|Proceedings of the Khartoum Workshop on Arid Lands Management (UNU, 1979, 96 pages)|
|The university of Khartoum and the United Nations University|
Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Khartoum
The Sudan is now developing its natural resources at a rapid rate in order to raise the standard of living for its growing population. A number of major development schemes have been undertaken. Agriculture is becoming intensified and extended, in particular through mechanization of new areas of land, both rain-fed and irrigated. Mineral resources are being exploited as a basis for industrialization. Livestock is increasing and new pastures are being opened.
However, there is a danger that in the rush towards the creation of a modern agricultural economy many unanticipated and unintended environmental side effects will detract from the level of development. In other words, the Sudan may be moving along a path which involves a deterioration of past development achievements and an attempt to compensate for this by hasty expansion of production elsewhere.
It is evident from certain statistics that the yield per feddan of certain important crops has dramatically declined. Sorghum and maize yields, for example, have decreased by half, and millet and groundnuts by four-fifths. The decline in sesame production is such that sesame growers have effectively lost 19 out of every 20 feddan. Undoubtedly this overall decline in productivity is in part due to the opening of marginal land, but there is also evidence of falling yields on existing cultivated land. This decline in crop production has also been accompanied by a drop in productivity of forest lands. Acacia woodlands, hitherto used on a renewable basis for fuel and charcoal production, have disappeared over large areas. Most dramatic has been the death and destruction of Acacia Senegal, from which gum Arabic is harvested, resulting in a lowering of the level of production, which had been stable for many years.
The visual evidence of decline is in the disappearance of formerly productive land; where there were once crops or livestock or useful woodlands, there is now arid barren land, man-created desert in the broad sense of the word. Moreover, there is evidence of changes in the composition of natural vegetation and shifting of belts southwards. Accompanying the changes in vegetation there has also been a loss of wildlife in the north; many species have become rare or extinct in many areas.
On a larger scale, the decline in yields and the general process of desert encroachment in the Sudan are the result of a complex pattern of interacting factors. Years with low rainfall have combined with lower water tables to produce crop failure in marginal lands. Increased livestock densities and overgrazing coupled with excess burning are destroying range and pasture. Acacia woodlands are being destroyed for fuel and charcoal and removed over large areas to make way for mechanized farming. In rain-fed areas tillage operations are resulting in wind erosion of the topsoil, aided by the lack of woodland remnants or shelter belts. On irrigated clays the use of heavy machinery is resulting in compaction of soil. In general, new and more intensive agricultural techniques are putting a heavy pressure on established irrigation schemes. Fallow periods are shorter, water management is becoming more critical, and a new pest problem is being created by heavy reliance on pesticides.
On the other hand, expansion of irrigated agriculture has already consumed the country's share of the Nile water 120.35 x 109 m³ ). Therefore future requirements must be met from more expensive sources such as conservation of the swampy regions, ground-water resources, non-nilotic streams, the improvement of poor utilization efficiencies, and recycling and desalination processes. The country has reached a state where optimization between these sources and the corresponding use is a vital need. Such optimization would consider in a rational manner the different economic, hydrological, ecological, sociological, political, and environmental factors.
Finally, the capacity of the rural population to cope with problems of everyday life is being hampered by increases in the incidence of bilharzia (schistosomiasis), malaria, and other diseases.
What has been said is a brief essay on the state of the environment in the Sudan. However, the present level of environmental changes is such that their detrimental effect can no longer be safely ignored. Therefore, new capacitities have to be created to deal with the environmental problem in more comprehensive and integrated fashions. Many universities are becoming more and more aware of such major responsibilities.
In the Sudan, the University of Khartoum is in a favourable position to respond to these circumstances As the country's major centre of advanced studies, it has an opportunity and responsibility to integrate what is now known and to help bring this knowledge to bear on the environmental problems described. It also has a responsibility to seek to create new knowledge where this is needed and to educate decision-makers, resource managers, and the general public about the state of the environment and the dangers that exist.
