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Bedouins by the LakeEnvironment, Change, and Sustainability in Southern Egypt$

Ahmed Belal and John Briggs

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9789774161988

Published to Cairo Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5743/cairo/9789774161988.001.0001

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Sustainable Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management: Challenges For the Bedouin1

Sustainable Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management: Challenges For the Bedouin1

Chapter:
(p.97) 4 Sustainable Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management: Challenges For the Bedouin1
Source:
Bedouins by the Lake
Author(s):

Ahmed Belal

John Briggs

Joanne Sharp

Irina Springuel

Publisher:
American University in Cairo Press
DOI:10.5743/cairo/9789774161988.003.0005

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explains how the Bedouin of Wadi Allaqi have responded to new resource opportunities. After a discussion of the traditional basis of Bedouin livelihoods in the Eastern Desert, it illustrates how the changed resource opportunities have brought new groups of people to the desert (including commercial farmers, fishermen, and miners). These have introduced further changes to Bedouin life, such as improved transport links to Aswan and the emergence of wage labor. The Bedouin hold detailed knowledge of the desert environment, and it is this that allows them to manage their environment and survive within it. New resource opportunities are incorporated into indigenous knowledge systems, presenting an excellent opportunity to see how these systems deal with new ideas as well as those that are no longer relevant.

Keywords:   Bedouins, Wadi Allaqi, livelihoods, resource opportunities, wage labor

The Bedouin in Wadi Allaqi have developed a livelihood system comprising five key elements (Figure 4.1). Crucially, each of the elements makes use of the available resource opportunities, but does so in a managed and sustainable manner. This is, of course, vital as the Bedouin of Wadi Allaqi live in a highly fragile and marginal physical nvironment. Mismanagement would only result in disaster, and the Bedouin are only too aware of this. There is significantly a marked seasonal dimension to how Bedouin manage and use the resources, summarized in Figure 4.1.

Sustainable Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management: Challenges For the Bedouin1

Figure 4.1: Agricultural calendar.

(p.98) Livestock transhumance, particularly of sheep, in combination with charcoal making dominates the winter part of the calendar. This is associated with the availability of ephemeral grazing in the hills to the south and east of Wadi Allaqi. In these areas there are also relatively abundant resources of acacia trees, which are the Bedouin's preferred species for charcoal production. While Bedouin are away with the sheep in the hills, they take the opportunity to make charcoal at the same time. The two economic activities are, therefore, very closely related to each other as far as Wadi Allaqi Bedouin are concerned.

Cultivation, on the other hand, is predominantly a summer activity although since the late 1990s it has extended throughout the year among some households. This reflects the fact that during the summer most Allaqi Bedouin are back living in the wadi itself because the desert beyond is too hot and uncomfortable for long periods in comparison. Labor, therefore, is available. The timing of planting is crucial because Bedouin have to make predictions about lake water retreats and advances. If Bedouin get things wrong, this can result in plots being inundated too early and the crops lost; or in the lake water being too distant, resulting in groundwater being too deep to be exploited by the wells near the plots. It is a very difficult balancing act. Camel herding and medicinal plant collection, although important economic activities for most if not all households, are secondary activities in terms of the household labor allocated to them. Perhaps because of this, they are activities that take place throughout the year.

This calendar is influenced very much by environmental variables, the first of which includes monthly variations in the levels of Lake Nasser. In a typical year, there is a difference of some six to seven meters in lake water depth between the lowest and highest lake levels, usually in the months of July and November respectively. In Wadi Allaqi, because of the relatively shallow gradient on the wadi floor, a vertical difference of six to seven meters in lake water depth can result in a horizontal difference in inundated land of ten to fifteen kilometers. Clearly, as the flood recedes from November onwards, the timing of any crop planting becomes critical. The second environmental variable is that of the incidence of winter rainfall in the Red Sea Hills to the south and east of Wadi Allaqi. In these areas, winter rains are common from mid-December until early February. Even though the annual rains in these areas average only fifty millimeters, this is enough to stimulate the growth of ephemeral grasses, herbs and small shrubs for grazing in the hills, as well as to provide subsurface, and sometimes surface, runoff downstream in Wadi Allaqi itself Significantly, however, there have (p.99) been successive years of below average rainfall since the mid-1990s, and in some years no appreciable rainfall at all. The result has been that there has been far less transhumance of Allaqi Bedouin to these areas with their flocks. The third factor is that of ambient temperatures, particularly in the summer months when air temperatures can become oppressively high, with mean daily highs of 45° C, and temperatures exceeding 50° C on many days. During the heat of the summer, Bedouin tend to locate their settlements on the wadi floor and relatively near to the lakeshore to take advantage of the (relatively) cooling winds off Lake Nasser. These environmental rhythms, therefore, clearly influence the nature of the agricultural calendar.

