (Oryza saliva).

Immediately to the west of the clay plain is the vast expanse of sandy qoz. All cultivation here is rain-fed, the most important crops being dukhn (bulrush millet, Pennisetum typhoideum) and seasame (Sesamum orientale). Traditional methods and tools predominate and the agricultural economy is more subsistence orientated than on the clay plain. The qoz is the main area for livestockrearing, and its large pastures (el baja) are visited in the kharif (wet season) by numerous nomadowned herds, as well as by those belonging to farmers on riverain and rain-land alike.

Sample Areas and Field Work

Of the land-use subdivisions identified above, the flood plain and private irrigation schemes play a minor role in the economy as a whole, and consequently emphasis was placed on the remaining three. Livestock is discussed in the next chapter.

Data was collected from three sample case-studies, which are presented here against a more general regional background. The sample areas are taken from each of the major agricultural zones and serve to illustrate the main themes: Qoz en Nogara pump scheme (on the clay plain); Arashkol (rain-fed agriculture on the clay-plain); and Esh Shuqeiq (rain-fed agriculture on the qoz) (fig. 5.2).

Ooz en Nogara Pump Scheme

This is the largest of the White Nile Agricultural Corporation schemes administered from Ed Dueim with an area of 9,600 feddans and 800 tenants (fig. 5.2). It is located west of the Selati-Shabasha basin (fig. 1.4). On its eastern side it is flanked by other pump schemes (Shabasha, Umm Arda, Et Talha, and Eraig) and to the west expansion of the scheme is limited by a tong seif-dune. Qoz en Nogara itself, after which the scheme is named, is a small isolated sand dune to the south-east of the scheme.

FIG. 5.1. Hydrology and water supply in the research area

It was first established as a private venture in 1957. The tenants held private licences for the extraction of water from the White Nile and each tenant worked 15 feddans which were divided up into three 5-feddan fields.'Cotton was the most important cash crop grown on the scheme, and was rotated with aura and fallow. Each tenant was permitted to grow some vegetables in the fallow field and was allowed to extract water from the canals for this purpose. Forty-three per cent of the questionnaires were completed here (table 5.1).

Arashkol Area

This area is located on the western edge of the clay plain (fig. 5.2). The eastern flank of the region is demarcated by a self-dune, whilst to the west Jebel Arashkol is a formidable landscape feature. This jebel is particularly important as several khors (wadis) emanate from it, creating desirable agricultural sites. Around Arashkol agriculture is dependent upon rainfall, but its close proximity to irrigation schemes gives the cultivators an additional source of income, and the economy may be characterized as transitional between riverain and rainfed agriculture. Twenty-six per cent of completed questionnaires came from this area.

Esh Shuqeiq Area

The qoz here creates an undulating landscape crossed by numerous khors, many of the most important meeting at Esh Shuqeiq. The agriculture of this area is totally dependent upon rainfall and is very susceptible to rainfall fluctuations from one year to the next (Grigg, 1978). The Esh Shuqeiq case-study area is less clearly defined than that of Arashkol (fig. 5.2). Thirty per cent of the completed questionnaires came from the area.

Information from the 152 questionnaires was supplemented with information obtained by interviews with members of the Agricultural Corporation in Ed Dueim and numerous scheme officials. In addition, further open interviews were conducted with farmers in various parts of the research area to enable the results of the sample surveys to be placed against a more general background. Field work was carried out in the second half of 1980. Interviews were mainly conducted in Arabic using interpreters.

The remainder of this chapter is divided into three main parts: (a) a historical account of agricultural change in the research area; (b) an account of the contemporary agriculture; and (c) an analysis of the factors encouraging or inhibiting rural change.

The Historical Development of Agriculture

Before the Condominium

Reliable documentary evidence of agricultural activities in the study area is very limited in the period before the AngloEgyptian Condominium.