The nature of the problems, however, together with their urgency, suggests that the traditional approaches by themselves are not enough. A broad integrative approach to environmental problems is needed in which the knowledge and skills of a wide variety of specialists can be brought together and applied towards effective solutions. Limited success has been achieved within the university in the study of arid zone problems and of the hydrology of the Nile as evidenced by the output of the Arid Zone Research Unit and Hydrobiological Research Unit within the Faculty of Science. The efforts of the Geography Department in tackling problems of urbanization and those of the Department of Community Medicine bear witness to the relevance of such studies. Other faculties, such as Engineering and Agriculture, have introduced post-graduate studies directed towards a better understanding of the environment. However, all these are isolated disciplinary efforts run according to old university traditions.
To meet the challenge of creating a broad integrative approach to environmental problems, the University of Khartoum, after a series of prolonged discussions involving highly qualified persons from within and outside the school, is now actively embarking on the establishment of a research and training Institute of Environmental Studies, which is temporarily affiliated with the Faculty of Science during its formative period but is expected to be quite independent within the next two to five years.
The question may arise as to why priority should be given to the creation of an institute for research and post-graduate training. On assessment of the situation, however, it becomes clear that the immediate introduction of an undergraduate degree in environmental sciences, though highly needed, is not feasible at present. The nature of such an interdisciplinary degree requires the implementation of the course-unit system within the university, because, although the components of a coherent course of study leading to such a degree are already in existence, they are scattered through departments and faculties. Moreover, the value of such a degree would have to be sold effectively to many prospective employers.
The arguments for establishing a research and training institute are strong. The creation of an institute represents an effective way in which the university can deploy and strengthen its capabilities. If the institute is broadly interdisciplinary, it can provide a convenient and suitable basis for collaboration among specialists from a wide range of disciplines. Such an institute could project the work which the university is doing and enhance its reputation and value to the community. It could also strengthen research and teaching within established disciplinary and departmental programmes. It could serve as a focus for attracting wellqualified scholars and scientists and for carrying out externally supported research. Indeed, it seems likely that a high quality research institute would quickly attract contract research from within the Sudan.
Among the objectives of the institute will be:
(a) to promote, co-ordinate, and disseminate information about research, teaching, and training in environmental studies concerning the conservation, use, and management of natural resources, especially at the national and regional level;
(b) to encourage and promote interdisciplinary research projects based on teamwork, independently or with other university departments and units, and to constitute the initial platform for multi-disciplinary research;
(c) to offer postgraduate studies leading to higher degrees and to offer a programme of training to develop the skills and capabilities necessary for practical studies of environmental problems, and to give diplomas and certificates; and
(d) to promote further understanding of the environment through conferences, workshops, and public lectures.
The newly created Institute of Environmental Studies (IES) has a governing board, the composition of which reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the institute as well as the importance of bringing in the participation of many interested bodies outside the university. This board is expected to draw up the general policies and approve plans laid down by the Academic Committee, which is responsible with the Director for the daily running of the institute.
One of the most interesting features of the organization of the institute is the non-permanency of its academic staff.
The Director is appointed for a limited period, which is renewable. Project co-ordinators are appointed on the basis of joint appointment with their respective departments for a period anticipated to be necessary for the completion of a certain project.
These project co-ordinators are expected to form investigation teams drawn from inside and outside the university. Attached to such teams will be students who are being trained for higher degrees. The appointment of a training co-ordinator will reflect efforts to integrate teaching in the institute with research carried out there.
In our opinion the first task of the institute is to identify clearly areas
of priority and to select relevant problems to which the whole range of
activities of the institute will be directed. In doing so the institute has
directed its focus on three problem areas:
(a) the impact on the environment of the canal which is being dug in the Jonglei area in southern Sudan;
(b) a range of present and potential environmental problems in the Red Sea coastal area, associated with industrialization around Port Sudan, the developing fisheries and oyster farming, the planned extracting of minerals from the Red Sea brines, and also the problem of water supply to the port and the growing industry; and
(c) the very complex problem of desert encroachment in the west; since a wide variety of research directions tend to present themselves, definition of the problem must be the first task, and we hope that this workshop will lay down the guidelines.
The scope for post-graduate training can be very wide, depending on students' qualifications, experience, and interest, employers' requirements, and the availability of financial and other necessary facilities. At present a two-year M.Sc. programme is intended to start by July 1979. The first year will be devoted to an intensive course of study and the second year to individual or teamwork research projects. These research projects will be derived from the three selected areas. One of the most interesting features of this programme is that the syllabus is intended to correspond with the needs of the main environmental problem areas. In this way we can ensure full integration between teaching and research.