Learning from the past: Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience, crop choices and endangered cultural heritage

Lead Research Organisation: The British Museum
Department Name: Conservation and Scientific Research

Abstract

This project proposes new outputs for research generated by the 'Sustainability and subsistence systems in a changing Sudan' project (2013 - 2016). This project explored how comparisons of present-day and ancient crop choices can inform on risk management within agricultural strategies of small-scale settlements along the middle Nile valley. Interviews with Nubian farmers revealed dramatic, previously undocumented, shifts in crops grown in the hyper-arid region of northern Sudan since the mid-20th century. Traditional agricultural knowledge is rapidly disappearing with some information remembered only by elderly farmers. Several cereals and pulses that were the most important food crops grown by villagers until recent decades, but are now little used, are comparatively tolerant to aridity and heat. Their presence in the regional archaeobotanical record also reveals their long-term use, further suggesting their environmental suitability.

The 'Learning from the past: Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience, crop choices and endangered cultural heritage' project aims to:
- Advocate the importance of using traditional agricultural knowledge to help create strategies for agricultural resilience within international development and broader agricultural research programmes.
- To highlight the potential role of increasingly little used cereals and pulses as subsistence crops in marginal environments.
- To promote the way ethnobotanical and archaeobotanical approaches can contribute to the agricultural research and NGO sector in Sudan, the UK and internationally.
- To preserve traditional Nubian agriculture knowledge that can be considered as endangered cultural heritage and simultaneously as practical knowledge relevant to future agricultural resilience.

These aims will be achieved through the creation of a booklet 'Changing Nubian agriculture and crops; the example of Ernetta Island' and the organisation of workshops to be held in the UK and Sudan with NGOs and agricultural researchers.
The booklet will provide a new format for disseminating the project results to both existing and new audiences. The booklet will provide a novel and direct way to engage with and benefit local farming Nubian communities in the Abri/Ernetta region, 700km north of Khartoum, and aims to help preserve Nubian agricultural heritage and knowledge for future generations. Farmers also expressly requested the creation of such a booklet, and local participants will be consulted on the booklet content. Once printed, the booklet will be distributed in villages and aims to conserve these 'oral histories' and local ecological knowledge for future generations. The booklet will focus on details of traditional crops and cultivation, agricultural practices and foodstuffs and how these have been changing in recent decades. Associated material culture such as traditional kitchens and less tangible cultural heritage such the daily routines connected with older modes of agricultural practices will also be documented. A summary of the ancient history of crops grown in the region will be added to provide a long-term context to crops grown today and in the recent past. Preserving indigenous knowledge about local crops, cultivation and cuisine has implications for future food security through offering unique insights into local adaptive solutions. An interdisciplinary cross-sector workshop 'Traditional agricultural knowledge, 'forgotten' crops and agricultural resilience' held in London aims to further promote the way ethnobotanical and archaeobotanical approaches can contribute to the agricultural research and the NGO/NPO sector, using the booklet as a case study. Developing ways - and highlighting the importance - of conserving traditional agricultural knowledge is vital to managing present and future agricultural resilience to seasonal, annual and long-term climate variation and change.

Planned Impact

The 'Learning from the past: Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience, crop choices and endangered cultural heritage' project proposes new outputs for research completed during the 'Sustainability and subsistence systems in a changing Sudan' project. These impact activities seek to create innovative ways of engaging with and disseminating the project results to both existing and new audiences. This will be achieved through the creation of a booklet 'Changing Nubian agriculture and crops; the example of Ernetta Island', the organisation of a workshop with agricultural researchers in Sudan, and the organisation of a cross-sector workshop in the UK entitled 'Traditional agricultural knowledge, 'forgotten' crops and agricultural resilience'. The booklet will be made available on a new website for the project and workshop, within the British Museum (BM) website.

AGRICULTURAL RESEARCHERS, POLICY ORGANISATIONS AND NGOs IN THE UK
The workshop will include practitioners from NGOs/NPOs, policy and agricultural research institutions and aims to explore how cross-sector research can address questions surrounding future crops and food security. The Nubian study provides an example of how local ecological knowledge can provide insight into the value, role and cultivation of local food crops, and is relevant to other arid and semi-arid regions where any traditional practices still persist. Local information about changing agrobiodiversity, together with information about long-term regional crop histories, can add essential value and context to debates concerning future agricultural resilience.