Abdulla (1974) suggested that traditional rain-fed agriculture consisted mainly of the cultivation of aura, dukhn, sesame, bamia, and watermelon on the qoz, and of aura, bamia, and watermelon on the clay plain. Wingate (1891) wrote that the broad area encompassing Ed Dueim and Esh Shuqeiq fell within the aura belt of Arab nomadic tribes. Persse et al. (1899) quoted specific examples of aura cultivation around El Alaga, Wad Nimr, and Shabasha. Gum arabic was also extracted from numerous forests of Acacia senegal on the qoz, especially in areas west of Esh Shuqeiq and Suq el Helba (Abdulla, 1974).

Along the river, the shadouf was introduced in the late eighteenth century by migrants from the north (El Huda, 1964), but most cultivation took place on the gerf, especially during the early years of the Mahdia when large groups of people fled to islands in the river and survived on aura and vegetables (Abd el Ati, 1976). In the years leading up to the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium wheat and tomatoes (Lycopersicum esculentum) were also grown by this method, having been introduced by southward-moving migrants.

It appears that the agricultural economy was a combination of livestock and rain-fed and riverain (gerf) agriculture. During the kharif people lived in semi-permanent villages in the rainfed areas, both on the qoz and the clay plain, but returned to the river in October following the aura harvest.

TABLE 5.1 Distribution of questionnaires

Sample area No. of questionnaires %
Qoz en Nogara (irrigation schemer) 66 43.4
Arashkol(rain-fed clay pain) 40 26.3
Esh Shuqeiq(rain-fed qoz) 46 30.3
Total 152 100.0

The Condominium down to 1937

The 1920s marked the beginning of a new agricultural era in the country with the first large-scale production of cotton under irrigation in the Gezira from 1925.

Whilst the cultivation of cotton was expanding rapidly along the Blue Nile, the Sudan government was sceptical that it could be grown successfully using the White Nile, but in 1927 Sayed Abd el Rahman el Mahdi persuaded the administration to allow him to grow cotton over 250 feddans at Aba Island. Yields were good and this encouraged the government to set up its own pump scheme at Ed Dueim in 1928 (All, n.d.). In 1934 cotton production expanded still further along the White Nile when the Mahdi family obtained licences for four more private cotton schemes at El Gammalab, Esh Shawal, Gulli, and El Rived (Direr, 1970).

Elsewhere the old traditional patterns continued with little modification.

From the Completion of the Jebel Aulia Dam down to 1962

The Jebel Aulia Dam, located approximately 50 km south of Khartoum, was completed in 1937 and fundamentally changed agriculture along the White Nile (Mohammed, 1980). It was built primarily for the benefit of Egypt (VaughanLee,1941), but its impact was significant for the whole of the project area. The reservoir behind the dam extends for 300 kilometres as far as Renk, and floods annually large areas previously used for cultivation and grazing. The Egyptian government agreed to pay compensation and the Jebel Aulia Compensation Committee was set up to administer the payments. Instead of paying cash compensation to individuals, the committee decided to finance certain capital projects (Idris, 1964; Mackinnon, 1954):
- banks to protect key areas such as major settlements from flooding (e.g. in Ed Dueim; near Shabasha; at Es Sufi);
- sanitation measures to reduce the incidence of diseases such as malaria;
- sundry services, including better ferries;
- compensation in cash for lost houses; and, most important of all,
- alternative livelihood schemes for cultivators who had lost land.

FIG. 5.2. Agricultural land use in the research area

Such schemes were made possible by the greater control of the water level behind the dam, which enabled lowlift pumps to be used (Wynn, 1968). Altogether, eight Alternative Livelihood Schemes were established along the White Nile: Fatisa, Hashaba, Wad Nimr, Abger,

Shabasha, Wakara, Umm Gerr, and (a reorganized) Ed Dueim (Sudan Government, 1955). In addition, the Abd el Magid Extension to the Gezira Scheme was developed for the same purpose (Sudan Government, 1948). In addition, the Sudan Government encouraged the growth of private pump schemes (Idris, 1960) and low-lift sagias (animal-operated water-wheels for raising water a few feet). The latter were simple and efficient and could effectively irrigate small plots belonging to groups of farmers (Barbour, 1961).

