Dr Enrico Ille (LOST Research Network) 'Date palm production and socio-economic changes along the Nile in northern Sudan' (2016-2017)

This research studies present and past date palm production along the Nile in northern Sudan, with focus on the agricultural areas around Kerma. Date production has long been an essential part of the local population's livelihoods, but recent transformations in the population's environment, as well as many other aspects of everyday life, have induced significant ecological and socio-economic changes. This includes climatic changes and desertification, the impact of large-scale agricultural investment schemes, dam construction and extending, often environmentally damaging gold mining. Individuals and groups deal differently with these successive transformations and the need to adapt to new, sometimes existentially challenging situations, which may lead to the loss of something they previously regarded as a constant, essential aspect of their life. A focus on ideas and practices around immobile, durable, productive trees allows examining both the biographical long-term perspective and the annual rhythm of agriculture, including occurring subtle and/or substantial shifts; the once common usage of every part of the palm trees for food, weaving and construction strengthens this aspect. The inclusion of historical, macroeconomic and climatic aspects contextualizes these individual situations and may lead to insights into contingent effects of these changes on different temporal scales.

The primary data for this study stems from multi-sited anthropological fieldwork, following the annual cycle of pollination in February / March and harvest in August / September. Apart from once and currently active date palm cultivators in Kerma and nearby villages, the researcher observes cultivation in the larger irrigation schemes of Borgaig and Daffufa, agricultural extension workers and scientific experts in silviculture and GIS, as well as traders and political actors. Political aspects have become more significant in this previously tranquil region due to the current increase in open, partly violent conflicts over planned dams, the usage of cyanide in gold mining and overuse of pesticides in agriculture, as well as land registration for investment in new and old agricultural areas. To develop a socio-ecological genealogy of these conflicts, the research aims at an integrative view at related historical processes, which incorporates the interpretations of the resident population. This integration is especially relevant considering the long-term presence of archaeological research in the area, which became crucial to present discourses on valuation of the past and its material and immaterial remains.

The project started in July 2016 and will continue until end of 2017, followed by the presentation of findings at the British Museum and the RAI.

Dr. Enrico Ille has a doctoral degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Halle, Germany. He is a member of the Law, Organization, Science and Technology (LOST) Research Network and of the CRG Resource Extraction in Africa. After holding positions as Assistant Professor at the Martin Luther University of Halle and at Ahfad University for Women, Sudan, he is currently Urgent Anthropology Fellow (The British Museum / Royal Anthropological Institute, London). He co-edited the volume Emerging orders in the Sudans (with Sandra Calkins and Richard Rottenburg, Langaa 2014) and published an annotated bibliography and a number of journal and book articles on the Nuba Mountains, discussing history, land issues and political economy, as well as development initiatives for agricultural production and water supply. His general research interest is the relation of state institutions, companies and communities in mineral resource extraction and food supply chains throughout Sudan.