Pastoralism in Darfur is considered by some policy-makers and decision-takers as being responsible for environmental deterioration. The extensive use of land is misconceived by many as a wasteful socio-economic adaptation and pastoralists are commonly accused of being responsible for environmental degradation. “Over-grazing” is accordingly portrayed as the primary cause underlying the disruption of the ecological balance, but this interpretation of nature and the origin of environmental degradation is poorly founded. Degradation of grazing lands does occur, but over grazing per se is not the underlying cause: the real root of the problem is the disruption of the grazing system, limitations to mobility, loss of key resource patches and weakening of resources management capacities of customary institutions. The reduction in grazing areas is underlain by rapid agricultural expansion, in addition to population growth, and is compounded by other factors such as conflict and bandit activity, which limit access to some grazing areas.
Given the low and uncertain rainfall pattern in Sudan it is not possible to predict how much rainfall will be received by a given place in a given time, which means that sedentary grazing and fixed stocking rates are unwise management practices. Various types of pastoral movement emerged in the rangelands as adaptations to the ecological constraints, ranging from "pure Nomadism", typically involving camel breeding and long distance movement, to forms of transhumance involving cattle, sheep and goats, and entailing relatively shorter migrations. Even sedentary cultivators often find it necessary to move during the dry season with their village-based small herds.
Mobility and flexible stocking rates are crucial elements of the pastoral system. Pastoral movement is both flexible and selective and until recently, movement was usually undertaken by relatively small pastoral camps, with each comprising a limited number of herding units. Of late, however, camp size has started to expand in response to decreased grazing land, agriculture expansion and insecurity in various regions. Each camp has a number of scouts, who move ahead of herds to explore and collect information on the grazing potentials of the area toward which the herds are moving. Invariably, decisions concerning direction of movement are based on reports by the scouts. In other words, herds do not graze at random, but on selected sites known to be the best available; ipso facto, poorer sites are normally avoided and left to regenerate11.
Past efforts to create water points may have solved some of the environmental constraints, but have created others. For example, livestock congregate around water points, and settlements often form there, leading to over-grazing around the water point and under-use of the more distant rangelands. Traditionally pastoralists have dispersed widely in their respective regions during the rainy season to make use of both the water pools formed by the rain and the extensive grazing area rendered inaccessible because of water shortage. However, permanent water sources bring new pressures, including the loss of associated dry season grazing reserves, which lead to disruption of mobility patterns and weakening of pastoralists’ adaptive capacities.
Sudan’s development plans and programs have stressed the importance of increased agricultural production, but only few tackled rationally the balance between agricultural development and natural resource management. As a result Sudan’s natural resources receive least attention and have seriously deteriorated. This deterioration has been caused by activities such as mechanized farming, shifting cultivation, tree cutting for charcoal, firewood consumption and construction.
Periodic drought intensified the negative impact of these land management practices and large areas of Sudan have been left idle for agricultural and pastoral production, the full impact depending on whether this degradation is permanent or temporary. As a result, trends in land degradation have become a major concern for the government, yet solutions are hampered by the lack of an integrated land use policy.
Recent development policies have called for rational use of natural resources and environmental protection such as the 4-years salvation plan (1989/92) with its major objective in relation to natural resources as combating desertification and drought mitigation, through range rehabilitation and forestry development. The ten year Comprehensive National Strategy (CNS) 1992-2002 has special emphasis on the environment and its conservation with the main objective of achieving food security, appropriate use of natural resources and sustainable development, poverty eradication, mitigation of drought effects and desertification control. In 1990’s, since ratifying and signing the UN Conventions on environment, Sudan has undertaken strategies and policies aimed more coherently at sustainable development. However, the implementation of the CNS (1992-2002) has been far below the expectations and there were inherent contradictions in the components of the strategy. Recently the Sudan embarked on a 25-year strategy (2002-2027) with similar objectives.
Sudan has no clear-cut policy directed towards the development and improvement of traditional animal husbandry, or catering for social welfare of the pastoral communities. Sammani and A.Salih (2006), writing on Sudan’s initiatives for nomadic settlement, highlighted the following facts:
Nomads’ settlement has remained a policy of all different political regimes, and the issue has remained consistent because of its relevance to land planning for agriculture.
Top-down approaches in all these policies has been the rule, and nomads themselves were absentees.
Land tenure systems in Sudan are complicated and consequently their role for optimum utilization of natural resources is confused and ineffective. The scope of land tenure as defined by Section 3 of the Land Settlement and Registration Act 1925 include registered rights for the people for cultivation and other recognized customary rights (rights of passage, access to water resources, etc). The land tenure system greatly influences the exploitation of natural resources and Article 4 (1) of the 1970 unregistered Land Act of Sudan states that "all land of any kind whether waste, forest, occupied or unoccupied, which is not registered before the commencement of this Act shall, on such commencement, be the property of the Government and shall be deemed to have been registered as such, as if the provisions of the Land Settlement and Registration Act, 1925, have been duly complied with". This means that unregistered land is state owned, but local people have usufruct rights. This applies to rangelands and other uncultivated or non-residential lands. Although the customary systems of land tenure define the use of communal lands to some extent, the scarcity of land-based resources and the inappropriateness of some development policies have led to conflicts over land use. Through introduction of the Islamic principle of Manfaa (usufruct rights) by the provisions of the Civil Transactions Act 1984, unregistered benefits in land are recognized and protected.
Rules and regulations protecting the environment as a whole are available, but need to be activated. The Sudan government is aiming to set up relevant bodies for the proper management of natural resources to safeguard against tribal conflicts with emphasis on specific role for tribal leaders. Laws and regulations that support institutions working in the field of natural resources, and rangelands management in particular, are characterized by lack of harmony due to unclear conceptualisation. Regulations related to land acquisition and ownership and grazing rights are found within Land Laws while those related to range protection are imbedded within Investment and Forest Laws. The noticeable disorder within the laws and ordinances regulating range resource utilization means that they are still issued locally at State level and lack National interest.