|Development Projects in the Sudan: An Analysis of their Reports with Implications for Research and Training in Arid Land Management (UNU, 1979, 58 pages)|
Research on the environment and the proper use of resources: the growth of vigorous academic and scientific communities. particularly in the developing countries; increasing dynamic interaction in the world-wide community of learning and research: the application of the results of science and technology in the interests of development. As stated in its Charter, these are some of the general purposes for which the United Nations University was created. Not a traditional university with a single campus, the UN University is defined as an international community of scholars engaged in research, post-graduate training, and dissemination of knowledge. An academic institution autonomous within the UN system. the University only began to take form in 1975, when it was decided that the first three programme areas would be world hunger, human and social development, and the use and management of natural resources. Three international groups of experts met to suggest specific topics within each of these themes, and the expert group concerned with natural resources recommended that one of the priority areas should be the application of existing knowledge to arid lands problems.
Once the Programme on the Use and Management of Natural Resources was established, the immediate need was to sharply define the resource problems that could be alleviated through the United Nations University and its decentralized networks of associated institutions. That is what specific problems are susceptible to solution through research, advanced training, and the dissemination of information, and what institutional links would be most effective in carrying out the planned work ?
Thirteen experts gathered in Tokyo in May 1977 to discuss these questions in relation to arid lands problems. and they recommended that the Subprogramme on the Assessment of the Application of Knowledge to Arid Lands Problems be "directed at the need to facilitate the basic desire of many arid land inhabitants to remain within such areas by providing them with services and enabling them to manage their resources for optimum productivity at the least social, capital, and environmental cost. It was felt by the expert panel that the major barrier to the realization of these aims lies in the problem of translating existing knowledge and expertise into a viable plan of action that is meaningful to decision-makers attractive to local populations. and congruent with the environmental constraints of arid lands. The reasons for inadequate and unsuccessful application of knowledge and experience must be identified as a basis for planning and for the optimum use of technology to improve human welfare."
Thus the expert panel recommended that the subprogramme focus on two areas-assessment and dissemination of knowledge. In regard to the former, they suggested that a "systematic collection and analysis of the experience of various [development] projects, successes as well as failures. could be of great value for the planning and implementation of future development and resource management programmes." This emphasis on the effective use of existing knowledge rather than the creation of new basic knowledge was subsequently endorsed by the United Nations Conference on Desertification. In the Overview of Desertification. which was the basic background document for the conference, it was stated, "Action must not await complete knowledge. The need is recognized for immediate action in applying existing knowledge."
Fourteen works were commissioned by the Programme in 1977-7% in line with the recommendations of the expert panel, and Professor Thimm's analysis of eight development projects in the Sudan is the first of these to be completed.
In describing the conflicts between public and private interests. nomads and sedentary farmers, animals and crops, Professor Thimm forcefully illustrates the difficulties in planning and executing arid lands development schemes. He then attempts to take the critically needed but all too often ignored step of moving beyond the purely academic study to examine the practical implications of his work. Three topics for further research are suggested: the longterm productivity of arid lands. the organization of land use, and the factors that determine social and economic viability.
The implications for training are also examined in some detail. and Professor Thimm proposes the creation of an interdisciplinary 18-month M.Sc. programme. A detailed course outline is developed, and he suggests that ten months of course work, followed by four months of practical training and four months of thesis work, would prepare the personnel qualified to plan and manage arid land development projects effectively. Again the need to emphasize the social and economic aspects is brought out, a conclusion which is supported by the results of the study itself.
Professor Thimm is the first to note that the results of his analysis of eight development projects cannot be extrapolated to the Sudan as a whole, much less to other development projects in other arid regions. However, when his work is combined with the other studies being sponsored by the Programme, it may be possible to draw some generalizations which can then be used as the basis for preparing management guidelines or manuals. The information can also be incorporated into curricula, seminars, and other types of training programmes as appropriate. As this type of application is the ultimate goal of the Arid Lands Sub-programme. the initial work will take place at the University of Khartoum and the University of New South Wales-the two present UNU Associated Institutions for this sub-programme. We plan, however, to expand the UNU network to other centres in Asia and Latin America over the next year, and it is my hope that the lessons contained here will therefore be disseminated to planners, scientists, and decision-makers in all of the world's arid and semi-arid lands.
Walther Manshard, Vice-Rector
Programme on the Use and Management of Natural Resources