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close this book Measuring drought and drought impacts in Red Sea Province
close this folder 8. Changes in tree density on five sites in Red Sea Province: early 1960s to 1989. Roy Cole
View the document Summary
View the document Introduction
View the document Methods used in the study
View the document The study sites
View the document Results
View the document Conclusion
View the document Discussion
View the document Limitation of the study
View the document References
View the document Appendix 10.1. Charcoal dealers by quarter and size class, Port Sudan, August 1988.
View the document Appendix 10.2. Total stock of charcoal per class of dealer by quarter, Port Sudan, August 1988.
View the document Appendix 10.3. Some characteristics of charcoal production and trade.


There is no area in Red Sea Province in which the resources are not used in some way by people From local firewood consumption, local firewood and charcoal production for export, village bakeries, to the Tokar wood-fired brickworks, the demands made on: natural- resources in Red Sea Province are great and are increasing as population grows. The marginal nature of the physical environment of Red Sea Province presents limitations to unremitting use.

The results of the present study (see Vetaas 1989 for similar results from elsewhere in the province) suggest that where human impacts are low there may be little change in tree density since the 1960s. Negligible impacts are clearly associated with remote areas and low human and livestock populations Changes in tree densities and the agents and processes of change will be discussed: in the section below. The study sites will be treated in the same order as they were presented above.

Khor Akwaat

There are three related processes responsible for the decline in tree density in the areas studied in Khor Akwaat.

1. Urbanisation.

2. Land settlement.

3. Agricultural intensification..


Urban demand has existed in the area for a long time. It is likely that residents of Suakin cut trees in Khor Akwaat in recent centuries. Greatest urban demand, however, has come most recently since the Second World War and particularly during the last twenty years from Port Sudan. It was during the last twenty years that a market-oriented firewood and charcoal infrastructure based on the souk lorry developed.

Since that time, Khor Akwaat has become a source area for fuelwood and the principal linkage to the Khor 'Udrus and Agwampt basins, two of the most important sources of charcoal in recent years for Port Sudan.

A possible explanation for the change in the expected relative density of trees with distance from the Khor Akwaat in Site One may be the practice of "high-grading" commonly employed in harvesting timber and minerals elsewhere in the world. Highgrading is a form of the economic principal of least effort which under the present circumstances involves harvesting the most valuable tree species first. Areas where density is highest and trees are biggest are the first to be harvested. This type of practice is the least costly in time and effort. Trees in Red Sea Province are typically biggest and densest near the khors where water is more freely available. This suggests a possible reason for the change in relative densities.

Land settlement

The first settlement of the area began in 1910 with the establishment of a religious centre (khalwa). The establishment of khalwas in the Sudan was in private hands until the 1920s when the British instituted Indirect Rule through the Powers of Sheikhs Ordinance (1922). The objective of this ordinance was to replace the effenditype of administration based on the Egyptian model with rule by the indigenous elite (Holt and Daly 1979). Construction of subsidised secular schools was stopped in 1922 and a policy of subsidising khalwas was adopted in its place. In 1918 there were 8 subsidised khalwas in the Sudan. By 1930 there were 768; an increase of 9600 percent.

In 1906 the colonial administration built a railroad from Khartoum on the Nile to Port Sudan via 'Atbara. Port Sudan was opened in 1909 to replace Suakin, the old Turkish trade centre on the coast, sixty kilometres to the south of Port Sudan. In 1924 the rail link was built from Khartoum to Port Sudan via Kassala joining the 'Atbara line at Haya junction. About 50 railway towns were founded in Red Sea Province where there had been no permanent settlement in the past (see Collins and Deng 1984). Many of these railway towns have developed into small centres and a few into towns. The last leg of the Khartoum to Port Sudan railroad is located in Khor Akwaat and two railroad towns were founded in the coastal valley of Khor Akwaat. One of these railroad towns, Adar Awayb Station, is still insignificant but the other, Sallum station, has grown into a minor centre. The line from Sallum station to Suakin was dismantled after the Second World War.

