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Cultivating the desert: Irrigation expansion and groundwater abstraction in Northern State, Sudan

Stephen Fragaszy
Independent Consultant; Research undertaken whilst at SoGE, University of Oxford, UK; sfragaszy@gmail.com

Alvar Closas
International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Cairo, Egypt; a.closas@cgiar.org

ABSTRACT: This study examines the socioeconomic features that underpin the expansion of groundwater-dependent irrigation in Northern State, Sudan. Groundwater development in the region serves as an economic lifeline given the poor Nile-based irrigation infrastructure and future changes in Nile hydrology. Groundwater-dependent irrigation is found to be expanding in previously uncultivated regions increasingly distant from the Nile. The study finds these historically marginal lands are targeted for capital-intensive agricultural projects because landholding patterns in traditionally cultivated areas preclude new large developments and improved infrastructure has lowered farming costs in distant terraces. Private companies and large landholders have a history of successful agricultural ventures in Northern State and are reliant on easily accessible and reliable groundwater resources for these new farms.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater abstraction, irrigation, agriculture, land tenure, Saharan Nile, Sudan