The number of private schemes continued to expand until the early 1960s. The war gave a new impetus for cotton production in the Sudan, so that between 1939 and 1945 the area under cotton cultivation along the White Nile by private farmers almost doubled. After 1945 cotton prices continued to rise with the Korean and Suez crises and by 1958 200,000 feddans were under cotton on private pump schemes along the White Nile, an area twenty times that of 1939 (Direr, 1970). These developments were backed by wealthy individuals and small financial companies relying on high commissions from the cotton crop. Unfortunately, in the wake of independence in 1956, several hundred new shortterm licences were granted, often without adequate assessment An increased number of schemes, with their attendant canals which increased the health hazard, led to a shortage of labour and higher wages. Just as costs were increasing, the world price of cotton began to fall from 1957. In turn this led to attempts to reduce costs by reducing inputs, which led to falling yields. Inevitably inefficiency and bankruptcies followed (Direr, 1970), and others turned to crops such as wheat and vegetables as a potential road to financial stability.

Away from the river, life continued in its accustomed way, though some nomadic elements began to take part in irrigation schemes and there were complaints about their inefficiency on pump schemes (Thomson, 1951). A factor heralding changes here was the increasing restriction on animal watering points due to pump schemes which had begun to cause migration southward. A further harbinger of change for the rainland areas which was later to become important was the stress created by the run of drier years during the 1940s.

1962 to 1980

With Sudan so dependent upon cotton for its export trade, government reaction to the deteriorating situation on pump schemes was inevitable. The most important interven tion for the White Nile was in administration. In 1962 the Alternative Livelihood Schemes were renamed White Nile Agricultural Corporation Schemes. In 1968 all the large private pump schemes were reorganized to become Agricultural Reform Schemes, losing their private status. In 1970 these were amalgamated with the White Nile Agricultural Corporation Schemes to become known as the White Nile Agricultural Schemes. In 1972 these were transferred to the Public Agricultural Corporation in Khartoum, with the local administrative unit renamed as the Ed Dueim Agricultural Corporation. In 1979 the Ed Dueim Agricultural Corporation was replaced by the White Nile Agricultural Corporation administered from Kosti, but with an administrative subsection in Ed Dueim responsible for 82,917 feddans, most of which falls within the research area (fig. 5.3).

FIG. 5.3. Administrative organization of the White Nile Agricultural Corporation

Whilst the irrigation schemes were being reorganized and extended along the river, rain-fed areas continued to feel the slow process of change experienced in the previous period. Improved water supplies with an increasing population of man and animals were slowly having an effect upon the ecological balance. All this was to be heightened into a crisis by the run of drier years beginning in 1968. Though the situation began to improve after 1973, there is much current concern among farmers, administrators, and agricultural experts about the future of rainland farming in this area.

Contemporary Practice

For convenience the irrigated areas have been separated from the rainland. The matters to be considered are administration, land tenure, land use, agricultural operations, labour supply, marketing, and the role of livestock.

Irrigated Areas

By contrast with the areas of rain-fed agriculture, there is a formal administrative hierarchy with the ability to determine the exact nature of production on irrigation schemes.

With the hierarchy there is a chief inspector at the head of each section and an additional inspector for each scheme or small group of schemes: the Qoz en Nogara Scheme, for example, shares an inspector with the Shabasha Scheme. Subbordinate to the inspector is the samad (local supervisor) whose role is to advise farmers about farming practices and methods, and below the samad is the guard, to supervise the delivery of water into hawasha (irrigation tenancy) and to confine stray animals in the zeriba (animal pound).

Between the Agricultural Corporation and the farmers comes the Farmers' Union, a body representing the farmers in an official capacity. On the Qoz en Nogara Scheme the union consists of seven representatives for its 800 tenancies.