Small Livestock Production

Small livestock production of sheep and goats is the major economic activity 0f Wadi Allaqi Bedouin, and uses, along with cultivation, the largest amount of labor resources. Up until the late 1990s, the location of sheep production was divided between Wadi Allaqi and the Red Sea Hills to the south and east. Typically, sheep were taken during the winter months for periods of two to three months at a time to graze in the hill areas, sometimes over distances of up to 150 kilometers. This had a number of advantages. First, sheepherders were able to use the opportunistic and ephemeral grazing available in the hills, even after the briefest of showers. Information on the incidence of rainfall, and hence the subsequent location of grazing a few days afterward, reached Wadi Allaqi in a number of ways, including from traveling charcoal producers and sellers, camel drovers, returning sheep grazers, and even relatives who still lived in the hills. In addition, observed physical attributes also give Allaqi residents clues as to the availability and locations of hill grazing. Types of cloud formations seen in the distance, surface water flows in wadis, and even subsurface flows that stimulate a greening of the visible vegetation all provide information on hill grazing, even at considerable distances from Wadi Allaqi itself Whereas there are well-established, sometimes complex, and generally well-observed ownership rules associated with permanent vegetation resources, primarily trees, there are no such restrictions with ephemeral grazing. Access to such grazing is on a first-come first-served basis, and Bedouin adopt the rather pragmatic view that when such grazing becomes available it should not be wasted, even though they themselves may be too late to access it themselves.

Second, moving the sheep to the hill areas provides an opportunity for the grazing areas in Wadi Allaqi itself to recover. This was especially marked in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was common for most sheep in the wadi (p.100) to be moved except for those that were heavily pregnant, had just lambed, or were too ill or too young to be walked the distances to the hill grazing. With the onset of the drought in the late 1990s, however, this element of the production system has steadily reduced in importance, such that by 2005 it no longer formed part of the production cycle. However, this was not just the result of drought and reduced grazing in the hills. At the same time other social and economic changes were taking place among Allaqi Bedouin.

Settlement by Bedouin along the lakeshore in Wadi Allaqi is a relatively recent phenomenon, most of them arriving only from the mid-1970s onwards. For them, the lake provided a new resource opportunity, but they still held both an economic and emotional attachment to the desert (the gibal, literally ‘the hills’; sing. gabal) ‘out there.’ Although they were increasingly settled in Wadi Allaqi, Bedouin men in particular still felt a need to be attached to the “desert proper,” as one of them called it. Taking sheep to the hills in the winter provided that opportunity. However, as Bedouin became more settled over the years, became more accustomed to the advantages of a reliable, year-round supply of water from Lake Nasser, and developed greater understandings of the Wadi Allaqi resource base, so the attraction of the desert, however ‘proper,’ started to wane. This was reinforced by the added attractions of Aswan being only 180 kilometers away, and, after the completion of the asphalt road from Aswan to within twenty kilometers of Wadi Allaqi in the early 1990s, being very accessible as a market for the sale of sheep and other products. In addition, Bedouin women became increasingly resistant about returning to the desert, as their lives were much more attractive in Wadi Allaqi, with guaranteed water and access to rudimentary health care for their children. Perhaps an increasingly important key element in this is the fact that there is now growing up in Wadi Allaqi a generation that has little or no knowledge of the desert beyond it and, in some cases, has even less desire to spend time there. The drought, therefore, has been an important element in the collapse of the winter grazing element of the sheep production system, but it must be seen in the context of wider social and economic change.

Within Wadi Allaqi there is a considerable variation in the number of sheep owned by households. Some have as few as ten ewes, while others have as many as 350. Sadly, the number of sheep owned by a household is a key indicator of wealth differentiation. Bigger breeding flocks provide both greater opportunities for economies of scale in production and for larger numbers of lambs for sale, thus increasing income levels and hence opportunities for capital accumulation.

