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close this book Research and Training for Management of Arid Lands with Special Reference to Anglophone Africa and the University of Khartoum (1980)
close this folder IV. An African network for research and training south of the Sahara linked with the university of Khartoum
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View the document Relevance of the experience of the Sudan in establishing a network for research and training south of the Sahara

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Relevance of the experience of the Sudan in establishing a network for research and training south of the Sahara


Needs for Research and Training for Arid Lands Development in Africa South of the Sahara
A. T. Grove

Development of arid lands involves changing the ways in which such lands are used to the benefit of the people occupying them, and in such a manner that production from them can be sustained into the foreseeable future. Such changes are made necessary in African countries because populations in all of them are growing rapidly and are likely to continue to grow until the end of the century, and also because living standards are at present low and precarious. Since the beginning of the century numbers of people and livestock have multiplied by something in the order of five or ten times, with pressure on environmental resources increasing accordingly.

The next decade or two are likely to be critical ones. Until less than 20 years ago, within the colonial system, relationships of peoples in African countries with the rest of the world became closer as a result of increasing trade and monetarization of their economies. In some instances land was alienated to Europeans and held according to European kinds of tenurial arrangements. But over extensive areas African social and tenurial institutions and agricultural methods were not greatly modified; in some respects they became more rigid and less liable to change than had previously been the case. Since independence the speed of change has varied from one country to another according to the complexion of the government and the pressures to which it has been subjected. In many countries it would seem that the relationship between people and their land has now reached a stage where decisions cannot long be delayed as to the direction in which change shall go in the future.

Land management is in the hands of a host of decision-makers, notably central and regional governments and government agencies, traditional rulers of greater or lesser degree, and-most important-individual family farming units. Each manager is concerned with his own well-being and with his responsibilities for those depending on him. Conflicts are avoided by each recognizing the limits to his own ability to manoeuvre as set down by the rights of others. The social and political implications of change, to the advantage of some groups and the disadvantage of others, are of very great importance. This applies to changes in the ability to allocate land, to dispose of it, and to develop it by physical improvements of one sort or another.

Here I refer to the situation in four countries which I have visited recently but very briefly, spending only a few days in each. They are Tanzania, a large and varied country with a population approaching 20 million, belonging to a variety of ethnic groups, and with a strong central government. The other three countries were formerly the Protectorates of Bechuanaland, Basutoland, and Swaziland, now the independent states of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Each of these has a relatively small population, of the order of 0.6 to 1.2 million, and in each country the majority of the people belong to one ethnic group. Whereas the government of Tanzania has, since independence, followed very independent policies, the former Protectorates, surrounded by or bordering on the Republic of South Africa and very dependent on the Republic economically, have operated under tighter constraints. They have relied heavily on funds from their Customs Union with the Republic and on the remission of money by migrants working on the mines and farms in South Africa.

All four countries, particularly Lesotho and Tanzania, are poor. Because of the evident need to increase the production and prosperity of the rural areas and at the same time to prevent further environmental deterioration, steps are being taken or have already been taken in all four countries to introduce new patterns of settlement and new forms of land tenure. These have very important implications for the environment and for any attempts to prevent its further deterioration. They seem to me to be of fundamental importance as far as our interests are concerned because the effectiveness of conservationists and in fact of agrarian extension workers generally depends on the appropriateness and acceptability to rural people of measures taken by governments with regard to land-holding.

Until recently, in all four countries land has been held, except for areas alienated to Europeans, according to the custom by which the right to use land was associated with membership of the community claiming the area within which that land lay. The chief of the community had the right and responsibility to allocate land to members of the community according to their needs. Once an area had been allocated and occupied by a family it remained in the hands of that family at least so long as they continued to make use of it; normally they might not sell it. A chief derived his authority in large part from the recognition of his ability to allocate land; it was on this that his power depended, and in some areas still depends. With the cultivation of crops for sale and the demand for land for housing, including urban housing, land has acquired a money value and is being effectively bought and sold. Chiefly powers are being used in a non~traditional manner and land holders are extending their rights in unprecedented ways. There are risks of increasing social inequality if a limited number of people acquire rights to most of the land, leaving a majority landless and without any secure economic base. On the other hand, the persistence of communal rights to use land, especially for grazing purposes, is leading to excessive numbers of animals and accompanying deterioration of soils and pasturage. Furthermore it is difficult, though not impossible, to introduce improved farming practices such as fencing and planting of woodlots so long as customary tenure continues. Governments have consequently introduced or are considering introducing legislation to modify the patterns of settlement and forms of tenure.

Different stages have been reached and different directions are being taken in each of the four countries under consideration. This has implications for training and research and makes it necessary to distinguish between the ecological and socio-political sides of the subject. There are needs for training and research in both sides, but the emphasis must differ at the international and at the national centres. The ecological aspects of arid lands development are international, and the principles that apply in one country apply in another, whether it is African or not. The technical knowledge of means of upgrading the environment is also widely applicable, and though capital-intensive methods may not be suitable for use everywhere, techniques that work in one African country are likely to be suitable for adoption in several others. Hence, research and training of the kind being undertaken by the IES at the University of Khartoum is of interest to other African countries in the arid zone, and their officials are likely to benefit from it.

It is generally recognized that the main difficulties lie not so much in deciding what should be done but how it should be done. Each African country has its own ways of dealing with land management. There was formerly a good deal of similarity between organization and methods in all anglophone African territories, but this is no longer the case, and we really need a new edition of Lord Hailey's African Survey to summarize the current state of affairs.

Solutions to problems of land management must differ from one country to another, and may also vary from one region to another within a single country. To my mind, research and training in the socio-political areas are best done at national centres, where methods and measures appropriate to national and local needs can be worked out. At the same time, one would hope that information about all aspects of arid land development will be exchanged between the institutions primarily concerned with research and training and the implementation of programmes, through journals such as UNEP's Desertification Control Bulletin.

With regard to more specific research recommendations, I would mention especially the need for studies of: (1) the history of soil erosion and conservation in Lesotho; and (2) the effects of villagization on the landscape of Tanzania.

With regard to training I would suggest that, so far as possible, training should involve, for example: (1) the production of land use and land potential maps based on satellite imagery, aerial photos, and ground survey methods in the areas close to training centres; and (2) the production or improvement of existing manuals for use by extension workers.

These should be produced by the people undergoing training, who should then attempt to make use of their productions themselves, and obtain comments from local people as to their usefulness or otherwise.


In the presentation and discussion of Grove's paper the importance of popular participation in development programmes was recognized, and the hope was expressed that this would receive appropriate emphasis in the IES courses. However, differences in ideologies and management structures from one country to another are major factors which cannot be ignored. Furthermore, individual countries have special knowledge of particular subjects: for example, irrigation and the assessment of water resources in the Sudan, assessment of natural resources in Tanzania, and in Botswana the organization of major symposia for bringing together and disseminating research findings.

There was, it was agreed, a good case for the UN University to provide support for other centres which could form nodes in a network including the IES at Khartoum. Tanzania and Botswana should receive special consideration from this point of view. It should also be borne in mind, as H. S. Mann emphasized, that CAZRI at Jodhpur had much to offer and should be linked to the network. The Director of the IES at the University of Khartoum and the representatives of UNSO and UNESCO expressed general agreement with these comments.