Permanent labourers on these schemes can be divided into three groups; tenants who work their own hawasha; sharecroppers who work land owned by absentee tenants; and other permanent labourers, often related to either the tenants or the sharecroppers. On the Qoz en Nogara Scheme sharecroppers outnumbered residential tenants by 57 to 43 per cent, which supports an estimate made at the Ed Dueim Agricultural Conference in 1976 that 65 per cent of all hawasha in the area were farmed by sharecroppers ( E I Zubair, 1976) . In most cases the sharecroppers are given the profits from half of the annual crop by the absentee tenants, but sometimes the agreement allows them to retain all of the aura for their own use.

On the Qoz en Nogara Scheme, 51.9 per cent of the tenancy operators had been working on the scheme for the whole of their working lives; 7.4 per cent had moved to the scheme before 1970; 29.6 per cent between 1970 and 1975; and 11.1 per cent since 1976. Of the migrants, 61.5 per cent had previously been engaged in rain-fed agriculture, 7.7 per cent as non residential agricultural labourers, and 30.8 per cent in animal husbandry.

Temporary labour is also crucial for certain agricultural operations. On average 2.3 labourers are employed on each hawasha every year for sowing, 7.3 for weeding, and 8.5 for harvesting. Unlike schemes such as the Gezira and the Rahad, which draw labourers from all over the Sudan and elsewhere in Africa (Davies, 19641, the White Nile schemes rely mainly on local labour sources. In most years the harvesting of rain-fed dukhn is completed by the end of November and this allows these cultivators to work on the irrigation schemes from December until the end of the cotton harvest. Semi-nomads are also often recruited at times of peak labour demand. The recruiting system is based on informal contacts through friends and relatives. On the Qoz en Nogara Scheme the labour mainly comes from nearby villages. Whilst some of the villagers have a hawasha or work permanently on the scheme, others have rainland farms or practice semi-nomadism, and increase their incomes by working on the scheme at times of high labour demand.

The organization of land use on the irrigation schemes is carefully regulated but has changed significantly in recent years. In the period before the creation of the White Nile Agricultural Schemes in 1970/71, the Qoz en Nogara Scheme covered 10,152 feddans and had 677 tenants. Tenancies were made up of three fields of five feddans each. In 1970 this pattern was altered and 12-feddan tenancies were created, divided into three fields of four feddans each. By reducing the size of the hawasha the poorest land was removed from the scheme and the number of tenants increased to 812. In 1974 a further drastic transformation took place. The Ed Dueim Agricultural Corporation decided to abandon the use of fallow and vegetable growing on the scheme. By reducing the tenancy to 8 feddans the number of tenants were increased to 862 and more poor-quality land was taken out of cultivation. The fields were reorganized on a simple cotton-dura-cotton rotation. Declining cotton yields (see tables 5.6 and 5.7) made the reintroduction of fallow a necessity in 1979. To do this 62 tenancies had to be removed. The scheme now has 800 12feddan tenancies covering 9,600 feddans.

The irrigation system follows the conventional pattern used in central Sudan (Allen and Smith, 1954) of canals, subcanals and ditches. In the particular case of the Qoz en Nogara Scheme, water is provided by four pumps of 76 cm diameter. In 1972 these pumps were transferred from the Hashaba Scheme, which is now supplied by a canal direct from the Manaqil Extension of the Gezira Scheme.

Because the Qoz en Nogara Scheme is so large, an attempt has been made to minimize transport times by dividing the scheme into three units (see fig. 5.4). Where possible farmers work on the unit nearest to their village. Although a farmer works within one unit, his 12 feddans do not form one consolidated holding. Every unit is divided into three "great fields," each adopting one cycle of the rotation at any one time. The farmer is allocated four feddans in each of these fields.

