World Soil Survey Archive and Catalogue

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The Historical Context for Land Resource Surveys in North and South Sudan

North and South SudanThe geographical area covered by North and South Sudan stretches across many ecological zones, from the desert lands on the northern border with Egypt to the very edge of tropical rainforest along the southern borders with the Central African Republic. The size of the area also means that there are many and varied distinctive habitats and natural resource zones encompassed within the countries. This makes any description of resource surveys difficult to distil into a brief consolidated description. Therefore this section provides only a very brief chronology of the numerous soil and land use surveys carried out in both North and South Sudan over the period from the early 1930s and is based on a number sources which are held in WOSSAC. The best introduction to Land resource history in the Sudan is to be found within, Thin on the Ground, Land Resource Survey in British Overseas Territories, by Professor Anthony Young, 2007. In addition there is an account of the work of the work of the Land Resource Division (LRD) in the Imatong Mountains during the 1970s in Developing Countries: Evaluation of Land Potential 1956-2001, edited by John Makin, John Bennett, Martin Brunt, and Chris Griffen and published in 2006. Vernon Robertson also provides a detailed account of the work of Hunting Technical Services in Jebel Marra, an article in the Geographic Magazine.

This account is therefore not meant to be a definitive description of the history of land resource assessment in the Sudan and is certainly not a comprehensive coverage of all the work. Rather it provides an introduction to the materials held within the WOSSAC archive, within a structured framework. This is important to the Sudan Case Study as it:

  • Firstly, sets into a chronology the surveys and reports. This allows individual reports to be linked as part of larger survey initiatives for example the work of Hunting Technical Services who carried forward the majority of surveys pre-1990 and is also traces the changing approaches and methodologies; and
  • Secondly, it also points out the central role played by Sudan in the development of soils and land use mapping not only in the East African region, but internationally, especially in relation to irrigation. Much of the mapping in Sudan had as an objective land classification for irrigation development.

In order to provide a framework for this brief account the chronology has been divided into a number of time periods which are useful for description, but are in essence arbitrary.

From this period the sources held by WOSSAC include material from 1938 comprising essays on soil management in the Journal of Applied Pedology. Also published in the Journal of Ecology in 1948, is a description of Tropical Soil-Vegetation Catena and Mosaics in the south-west of Sudan, by Morison et al. This is one of the very few academic research studies in the savannah landscapes on the basement complex rocks west of the Nile. In addition the archive holds a number of 1:250,000 base maps for Sudan from this era: maps from Darfur dated: 1937-Zalingi; 1938-Kereinik; and 1944 respectively for Nyala.

Just prior to independence there was an ambitious assessment entitled, Estimates of the Irrigable Areas of the Sudan, undertaken by the UK based engineering consultancy, Alexander Gibb and Partners. WOSSAC holds both maps and a report from this work. These 17 maps produced in the period from 1951-53 are at scale of 1:100,000, in black and white only, are in a very brittle condition but are preserved in the archive. Also from this period is an overview document of the Soils of Sudan, which is a typewritten document with hand drawn maps included in the text.

In the early 1950s work began on the ambitious, Equatorial Nile Project and its Effects in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. There is a six-volume set of documents held in the archive, which includes a summary volume and material which provides a more detailed study of the effects of the project on local hydrology, soils, agriculture and people of the Jonglei area, and how these might be remedied. The topics covered: Irrigation, Hydrology, Fisheries, Ecology, Population, Agriculture, Grazing, Soils, and Climate. This subject was returned to much later in the 1980s with a project to evaluate the construction of a long canal which would enable part of the flow of the White Nile. The Jonglei Canal Project Study, was funded by the European Development Fund in 1983.

Also from this early period is an evaluation of the potential within the Southern Provinces of Sudan, which may now prove to be very timely as international attention focuses on this Region. This provides an overview of the then current natural resources of the region, with an assessment of development potential and research needs. A preliminary report by the Southern Development Investigation Team in 1954, includes material relating to Natural Resources, Development, Trade, Markets, Agriculture, Animal husbandry, Fisheries, Water supply, Minerals, Industry, Ecology, Climate, Geology, Soils, and People.

An Independent Sudan - Post 1956

Following independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956, the imperative was to gain as much information as possible to allow the new State to increase domestic agricultural production. This activity was seen to represent an extension of the existing agriculture along the Nile Valley, and also a means to gain reconnaissance-level information for more remote areas.

An early initiative was to attempt a census of the newly independent county and WOSSAC holds the 1955/56, Sudan Census Maps – some 14 sheets in all - at a scale of 1:1 million. These show villages, irrigation schemes, as well as boreholes antiquities and many other features. Superimposed on this base material are census areas depicted in red.

