The British Empire Library

Imperial Echoes: the Sudan-People, History and Agriculture

by Arthur Staniforth

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by B P Pothecary (Gold Coast 1950-55. Sudan 1963-68)
Imperial Echoes provides the reader with a detailed and authentic picture of life in rural areas of the Sudan during the late 1940's. In those days support for agricultural production was largely dependent on the efforts of dedicated and enthusia.stic individuals such as Arthur Staniforth working with limited resources. The Sudan is a vast country with huge environmental and cultural differences between North and South but Arthur Staniforth seems to have been equally at home wherever he went. He writes with a light touch, interspersing descriptions of his day to day tasks and personal life with accounts of his relationship with the Sudanese people with whom he worked so closely.

His initial experiences with Nile pump irrigation were followed by early attempts to promote flood irrigation in seasonal rainfed areas and then in the rainfed areas near the Southern border. Such diversity provided an ideal background for his final posting as a lecturer in the School of Agriculture where his wide practical knowledge would have been invaluable. The book is completed by a number of anecdotal de.scriptions of his visits to the Mahdi's successor at Abba Island on the White Nile, his journey by steamer to the South and a spell with a desert locust control unit in Northern Sudan. The whole story will surely evoke memories for all those who served in remote areas of pre-independence Africa. The spartan surroundings, lack of communication with the outside world, indifferent food and sometimes disease made for a hard life by modern standards. Compensation lay in the challenge of the job itself, relationships with the local people and an interest in their culture as well as the stimulation of receiving outside visitors. All these aspects are clearly brought home in Arthur Staniforth's excellent book.

It is tempting to contrast the situation in the 1940's with present day Africa where enormous pressure is placed on rural communities due to increase of population, drought and flooding, land degradation and uncertainty in marketing any surplus production for income. This is quite apart from fear of disease and political pressures. In the relatively stable 1940's life was simpler and much could be achieved with the straightforward improvement of practices based on traditional methods. Formal research was in its infancy and large scale post-war projects and development schemes had yet to come.

In summary an excellent read not only for those interested in agriculture but everyone with a wider interest in social development and history.

British Empire Book
Arthur Staniforth
WorldView Publishing


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