Livelihood diversification and land use change in the Sahel: an interdisciplinary analysis of gum arabic in Sudan

University dissertation from Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, Lund University

Abstract: This thesis contributes to the ongoing debate about livelihood diversifi cation and the related question of agriculture’s central role in rural development in the Sahel. It focuses on on-farm diversifi cation during the dry season. The aim is to assess the practice and potential of gum arabic production for smallholders in central Sudan. The agricultural system of gum arabic production has provided smallholders with incomes, soil fertility improvements and other advantages for generations, but for a number of reasons changes are taking place in production, which can be detrimental if no other alternatives exist. The methods in this thesis involve a multi-level analysis from international to local level analysing both indirect and direct driving forces of production. An interdisciplinary approach is applied combining different theoretical frameworks and integrating the results from both remote sensing and interviews. The results showed that the indirect driving forces, operating at international, national and regional levels, related to the economic and political causes: international demand and national gum prices, and the environmental causes: drought, precipitation and pests. The severe drought in 1984 caused an eventdriven change that lead to a discontinuation of production in some parts, which was one of the reasons for regional differences in production. The direct driving forces, operating at a local level, related to the way in which input of labour and resources was prioritised between the main livelihoods: gum arabic, crops, off-farm activities and livestock. Results from the local level revealed that incomes from off-farm activities increased, as in many other parts of Africa, during the last decades. Livestock was found to be diffi cult to combine with gum arabic production since they damage the trees. A study of very high resolution satellite images showed that the cultivated land per capita had decreased since the end of the 1960s. No increase in yields took place, according to interviews, and therefore a production per capita decline was concluded. The image classifi cation was based on an object-oriented approach with high accuracy and the approach can therefore be an alternative for regional land use studies. The relations between gum arabic, crops, off-farm activities and livestock are complex and, for example, depend on labour division within households. In conclusion, both direct and indirect driving forces of gum arabic production are recognised, but the direct causes, taking into account the constraint and opportunities of households, are emphasised. Gum arabic production can play a part in rural development in these parts of Sudan, but the challenge is also to acknowledge the diversity and dynamics of other livelihoods.

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