Igad livestock Policy Initiative

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Land tenure in Darfur

Land tenure systems in Darfur have evolved over the years, driven by the changes in the political, natural, social and economic situation in addition to the increase in human and animal populations. This system goes back to the 19th century and the Fur Sultanate, when high ranking members of the Sultanate, prominent figures in the community and religious leaders were granted large pieces of land called Hawakirs. This system continued up to the colonial era when some changes were introduced to change land tenure into:

After independence no major changes occurred and four levels of land ownership could be distinguished: Tribal land (Communal ownership), Clan Hawakir, private Hawakir (within the tribal land), and Ghifar7 land where use is organized by the Native Administration. Within this system each tribe occupies an area called a Dar, which is the property of all the tribe with the tribal chief as the main custodian of the land on behalf of the community. The chief allocates land to individual members of the tribe for cultivation and the remaining lands remain as communal pasture. Continuous farming of the land, or opening a Ghifar, safeguards ownership and long term abandonment of land may result in the loss of ownership and the land may revert to being considered as communal. One effective way of safeguarding ownership of farm lands is by growing Gum Arabic particularly Hashab trees (Acacia Senegal).

All these previous changes occurred out of the direct interventions of the Government but the 1970 Unregistered Land Act has negatively affected the gradual adaptation and development in the process of land ownership. Although the Act indicates that all unregistered lands are governmental property, nevertheless it gives the locals user rights but not ownership until the land is actually registered. To add insult to injury, later on, the government abolished the tribal administration which was very influential in ironing out many land conflicts and solving many tenure problems between individuals and tribes in a peaceful way. The abolition of the tribal system and land tenure was further complicated by the drought of the 1970s and 1980s when the population started to seek larger parcels of land to avoid crop failure and where additional numbers of people migrated southwards searching for better agricultural land and pasture.

The indigenous land tenure systems have been defined by factors such as climate and ecology, the quality of land resources, population density, level of agricultural technology, crops, markets, kinship organization, inheritance patterns, settlement patterns, political organization, religious significance of land, and patterns of ethnic conquest, dominance and rivalry. There are rights within the traditional system originating in pre-colonial states, such as the Hawakir system and there are also secondary tenures, so-called derived rights, such as shared-cropping arrangements, water rights and the right of wives within their husbands’ land. Many conflicts occur as a result of outsiders’ infringement of local rights, but conflicts may also arise as a result of tension within the group itself.

For both farmers and pastoralists such rights are usually understandable as being very concrete and located in time and geographically. The time dimension shows how units are established and how rights are acquired over the generations, with the outcome that agreements are based on a complex arrangement of local compromises, of situational give and take, rather than strict rule enforcement. This personal basis is important because land tenure changes often start as individual deviance from the norms, as seen in the early establishment of gardens on communal lands, introducing elements of private ownership rights that later can be developed.

Pastoralism in Sudan

Pastoralism, the extensive production of grazing livestock, is practiced in diverse ways in the Sudan. In this working paper, the term pastoralism refers to livestock production systems in which mobility is an important management tool. In Sudan, most range resources are used in common with each tribe having its own grazing lands known as Dar. Within this system many grazing patterns are found, such as:

  1. Sedentary pattern (Agro-pastoralists): Where cultivation is practiced alongside with animal husbandry. A limited animal movement is practiced between the domain and surrounding grazing areas.

  2. Semi-nomadic (Transhumance): Where part of the family moves with their herd while the other stay in the Dar (homestead) to practice cultivation. Mainly practiced by camel owners and, recently, some cattle owner’s tribes.

  3. Nomadic: is a regular year round movement of herders and their families and herds. This movement is mainly due to environmental factors such as lack of water and pasture in the north during the dry season and mud, flies and insects in the south during the rainy season. Through their movement, the nomadic pastoralists follow traditional inherited migration routes that link the wet and dry season grazing areas. The movements of each pastoral group take the following pattern:
    1. Abbala8 (Camel owners) raise camel and sheep under nomadic and semi nomadic system. Practiced by Abbala tribal groups, comprising the camel tribes of the eastern region (Beja, Butana), Northern Kordofan and Northern Darfur. In western Sudan they move south of the Dar in the rainy season and return in summer. Winter is spent further north in peripheral areas such as Wadi-Hawer in North Darfur region up to the Libyan and Chadian borders, the Meidob hills and west of Dongala, where the herds depend on Gizu grazing. In the eastern region the movement revolves around the Red sea Hills and plains, along the Atbara River and even beyond the Eritrea and the Ethiopian borders.

    2. Baggara9 (cattle owners) raise mainly cattle and sheep under nomadic and transhumance systems. They occupy the low rainfall woodland Savannah running across the central part of the country (South and West Kordofan, South and West Darfur, White Nile and Blue Nile and Sinnar). By the onset of rains they move north towards their rainy season grazing at the northern limits of the low rainfall Savannah and when the dry season commences, they revert back to the dry season grazing at the northern fringes of high rainfall woodland Savannah and the flood plains.

  4. Newly introduced patterns: These include permanent and seasonal ranching systems in some parts of the low rainfall Savannah. These settlements were introduced through the Western Savannah Development Projects in the southern peripheries of Butana region, to benefit from the agricultural by-products from mechanised agricultural projects.

  5. Range utilization across country borders: Due to the communal pastoral system in the Sudan, some tribal groups used to migrate beyond the political boundaries of the adjacent countries such as the Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Eritrea, searching for water and pasture. Where environmental impacts are felt over an international boundary, conflicts have arisen between and among tribal groups.

Pastoralism is a land use type that is practiced extensively all over the country and is determined by rainfall intensity and distribution. Nomad populations as a proportion of the national population have decreased from 13.7% in 1956 census to 11.5% in 1973, 11% in 1983 census and 10% in 1993, with a growth rate of 2.7% (Table 3).

Table 3: Growth of urban, rural and nomadic populations10





Total Population





Percentage Urban





Percentage Rural





Percentage Nomadic





Growth rate




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