Agricultural intensification

The most devastating influence on vegetation on the Khor Akwaat site has been, however, not urban demand for fuelwood or settlement, but rather the wholesale clearance of land for vegetable gardening. Most of the clearance has taken place during the last three years. Two thirds of Site Two are today part of a garden belonging to the Horticulture Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, one of the first gardens established in Khor Akwaat ten years ago. In 1963 there were no gardens or cultivation of any sort in the area at all. Three years ago it was discovered that Khor Akwaat had greater than expected subsurface water supplies and a high demand was created for areas in which to garden to supply the Port Sudan market. The Port Sudan vegetable market is supplied at different times of the year by production in the Wad Medani area, Kassala, Tokar, and Khor Arba'at. It was this last area that provided the model for market garden cultivation in Khor Akwaat. Khor Arba'at is located only twenty kilometres northwest of Port Sudan and can be considered to represent local production. The major differences between the two areas are:

1. Surface and subsurface water supplies at Arba'at are much more abundant than at Akwaat.

2. Land is being sold to people from Port Sudan who are interested in establishing market gardens in Khor Akwaat.

It is possible that the land clearances in the Khor Akwaat area were sparked more by a speculation scramble than by any serious study of the real potential of the area for sustainable agricultural production. The National Water Corporation's branch office in Port Sudan, for example, states that there is definitely not enough water to garden at the present level of gardening and continue to supply Port Sudan with water. Although it was known before the scramble that subsurface water was available in the area, it was not known how much or what quality of water lay beneath the soil. Well digging costs are considerable especially when it is not at all certain that the well will be wet and sweet. Last year, a new landowner had a bore hole well drilled and found only saline water. At a cost of 125000.00 Sudanese pounds per bore hole this is not a cheap mistake. Since the time this well was dug a damper has been put on well digging in the area, however, people are still buying land, clearing it, and erecting fences.

According to field estimations between 15 and 20 square kilometres have been cleared but not cultivated in any way at the time of the present study, June 1989. Most of this clearance has taken place during the last two years. A feddan of land at the time the study took place cost 1000.00 Sudanese pounds, about 35.00 pounds Sterling at the unofficial exchange rate or 125.00 pounds Sterling at the Business rate. In November 1989 the price had risen to 2000.00 Sudanese pounds per feddan.

It is surprising that the Beja landowners are selling their land. The Beja are wellknown to defend their territorial rights, sometimes violently, against the claims of others. The Hadendowa-Rashayda dispute in Kassala is a famous case in point. The Beja in general are willing to permit others to use their land providing that the user make no ownership claims to the land. In the present case, the people who had traditional rights to the land in Akwaat have long since moved to Port Sudan and have little interest in the area The principal purchasers of land in Khor Akwaat are AfroArab "northerners" from the Nile Valley who have settled in Port Sudan, since the beginnings of the British colonial administration in the Sudan. The author made some discreet enquiries about purchasing some land in Khor Akwaat and he was told to address any requests to the 'Umda

Khor Oko

Unlike the sites in Khor Akwaat, Khor Oko is remote from urban demand for fuelwood, however, similar forces are at work there. The major impact on vegetation in Khor Oko has been the settlement of pastoralists in khalwas, religious settlements, during the last 40 years. The sedentarisation movement is associated with the mosque of Shariif Adarob in Tumaala located about 35 kilometres south of the study site. In an effort to raise the productivity of the areas where religious settlements were established, seasonal watercourses have been diverted and water impounded for fruit tree, vegetable, and sorghum production. The fruit and vegetable production is destined for the Port Sudan market. In Tumaala and its satellites, wood is used in cooking and heating (during the relatively cold mountain winter) and in the construction of houses. There are at least two wood-consuming bakeries in Tumaala.

