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GEO-3: GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK  
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OUR CHANGING ENVIRONMENT: Habila, central Sudan

30 October 1979 15 September 1987 21 November 1994

The Habila region was first developed for mechanized rain-fed agriculture in 1968. The intent was to use the fertile cracking clay soils that were not suited to traditional agriculture to address the region's chronic food supply problems, and eventually to produce surpluses for export.

Private investment was encouraged by the government and the land was divided into feddans (about 0.4 ha), which were then leased out to private operators. The original leases were to be left fallow after four years and new leases were to be let for adjacent fallow plots. The government controls were intended to ensure the continued viability and productivity of the cracking clay soils.

By 1979, about 147 000 ha were leased under official schemes, and the soils proved well suited to sorghum. However, in the 1970s Sudan launched a programme to become the bread basket of the Arab world. Production was greatly expanded, the proportion of fallow land decreased dramatically, and there was expansion into unsanctioned 'illegal' land.

By 1985, about 45 per cent of mechanized agriculture was located outside sanctioned areas. Farmers interested in quick profits cultivated the land to exhaustion, abandoned it and then recruited more.

By the mid-1990s, periods of persistent drought, internal warfare, unsustainable methods of land use and resultant famines plagued the country. The failed agricultural policy is clearly evident in the 1994 image. There is little evidence of the booming croplands so prominent in 1979.

Images: Chuck Larson, USGS/EROS Data Center
Compilation: UNEP GRID Sioux Falls