The Gash Delta, in northern Kassala Province, and the Tokar Delta, in southern Red Sea Province, form two of the principal agricultural and livestock production areas of the Eastern Region (see Map 7.1). They are two of the richest areas in the Sudan. Other areas of great agricultural and pastoral importance in Eastern Province are Khashm el-Girba and Gedarif. The focus of the present report is on the Gash, the Gash Dai extension of the Gash Delta, and the Tokar Delta agricultural areas.
Although they are separated by three hundred kilometres, there is good reason to consider the Tokar and Gash deltas as part of one economic region. They share a common pool of labour and both are used as grazing areas by pastoral and agropastoral groups shuttling back and forth between Kassala and Red Sea Province. Both form a productive hinterland for large centres such as Port Sudan and Kassala and for small centres such as Tokar town, Garora, Derudeb, Haya, Sinkat, and Suakin. Until the 1970s, the Tokar and Gash Deltas were administered by the same authority. There was one manager, one plan, and one policy for both schemes. The system of administration changed when cotton was abandoned in the Gash.
Map 7.1. Agricultural areas, Eastern Sudan.
The Gash, Gash Dai, and Tokar agricultural and pastoral areas together constitute a resource for several classes of Red Sea Province residents as well as a resource for land users from Kassala Province, Eritrea, and the Nile Valley:
1. Landholders who reside in Red Sea Province but own land in one or more of the schemes.
2. Livestock owners who seasonally migrate with their animals, send their livestock with hired labour, or ship their animals by truck to one or both of the schemes during the course of the year.
3. Migratory and resident labour which seasonally moves from opportunity to opportunity or from home area to opportunity.
These three groups constitute a dynamic local system of sometimes contradictory interests linked to social, political, and economic structures at the regional, national and international levels. Although their interests may be sometimes contradictory in the particular, in general, however, they are mutually interdependent and must be in order to succeed and survive. All of the above groups attempt to minimize risk and optimize the return to their efforts.
In most years demand for labour exceeds supply in the Gash and Tokar Deltas. In the rainfall and flood deficit years in the early-1980s this situation was reversed. The 1989 agricultural year was a year of extreme labour deficit for the Gash for a variety of reasons most important of which was the abundant and well-distributed summer rains. These rains enabled people in Red Sea Province, for example, to plant in areas that they had not planted in six or more years. Indeed, some areas in 1989 were planted that had never been planted before, according to local accounts. This was the principal reason why many accustomed to annual work on the Gash stayed away this year, despite the higher wages. McLoughlin (1966) provides another interpretation of labour scarcity during wet years in the Gash. He states that for labour that is permanently resident in the Gash that in exceptionally wet years "...people who ordinarily would become labourers, planted their own crops (1966, 114)." Another important reason for the labour deficit was that the planted area in the Gash increased greatly because of the excellent rains and flood. There was simply too much work for the available work force. This year (1988-89) landowners have left sorghum stalks in the fields for the livestock because there is not enough labour to cut and transport them to market.
A last reason for the lack of labourers in the Gash Delta was the fear of disease. The incidence of malaria and typhoid fever in the Gash (but not the Tokar) Delta increased with the unusually high floods and rainfall and many labourers stayed away from the scheme.
Labourers in the Gash and Tokar schemes form part of wider familial and extrafamilial networks and employ economic strategies that include some or all of the following activities in differing proportions according to the time of year:
1. Urban wage labour.
2. Livestock raising.
4. Rural crafts.
5. Gathering of marketable natural products.
6. Trade outside the auspices of the government
Labourers, when formulating an economic plan for a given year weigh the estimated relative benefits from all of the activities in which they are involved or are interested in becoming involved. When one economic activity appears to premise a good return, far example, agriculture in Eastern Region this year, the labourer will shift his or her economic activities to take advantage of circumstances. It is this opportunism that characterizes agricultural labourers in the two schemes.
Relations between the three groups mentioned above are decidedly market-oriented (see McLoughlin (1966) for a historical discussion of labour in the Gash and Tokar Deltas), but defined through customary arrangement. These customary arrangements generally involve same form of sharing of the agricultural products between the landowners, tenants, and labour force. There are many arguments for and against sharecropping in the Sudan and elsewhere (Mohammed M. Abdel Salam 1978, Elfatih Shaaeldin 1983, Mohammed Hashim Awad 1973). The view of the author, that traditional sharing arrangements spread risk in a highly variable environment and are superior to fixed rent systems is presented in the conclusion.