Before the establishment of the religious centres in the area, herders had no fixed address. Their housing was made from light palm mats, easy to pack up and move from place to place. The environmental impacts of such herders was spread over space. The rationale for the pastoral economy in such a marginal environment was continual movement throughout the seasons for fodder and water.

Today, in contrast, people have settled with their animals along Khor Oko. The people in the area live in houses made of tree trunks, although some families live in palm mat tents surrounded by tree trunk fences. The tree trunk house is characteristic of religious settlements in Red Sea Province. Each house is from 5 to 10 meters in length and 5 meters in width. A log frame is constructed and the tree trunks are planted vertically in the ground and made to lean against the frame. The trunks are piled upon one another in layers and from 150 to 200 trunks are needed to build one house. The principal source of tree trunks is Khor Oko.

The links between the Tumaala area and Port Sudan are increasing. The Naqaseb pass, northwest of Port Sudan was built through the mountains in the late 1970s in order to facilitate exchange between Port Sudan and the Nile valley. Communication was only by camel before the pass was built.

In an area as environmentally marginal as western Red Sea Province, certain costs must be paid for settlement and the increased intensity of land use. A familiar pattern of land degradation is appearing around these settlements. For 30 kilometres east of Tumaala, the main settlement in the area, along Khor Hayet, all dead wood has been removed. One sees an occasional stump belonging to a live cutting. From 30 kilometres from Tumaala to just east of the Naqaseb pass, dead wood is plentiful and there is no evidence of the fuelwood trade. Just a few kilometres east of the pass, however, there is no more dead wood and stumps are plentiful. This is the catchment area of Port Sudan today (see Map 8.6).

Khor Sitareb

The Khor Sitareb site was the only site studied that had an increase rather than a decrease in tree density. An increase occurred on 2 hectares of the 5 hectares examined, although slight decreases occurred on the remaining 3 hectares. The two hectares that had. an increased tree density are located on the edge of the study strip, from the main flow of the khor. Use of the area for fuelwood production has been low. There were no chopped trees or evidence of live cuts. There were randomly-distributed dead trees and branches in the area, an indication of slight use for commercial as well as domestic production. The area is remote and outside of the fuelwood production zone of Port Sudan. What fuelwood is produced in the area goes to Tokar town, 25 kilometres southwest of the site. The production in upper Khor Sitareb, however, is minor and peripheral to the Tokar. The area has no road links to urban areas. Land use on the Khor Sitareb site can be said to be negligible. The density distribution of the trees on the site are what one would expect in a semi-arid area - higher densities closer to the water courses: density and size are a function of the availability of water (see Figures 8.7 and 8.8). This is markedly different from the results for Khor Akwaat where tree densities actually were found to decline as moisture availability increased!

An interesting contrast to the case of upper Khor Sitareb is Khor Dahant located' 35 kilometres due north of Khor Sitareb. There is an oil refinery in Port Sudan linked by a pipeline to Khartoum. This pipeline passes through Khor Dahant. A pumping station to pump the oil over the coastal mountains is located just below the mountains. This pumping station is linked to Suakin by an improved road. Because the road makes transportation easy and cheap the fuelwood of Khor Dahant is economic to cut, process into charcoal, and send to the Suakin and Port Sudan markets. With increasing linkage this will be the case of upper Khor Sitareb as well.

Khor Nubahawayb

The Khor Nubahawayb study site is located in a minor tributary of Khor Nubahawayb on the western edge of the 'Udrus charcoal production area It is located 3 kilometres from the Port Sudan to 'Udrus/Agwampt charcoal transportation route. The changes in tree density observed probably are due to charcoal production although some domestic consumption may be involved. No dead wood was seen in the area There were several chopped and mutilated trees and evidence of charcoal making. This area is on the- periphery of the most important charcoal producing zone for Port Sudan in Red Sea Province, the 'Udrus Basin. Substantial amounts of charcoal also come from Khor Agwampt to the west of the study area. In contrast to the other study sites, charcoal production has been the major process affecting trees in this area. There is no permanent settlement in the khor but a permanent dwelling has been built there to shelter herders and their animals when they pass through.