AGRICULTURAL AND CULTURAL HERITAGE ORGANISATIONS IN SUDAN
The booklet provides a new means to distribute the results of the original project directly to a wider range of audiences in Sudan, including anthropological and heritage centres. A report generated as part of the original project was aimed at agricultural researchers. The new project will also build upon previous engagement with these agricultural audiences through the organisation of a workshop and using the booklet to highlight in more detail the valuable information that can be obtained from local agricultural knowledge, set within the long temporal framework provided by the archaeology of crops in the region. The booklet will be distributed to universities, agricultural institutions and cultural centres, including the University in Dongola, the Agricultural Research Centre in Dongola, the Kerma museum, the Sudan National Museum, the Ethnographic Museum in Khartoum, the University of Khartoum, the British Council, and the Faisal cultural centre.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT IN SUDAN TO PRESERVE TRADITIONAL AGRICULTURAL KNOWLEDGE
The booklet will provide the most direct means to distribute research findings to Nubian communities in northern Sudan. The booklet will be distributed in village meetings, schools, local government offices and directly to households. This will help maintain local knowledge of agrobiodiversity and especially about specific food crops that are being used less today but which were important until recently. The documentation of local 'oral agricultural histories' hopes to provide a record of Nubian agricultural heritage for future generations. Significantly, during a meeting with local farmers in my last field season in Sudan, the creation of such a booklet was requested.

NUBIAN AUDIENCES IN THE UK
The booklet will also be distributed to Nubian audiences in the UK through an event in collaboration with the Sudanese Embassy and the Nubian Society.

ENVIRONMENTAL ARCHAEOLOGIST AND ANTHROPOLOGISTS
The booklet and workshop will explore practical ways in which ethno- and archaeobotanical research can have cross-sector impact.

THE GENERAL PUBLIC
The booklet and webpages can reach a wide range of audiences through the BM website which has 23 million page views a year.

Publications

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Description The 'Learning from the past: Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience, crop choices and endangered cultural
heritage' project developed new outputs for research completed during my previous AHRC funded 'Sustainability and subsistence systems in a
changing Sudan' project - which investigated recent and ancient agricultural practices through ethnographic and archaeological research. A key output for the project was the creation of a community-orientated book Nubia past and present, agriculture, crops and food. This book provided a new and direct means to distribute research findings to Nubian communities in northern Sudan, where previously there was no local or regional documentation of these agricultural histories. During the creation of the book, new content was added and information refined, especially in regards to changing cuisine and social practices and material culture connected with agricultural heritage. Another key aspect of co-creating the book was the attention required to local language and terminology in the book translation.
Exploitation Route At a local level, the book will help maintain local knowledge of food crops, cultivation practices and associated heritage that have been rapidly changing. The book was distributed widely to families, local schools, the local community and agricultural center. The local school teachers informed us that the books will also be used in future English classes as well as for talking about local agriculture and histories.
Regionally, the book is now held in the libraries of university departments in Dongola and Khartoum, and at cultural centres and museums (including the Kerma museum, Faisal Cultural Centre and Sudan National Museum). The production of the book has made available local agricultural narratives and oral histories that were not otherwise documented.
The impact of the book was discussed during a seminar at the agricultural facility of Dongola University. They commented that this output provides (i) important context to agricultural researchers in Sudan about both recent and ancient crop changes (ii) and additionally, also provided information about local issues with recent wheat crops that was not widely known.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/research_projects/all_current_projects/sudan/amara_west_research_project/nubia_past_and_present.aspx
 
Description The book 'Nubia past and present, agricultural crops and food' was widely distributed locally and regionally in Sudan. In the local study area the book was distributed (in Arabic and English) to the villages on Ernetta Island and the local town of Abri, including to schools where we participated in Arabic and English classes. The book was also given out in other villages in the broader Sikoot region of Nubia. Further away, I distributed the book to, and arranged meetings with, cultural and agricultural organisations. In the Dongola region, this included to the Kerma Museum, the Agricultural Research Centre, and Dongola University. In Khartoum, this included to the National Corporation of Museums and Antiquities (NCAM), QSAP, Faisal Cultural Centre, British Counsel, FAO, Khartoum University (departments -archaeology, African and Asian studies, Botany, Faculty of Agriculture). Total Distributed in Sudan -732 Arabic, 245 English. The book is also available online (in English and Arabic)
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description ESRC / AHRC GCRF Indigenous engagement, research partnerships, and knowledge mobilisation
Amount £1,868 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 10/2018
 
Description Lessons From The Past: Archaeology, Anthropology And The Future Of Food 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact A cross-sector conference 'Lessons From The Past: Archaeology, Anthropology And The Future Of Food' was organised at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, UK in collaboration with the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food.

In general, how archaeological, historical and anthropological studies can contribute to debates about agricultural sustainability as well as the potential role of increasingly 'little-used' crops, is understudied. This conference brought together wide ranging researchers and practitioners to discuss how perspectives from the recent and ancient past can contribute to the field of global food security.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.futureoffood.ox.ac.uk/events/lessons-past-archaeology-anthropology-and-future-food-oxford
 
Description Science Saturday 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Participation in 'Science Saturday' at the British Museum, organised as part of British Science Week. A stand was created with displays about present and past plant uses in the Nile valley and an overview of the research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Seminar at Dongola University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact We held a Seminar and workshop with the Agricultural Faculty at Dongola University and Agricultural Research Center, held at Dongola University.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018