Since 1970/71 only cotton, aura, and vegetables have been grown on the Qoz en Nogara Scheme despite experiments with wheat in neighbouring schemes. Wheat is also popular on some of the While Nile Agricultural Corporation schemes towards the north of the research area, especially in the Es Sufi basin, and on some of the small private schemes. The type of cotton has changed recently. Until 1976 the Lambert X1730A variety was grown (EI Zubair, 1976), but in that year the Acala medium-staple cotton was introduced. Yields were low and commanded low prices and so a further change was sought. In 1979 the Barakat medium-staple was introduced, which is more resistant to disease and commands a good price. However, it is more susceptible to weed infestation, and needs to be harvested quickly as it rots easily. There is no general policy towards the type of aura to be cultivated but four main types are grown on the scheme: feterita, gassabi, zirzira, and wad fahal.

FIG. 5.4. Land use units of the Qoz en Nogara Scheme (diagrammatic)

The official profit-sharing system within the administration is straightforward. In the case of cotton, the main cash crop, the Corporation provides water but the tenant is responsible for supplying all labour as well as paying for all chemical insecticides and fertilizers. The crop is then marketed through official channels and when the profits are calculated they are divided equally between the tenants and the Corporation. For aura, the main subsistence crop, the Corporation is obliged to provide water free of charge. The tenant has to provide all additional capital and labour, but is then free to dispose of the crop in any way that he pleases.

The agricultural operations are systematically organized on the pump schemes. With cotton, the first operation (April/ May) is dry ploughing by tractor, followed by levelling and a second ploughing; with the rains (from June or July) grasses start to grow and a third ploughing/first weeding takes place. Until 1980 the spraying of chemical fertilizers began at this time, but this is delayed now until November. Sowing follows the third ploughing in late August or early September, and is followed by periodic hand weeding. The operation in which the hawashas are divided into angayas (strips separated by ridges) occurs after the sowing. Initially too many cotton seeds are sown and when the plant reaches a height of 3045 cm thinning takes place. This is followed by a fourth ploughing, the "green ploughing." From now onwards until harvest, with up to four pickings between January and April, adequate regular irrigation and weeding is required to ensure a reasonable yield. After picking is completed animals are allowed to graze on the stubble. This helps to clear the land and also provides natural fertilizers. Before the rainy season arrives, any remaining cotton stems are pulled out, collected, and burnt. This is the last process of the cotton cycle and the land is left until the cultivation of aura begins in the next agricultural season.

Dura cultivation under irrigation is much simpler. The hawasha is ploughed after the first rain falls and from midJuly sowing takes place. The hawasha is divided into angayas to make watering possible and this is followed by weeding. Watering then occurs whenever the plant is in need of it. The aura harvest begins in December.

Ploughing on the irrigation schemes is mainly by tractor, owned by the White Nile Agricultural Corporation. Costs are deducted from overall final profits and are borne equally by the Corporation and the tenants.

Apart from natural organic manures, chemical fertilizers are also used on cotton, most commonly urea (ammonium sulphate). The cost is deducted from each tenant's share of the final payment for his cotton crop. Each four feddan cotton hawasha is allocated six sacks of artificial fertilizer.

It must be stressed that the picture presented here is what is supposed to occur. In practice not all the recommended processes take place or do not occur at the right time, and some of the inputs, particularly of artificial fertilizer, simply fail to materialize.

Each tenant is responsible for the collection of cotton from his hawasha and for taking it to one of several collecting centres located on each scheme. Once collected, the White Nile Agricultural Corporation arranges for it to be transported by lorry to the Ed Dueim ginning factory where the seeds are removed. The ginned cotton is then sent to the Agricultural Research Station at Wad Medani for grading prior to export through Port Sudan. The seeds removed at the ginning factory are sent to a crushing mill where oil is extracted and graded into three categories. The best quality is exported for cooking oil; the second grade is used as cooking oil in the Sudan; the remainder goes for soap and ombaz (artificial fodder). Most of the aura is reserved for domestic use or sold privately.