The major source of demand for charcoal in this area is Port Sudan. Demand from Sinkat, 45 kilometres to the south, has increased in the last few years with the improvement of the Sinkat-'Udrus road and mountain pass, however, demand from this town is minor compared to demand from Port Sudan.

One can imagine an outward-moving frontier of urban influence that began radiating from Port Sudan soon after the Second World War, structuring the rural economy. It has been during the last twenty years, a period of high urban growth, however, that the greatest influence of Port Sudan has been felt in the rural areas. As demand for fuelwood in Port Sudan grew the trees in the immediate areas were cut and transported to market. As local supplies were exhausted producers went further afield. Two economic zones developed around Port Sudan. In the first zone it is profitable to cut and transport wood to Port Sudan. In the second zone, more distant than the first, it is profitable only to produce and transport light weight to value charcoal to Port Sudan.

Charcoal and firewood production is commonly said to have increased during and after the drought in the early 1980s in Red Sea Province. Fuelwood production during and after that time became a survival strategy among many, the most popular being urban migration and agricultural employment on the agricultural schemes in and around the province. A drought relief programme intended to assist the recovery of the people of Red Sea Province extended and refined the transport infrastructure of Red Sea Province during the mid-1980s and had an indirect effect on charcoal and wood production by extending and making transport easier. During the course of this four-year programme an average of 5 lorries were sent about every three months to 410 food distribution points located around the province. This represents one distribution point for every 1000 rural people in Red Sea Province.

Although local transportation was important in the transportation of charcoal and wood in the past (Paul 1954, Newbold 1935, Sandars 1933) traditional modes of transportation do not appear to be significant in the delineation of these production zones except for very local transport of fuelwood, for example, branches or logs from Khor Arba'at by donkey or camel to Port Sudan. In almost all cases traditional transport has been incorporated into the modem transport structure. Donkeys and camels supply remote bulking points served by souk lorries supplying Port Sudan. The model is distorted by modern factors that ease the friction of distance. The domination of the industry by the souk lorry has already been mentioned. Another factor, the levelling and paving of the way from Port Sudan to Kassala and Khartoum in the early 1980s has extended the zone in which it is profitable to transport local firewood to Port Sudan and extended the local charcoal profitability zone as well. A souk lorry is capable of carrying a 7 to 7.5 tonne load. This represents 200 bags of charcoal per lorry. Charcoal can be purchased at 35 Sudanese pounds per bag at Tugalhuush, the first bulking point east of the 'Udrus charcoal production zone, and sold in Port Sudan for 110 Sudanese pounds. The cost of one lorry load of charcoal at Tugalhuush is 7000 Sudanese pounds and the sale value in Port Sudan in June 1989 minus transportation costs is 20000 pounds. This sum represents 1100 pounds Sterling at the official exchange rate or 800 pounds Sterling at the black market rate. The following figure illustrates the relationship between charcoal prices and distance from Port Sudan in June and July 1989. The June figures are prior to the enactment of price controls in the urban areas and the August figures reflect the new policy of urban price control after the change in government on 30 June 1989. The following figure presents charcoal prices per 40 kilogram sack at three bulking points along the Port Sudan-Udrus basin charcoal transport route. Also included in the figure is the change introduced after the July change in government. It does not appear that the change will have any impact on the charcoal producers except in cases where production is integrated with marketing. For example, where a lineage produces, transports, and markets the charcoal in Port Sudan. In this case there will be a substantial loss of income at the Port Sudan level.

Figure 8.6. Charcoal prices per 40 kilogram sack at three bulking points located 30 to 80 kilometres west of Port Sudan and at the market In Port Sudan, June and July 1989.

The following map presents a general view of the fuelwood production zones around Port Sudan.

Map 8.6. Fuelwood production zones for Port Sudan, Red Sea Province.