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

Bodil Elmqvist

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

1 Citation (SciVal)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Dept of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science
  • Olsson, Lennart, Supervisor
  • Ardö, Jonas, Supervisor
Award date2006 Apr 19
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2006-04-19
Time: 10:15
Place: Geocentrum 1, Sölvegatan 10, Lund

External reviewer(s)

Name: Lambain, Eric
Title: [unknown]
Affiliation: Catholic University of Louvain


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Physical Geography


  • Sudan
  • Remote sensing
  • Livelihood
  • diversification
  • land use change


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