In 1957, Hunting Technical Services (HTS), a UK survey company were commissioned by the newly formed Sudanese Government to make a preliminary study of the land and water potential of the Jebel Marra area in the far west on the country in Darfur province. This survey of 12,000 square miles began what was to be a long association of between HTS and Sudan which resulted in many surveys of the natural resources across the country. The investigations described in this report were planned as the first or reconnaissance phase of a longer term study which it is was hoped would eventually lead to the development of irrigated agriculture in Western Darfur. The summer period in the areas of the Jebel is characterised by heavy rainfall allowing permanent streams to develop in this otherwise arid environment. The concept was that these streams could be conserved to allow an extended irrigation season. Work by HTS on this survey and evaluation continued into the 1960s funded by a UN Special Fund. Maps were produced of the forest resources and potential irrigable area, along with vegetation assessments, at a scale of 1:250,000. All of the Phase I studies were summarised in 1963, which provides a very comprehensive overview of this remote area and has for example valuable rainfall data.

The search for potential agricultural land in areas away from the Nile valley continued into the 1970s with water survey and development projects in Darfur Province. Both surface and hydrogeological work was competed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, together with assessments on irrigation potential.

Nile Valley Irrigation Surveys

The other main area of effort during this early independence period was along the Nile Valley with the Roseires Soil Survey, for example being undertaken in the mid 1960s and with the 18 accompanying sheets being published in February 1967. These are handsome coloured soil and land classification map sheets, depicted at a scale of 1:50,000.

This work was followed by a similar undertaking for the Pump Irrigation Project on the Main Nile: this required a study of environment and social aspects related to agriculture, which was published in 1967. This work went though several phases with Pre-Investment Reappraisal of the Northern Nile Pump Schemes in 1979, which appraised the land resources for 36 pump schemes at a scale of 1:25,000 and which required 13 map sheets, mapping land suitable for irrigation and recording existing irrigated land. Also in this period there were compiled a set of 1:50,000 coloured sheets relating to land classification for the Blue Nile Survey. There are six sheets for the Rahad area and five for the Roseires irrigation schemes.

In the next decade there followed a Nile Water Study, which centred on agricultural systems planning to provide alternative irrigation in the Blue Nile Region-1978. This work, undertaken by HTS, was published at a scale of 1:100,000 and there are a total of 19 sheets mapping land as classified for irrigation use.

Land was also evaluated for specific uses such as the Kenana Sugar Project Feasibility Project, 1972 and 73, and a Cotton Marketing Project 1983-84, along the Nile irrigated areas.

Interest in the potential of Nile Valley continued into the 1990s with the White Nile Pump Schemes Modernisation Study, followed by Blue Nile Pump Schemes Modernization Study, which included soil, land classification and agricultural studies and then related these to agricultural development of the existing and potential irrigated areas.

Integrated Development Projects

The early work which commenced in the Jebel Marra area in the 1957 and concentrated on irrigation potential formed the basis for further survey work funded by FAO in the 1960, which in turn led to a joint UNDP/FAO investigation entitled the Agricultural Development of the Jebel Marra Area, in the period 1976-77. This project based in Zaleingei, expanded the survey area to 40,000 km square and included livestock and dryland agricultural production. The funding then moved to the European Development Fund (EDF), which launched the Jebel Marra Rural Development Project beginning in 1980. This project became one of the classic Integrated Rural Development Projects (IRDP) of the period running through several phases until 1995 and producing many volumes of reports all of which are archived. There are also in the archive a series of semi-detailed soil maps from the 1960s for key locations such as Wadi Debarei. More recently is the Land Use Planning Studies: Final Report published as late as 1995.

Beginning with a regional hydrogeological and surface waters survey Darfur Province, in the late 1960s there followed the formulation of a rural development project based largely on water supplied by deep boreholes. The Southern Darfur Land-Use Planning Survey followed and was a reconnaissance soil and geomorphology survey of the Project Area was carried out between January and June 1972. This work also included a rangeland evaluation and formed the basis for the Nyala-based, Savannah Development Project, which also went through numerous phases and interest by differing donors in the period 1971-1991. There was a slight name change in the 1980s with the title becoming the Western Savannah Project (WSP), which covered an area of 92,000 square kilometres and the archive contains land use mapping and many other reports, including household surveys, from this period. In both Jebel Marra and the above Western Savannah Project, Hunting Technical Services maintained teams of long-term professionals who were instrumental in generating primary data which provides an important key to the understanding of this remote western region. Most of this is archived.

In a similar way Hunting Technical Services were involved in a land evaluation in Kordofan Province in the period 1960s, which mapped some 66,500 square kilometres. A Land and Water Use Survey in Kordofan Province of the Republic of Sudan - 1963, resulted in important contributions to baseline data and development planning options for the region, including a set of geological and vegetation maps. There is also a Soil Survey of the Nuba Mountains 1963 by D. C. Findlay (Findlay had also worked for the Soil Survey of England and Wales and had gained soil survey experience in Ethiopia). This work was followed during the period 1978-1982 by material generated by the South Kordofan Rural Planning Unit -1978-82. All these materials are archived.