There is no formal body to organize agriculture on the rainlands as occurs under irrigation, though in practice tradition helps to maintain a stability. Plots vary greatly in size (table 5.2) but tend to be large in the Esh Shuqeiq subregion.

TABLE 5.2. Aspects of land ownership in rainland areas

  Esh Shuqeiq Arashkol
Size of bilad (feddans)  
Range 5-25 3-15
Mean 11.2 8.7
Median 10 8
Modal classes 10 5; 6; 10and 15
Occupancy (%)  
Farmers with
traditional rights 76.1 84.2
Others 23.9 15.8

Most farmers own their land, usually by inheritance from their fathers, but this needs to be considered with caution as there is no official individual ownership of land in those areas. Communal ownership is based on the village (Bolton, 1954) and occupance is de facto rather than de jure. At Esh Shuqeiq, those without land of their own rent land at a nominal fee of about úS1 per feddan per annum. Under these circumstances the de facto owner has migrated from the area, in most cases to the Three Towns. The new farmers usually come from rain-fed areas to the west, seeking employment in the wake of animal and/or crop losses due to drought. At Arashkol the farmers without their own land tend to be sharecroppers, normally dividing the crop yield between the landowner and the farmer in two equal shares. There is a preference for bilads (rain-fed farms) near the jebel, as khors provide a more secure water supply in drought years. One interviewee preferred to work as a sharecropper near the jebel than to cultivate his own bilad, which was about a kilometre away to the east.

Four main crops dominate rain-fed cultivation in the research area: aura, dukhn, watermelon, and sesame, but the varieties vary according to location. The quickmaturing feterita variety of aura is most common on the clay plains, whilst on the qoz the main type of dukhn is the "tall" variety identified by Bacon (1954). Sesame, with its long tap root, grows best on the sand-dune areas of the qoz. Watermelon is grown either on the gerf or on the sandy qoz soils.

Table 5.3 summarizes the differences between the two sample rainland areas. At Esh Shuqeiq (qoz) 84.4 per cent of the farmers grow a combination of dukhn and sesame, but near Arashkol (clay plain) a similar percentage (84.1 per cent) grow aura alone. At Esh Shuqeiq 4.3 per cent of farmers grow dukhn only and 10.9 per cent grow dukhn, sesame, and watermelon. At Arashkol 10.6 per cent of farmers grow either sesame or dukhn with aura and 5.3 per cent grow aura, dukhn, and sesame.

Whilst dukhn and watermelon can be grown together, dukhn and sesame need to be separated into their own plots. Consequently, bilads near Esh Shuqeiq are usually divided and this allows a limited amount of crop rotation to take place, albeit in a rather haphazard and unorganized manner. Of the farmers interviewed at Esh Shuqeiq, 28.3 per cent said that they tried to leave a limited amount of land fallow each year. In contrast, the use of crop rotation and fallow at Arashkol is negligible: only one interviewee claimed to use fallow and this was only introduced in 1979 for the first time.

TABLE 5.3. Crops on rainland farms (percentage)

Crop Esh Shuqeiq Arashkol
Dukhn 68.1 3.3
Sesame 24.8 2.1
Watermelon 7.1  
Dura - 94.6
Total 100.0 100.0

Apart from the use of tractors for ploughing in limited areas, most agricultural operations are performed manually using traditional tools. Five main types predominate: torea (digging hoe), hashasha (weeding hoe), seluka (sowing stick), wasuq (a flat-faced earth scoop for making bunds), and self (a long sharp knife) (Burnett, 1954).

The timing and nature of agricultural operations varies between crops and between sand and clays. On the qoz, dukhn is usually given first priority. It needs to have large spaces between individual plants and this is ensured by sowing with a seluka. This is usually followed by two weedings. The ripe heads are collected at a central point within each farmer's bilad for threshing by hand. The canes are now cut and burnt to prevent sand piling up against them. Sesame is cultivated separately from dukhn. Sowing and weeding usually follows that of dukhn but harvesting is usually earlier. The pods are collected to dry in the sun before the seeds are separated. The canes are again removed. Watermelon is usually grown with dukhn using the same hole, as it grows horizontally rather than vertically. The fruit is picked as soon as it begins to ripen.

