Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Pastoralists under Pressure in Present-Day Sudan: An Introduction

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Pastoralists under Pressure in Present-Day Sudan: An Introduction

Article excerpt

On a global scale, Sudan perhaps ranks first in terms of pastoralist population size (Markakis 1998: 41). About 66 per cent of the country is arid land, which is mostly pastoral habitat. It is estimated that pastoral activities involve 20 per cent of the population and account for 40 per cent of livestock wealth. The livestock sector plays an important role in the economy of the country, accounting for approximately 22 per cent of the Gross National Product (GDP), meeting the entire domestic demand for meat, 70 per cent of national milk requirements and contributing almost 18 per cent of the country's foreign exchange earnings by the late 1980s. It is also a very significant source of employment for about 80 per cent of the rural workforce.

The different census figures referring to nomadic people in Sudan can be considered an underestimation, starting with the first one from 1955/56. This was, and continues to be, a result of the unsatisfactory definition of "nomads" adopted by the authorities, which was based on the type of dwelling that these people inhabited. This being the case, a large number of nomads were excluded. Most of the time, censuses are carried out during periods of agricultural operations, hence nomads who used to cultivate small farms and stay on them for short periods in the course of their movements were considered to be a sedentary population. Census officials did not easily reach those who moved with their animals. Attempts to remedy this situation resulted in estimated figures rather than actual figures. This explains why the figures for 1993 and 1998 were just estimates, the basis for which was not explained. Even though the figures from the 2008 census have not been released, much cannot be expected. In fact, even if the question on nomads was included as one of the seven categories of family or social groups in the short questionnaire, the criteria for defining 'who is a nomad' remains ambiguous.

Pastoralist groups in Sudan are enduring multiple marginalization processes, escalated by strict land laws and misguided development plans promulgated by the state. This situation is further exacerbated by an administrative vacuum resulting from the abolishment of indigenous mechanisms that used to govern relations between individuals and groups in rural areas and organize their systems of utilization of available natural resources. Those who studied these groups from the 1950s onwards recognized three types of systems of organization of pastoralism, namely: (a) pastoral nomadism, which is the regular movement of people and entire families with their animals in search of pastures and water. Pastures are often discontinuous and connected by access routes. Each group has traditional and exclusive rights of residence and exploitation of a territory. These rights are referred to as the group dar (homeland). Their capital is kept mainly in the form of animals. It is unfortunately apparent that this territory is shrinking due to the rain-fed agriculture favoured by the planning strategies adopted by state; (b) semi-nomadism or agro-pastoralism, in which part of the family is left in the dar while the remainder moves with the animals in search of good pastures and water. Those who are left behind engage in a variety of occupations, the most dominant of which is agriculture; (c) transhumance, which is a form of pastoralism practised by sedentary cultivators whose major economic activity the majority of the time is agriculture and movement is generally from a permanent base. However, these categories can no longer be clearly distinguished as separate entities. The most common activity is agro-pastoralism, which is practised by almost all those we refer to in the following text as 'pastoralists'.

Since the mid-1940s, land policies first designed by the colonial administration and later adopted by the national governments have tended to marginalize pastoralists. The Soil Conservation Committee Report of 1944 recommended that 'where nomadic pastoralists were in direct competition for land with settled cultivators, it should be the policy that the rights of the cultivators be considered as paramount, because his crops yield a bigger return per unit area' (El-Tayeb 1985: 35). …

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