In a similar way Hunting Technical Services were involved in a land evaluation in Kordofan Province in the period 1960s, which mapped some 66,500 square kilometres. A Land and Water Use Survey in Kordofan Province of the Republic of Sudan - 1963, resulted in important contributions to baseline data and development planning options for the region, including a set of geological and vegetation maps. Many other documents belonging to this study are located in several libraries in Khartoum.

Another of these rural area based schemes was the Area Development Scheme, Lower Atbara, which includes soil, climate, crop water requirement, and irrigation management requirement. There are in the archive a series of documents from this scheme from 1994/95.

There are also a number of overview documents within the archive which attempt to pull together much of this information. These include the Sudan Resource Management Study: A Natural Resources Data Assessment of Kordofan and Darfur. This was completed in 1987 and funded by the World Bank. A more analytical volume is Resources, Development and Politics in Darfur, completed by HTS in September 2004.

Mapping Related to Drought Rehabilitation

In the early 1980s there was global concern over what then was perceived as desertification. In this context a study entitled, Ecological Imbalance in the Republic of the Sudan, by Fauad Ibrahim led the arguments for increased drought being driven by agricultural expansion in Darfur. These views were reinforced following widespread drought and famine in the west of Sudan in the early 1980s and there was a move to upgrade the resource information and to make the work more accessible and useful to aid organisations. Therefore, based on Landsat data, a series of 1:250,000 maps were produced for Darfur during 1985-86. These were used as base maps by development workers, with a further series of maps at the same scale being produced with land systems and soil information superimposed. Related to these development efforts were an innovative mapping exercise in the Monitoring vegetation and Land Use Change in Areas of Darfur, using SPOT 1988 imagery . This was a benchmark study where the objective was to quantify land use change by a comparison with 1971-72 air photography. This work was again updated in the early 1990s, using weather satellite data for all of Sudan. Maps such as an Estimated Shift in Rainfall Zones based on Isohyets 1931-60 and 1961-90, resulted from this work and are held in the archive, together with a valuable historical summary of vegetation conditions for all the years from 1982 to 192 inclusive. The Technical Assessment of Drought Preparedness and Desertification, also maps rainfall variations over this period.

Land Resource Evaluation in Southern Sudan

As described above the major donor-funded efforts within Sudan since independence have been in the Nile Valley or Western Sudan, and the vast savannah landscapes of the south of Sudan have not received as much attention. During the period when development partners were willing to support resource survey as the basis for general agricultural development in the 1970s, there were few examples of reconnaissance level evaluations. As a result, today this leaves the southern provinces without any systematic natural resource appraisal. A study entitled, Natural Resources and Development Potential in the Southern Provinces of the Sudan, provides an exception to this but is a very early report, published in 1954, covering , Irrigation, Agriculture, Engineering, Development, Livestock, and Crop Production. There was also a valuable appraisal of Land Systems in Bahr el Ghazel Province, followed by a review of Integrated Land and Water Resource Development in Southern Sudan - 1980. In addition there is an Economic Development Potential Study East Bank Eastern Equatorial Sudan. This study aimed to determine the economic status of the area, to identify ‘bottle necks’ to economic growth and to propose ways in which economic activity could be stimulated and to study the refugee situation in the Madi area. During the 1980s, however, interest in stimulating agriculture in the region was boosted by a series of surveys and assessments undertaken by Booker Agriculture. Exploratory Soil Surveys of Gogrial, Wau, and Rumbeck, were carried out and reports accompanied by maps are available in the WOSSAC archive. Maps of land units at scale 1:100,000 accompany these reports. Building on this resource survey there are in addition Agricultural Development Potential assessments for Mundri (1983), and Wau and Yei in (1984).

The Imatong Mountains

The Imatong Central Forest Reserve is of special importance to the Sudan as it one of the few extensive areas in the country capable of supplying timber in reasonable quantities. The areas was mapped and the vegetation classified by the UK Overseas Development Administration (ODA) in 1977. The only major forestry documents held within the archive are a Report on the Forest Resources of the Jebel Marra Area. Darfur Province, comprising a part of the Jebel Marra resource inventory from the 1960s.

Resource Surveys in the Eastern and Coastal Areas

An economic water planning model, the Eastern Region Institutional Review of the Water Sector and Institutional Capability Study, is one of the few documents held which was related directly to the East of Sudan.

Overview Material

A text entitled, Sudan Profile of Agricultural Potential, provides an overview of the agricultural potential of Sudan and the constraints to development, particularly with respect to irrigation: published in 1987. In a similar way, A Review of Agricultural Studies of Sudan, gives a review of the literature of agriculture in the Sudan. This is worth reading alongside the masterly work edited by J.D. Tothill, first published in 1948. This seminal book entitled, A Handbook of Agriculture as Practised in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, is unfortunately not held currently in the Wossac archive, although it is available online elsewhere . There are also important sectoral reviews including the Livestock Sector Review and Project Identification, of 1972.

Other material held includes a list of vernacular, or common names, for the Plants of the Anglo-Egyptian Region of Sudan, published in 1948; and a Camel Density Map of Sudan from 1964.


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