On the clay plain rainland aura is usually sown as soon as the rains begin. If a bilad is heavily weed-infested it is ploughed before the sowing, either manually or by a communally hired tractor. Weeding usually takes place shortly after sowing but when there has been a lot of rain the muddy conditions can seriously hamper this operation. One or two weedings are usually sufficient and the crop is then left until the harvest, which coincides with that of dukhn. Once the heads have been removed from the bilad the aura canes are collected for use as fodder.

Labour on the rainland bilad may be either permanent or seasonal. At Esh Shuqeiq each bilad usually has one or two permanent labourers, but at Arashkol two or more is common. On both areas, all but the smallest of bilad require seasonal labour. At Esh Shuqeiq 83 per cent of this is supplied by the family, mainly for weeding, but at Arashkol the situation is more complex. Here an average of 1.9 seasonal labourers are employed every year on each bilad for sowing, 4.3 for weeding, and 3.1 for harvesting. A much greater proportion of this is provided by non-family labour than at Esh Shuqeiq. Many of those employed are rainland farmers from the qoz, especially from the Suq el Helba area. The non-family seasonal labourers at Esh Shuqeiq are also usually rain-fed farmers, but tend to be from local sources. On average, labourers work 6.9 hours each day at Esh Shuqeiq compared with only 5.9 at Arashkol. This difference in labour input can also be seen in the number of days worked each week. At Esh Shuqeiq seven days are often worked compared with an average of just over six at Arashkol.

TABLE 5.4. Secondary occupations of rainland farmers (percentages)

Work Esh Shuqeiq Arashkol
On irrigation schemes 8.7 57.9
On other rainland farms 10.9 5.3
Animal-rearing and other 13.0 21.1
Total 32.6 84.3
None 67.4 15.7

Secondary occupations are very important for the economic well-being of many rainland farmers, but there are significant differences between the qoz and the clay plain (see table 5.4). At Esh Shuqeiq 32.6 per cent of farmers seek seasonal work, divided equally between seminomadism, working in Esh Shuqeiq market, and labouring on rainland bilads and irrigation schemes. At Arashkol, by contrast, 84.3 per cent of farmers rely on secondary occupations and 68.7 per cent work as labourers on neighbouring pump schemes, including Qoz en Nogara. Secondary occupations are of much smaller significance in the irrigation areas. 72.7 per cent of the interviewees on the Qoz en Nogara Scheme claimed no secondary occupation, 12.1 per cent worked on rainland farms, and 6.1 per cent undertook some pastoral activities, whilst the remainder took up urban-based jobs in trading, building, and the like.

The marketing of crops from the rainlands is largely a local affair. At Esh Shuqeiq, dukhn is used mainly for domestic consumption, with any surplus sold in Esh Shuqeiq either directly or through traders. It may also be sold to the detriment of family requirements if there is a desperate need for cash. Sesame (an oil-seed) is essentially a cash crop. It is usually transported to Esh Shuqeiq by donkey and sold in the same way as dukhn. The selling of crops for cash is usually organized by the farmer himself or by one of his family. The marketing of watermelon is less clear. All of the interviewees who grew the crow claimed that it was for domestic consumption only, but there is ample evidence that large quantities of this fruit are sent to the Three Towns for sale.

At Arashkol, 3.7 per cent of the farmers interviewed used their aura for both domestic consumption and the raising of cash. When sold for cash it is usually traded privately, either to shops in Arashkol, or transported by lorry to Shabasha to be sold in the market there. In those cases (26.3 per cent) where the crop is for domestic use only, income is raised by livestock-rearing and from seasonal labouring on irrigation schemes.


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