(p.101) The availability of household labor is an important factor in influencing the number of sheep owned by a particular household, particularly as the main carers of sheep come from within the household itself Surveys of households in Wadi Allaqi consistently show that the households themselves are responsible for looking after their own sheep. In particular, it tends to be young males who are given this task most often. Sons are introduced to looking after sheep when they are about eight or nine years old by being given responsibility for perhaps ten to fifteen sheep. As the son gets older, the number of sheep for which he is responsible is increased. Those households that have two or three sons have a distinct advantage in terms of sheep production over those households that have fewer, as this provides such households with the labor capacity to divide the flock when needed. This was certainly the case in the winter in the past, when some parts of the flock were taken to the Red Sea Hills for grazing, while other sheep were kept in Wadi Allaqi. Since the late 1990s, though, with the collapse of gabal grazing, there has been a narrowing of this differentiation, although this has been the poorer households getting wealthier, rather than wealthier households becoming poorer.

Although wives are also important carers of sheep, they appear not to have as big a role as husbands and sons in managing the flocks. Nonetheless, women do have an important role, especially in looking after sick sheep or those that have recently lambed and need particular care. Virtually all the care by women is undertaken in Wadi Allaqi, rarely elsewhere (see Chapter 5 for a fuller discussion). Other sources of labor are much less important, although four households do make use of paid shepherds from time to time. Unsurprisingly, these were wealthier households and owned relatively large numbers of sheep. Therefore the hiring of shepherds was not a strategy used by households with limited internal labor resources to meet this labor shortfall, but rather was a strategy by the wealthier households to release family labor for other productive economic activities.

The main lambing time in Allaqi is during the winter months, particularly the months of january, February, and March. The problem with this time of year is that the health of the pregnant ewes may not be very good, the reason being that during November and December the lake level is at its highest and so there is only a limited amount of pasture available in Allaqi itself It may also be too early for any appreciable amount of rain in upstream Allaqi to bring on pasture growth there. Hence, the limited amount of grazing has a detrimental effect on the health of the pregnant ewes and may contribute to lower lambing percentages. Such data are notoriously difficult to collect in Bedouin economies, and hence the following can only be based on (p.102) estimates. Nonetheless, surveys suggest that the lambing percentage across all households is 100.1 percent, but this masks a range from as low as 30 percent for one household to nearly 150 for another.2 I There is a marked difference, however, between those households with larger breeding flocks and those with smaller ones. For those with below-average size breeding flocks the lambing percentage is 86, whereas for those with above-average breeding flocks the equivalent figure is 104. There would appear to be clear advantages to be had from economies of scale in sheep production in Allaqi. A contributory factor may be that the owners of the larger flocks have the greater financial resources to buy in feed, if necessary, as well as having the requisite amount of household labor to take sheep for better winter grazing in the Red Sea Hills, at least in the past, although this practice is now much less frequent because of successive years of drought conditions in the hills. At this time it was worthwhile taking flocks of a hundred sheep upstream, whereas it was hardly so for only twenty or thirty sheep, given the amount of labor that had to be committed to such activities. Once again, it tended to be the poorer households that were unable to take advantage.

The most important feed resources for sheep tend to be desert vegetation species rather than those more obviously associated with the lakeshore lands. Indeed, of the seven most important feed sources, all of them scoring more than 92 percent, six are desert plants (Table 4.1). The only exception out of the seven is grass, which is associated with the emerging lakeshore areas as the lake water retreats from November/December through until the following summer. Although these desert plants are found in downstream Wadi Allaqi, they are much more common and abundant in the upstream areas. All six are either short-life perennials (Cullen plicata, and Cleome chrysantha), annual herbs (Astragalus uogelii, Convolvulus deserti, and Euphorbia granulata), or a tolerant shrub (Pulicaria crispa). They are all highly responsive to moisture and hence flourish in the winter in the upstream areas, benefiting from rain of up to 150 millimeters at that time of year in these areas. These feed resources are, therefore, associated by most Bedouin with winter grazing, particularly in Haimur, Eigat, al-Fogani, Abu Fas and Ungat, all of which are located in the gabal to the south and southeast of downstream Wadi Allaqi. Bedouin also collect these grazing materials and transport them back to Allaqi as feed for those sheep that are not taken to the hills. The fact that they are rated so highly by most households demonstrates the importance, at least in the past, of these grazing areas for sheep in the winter. It also emphasizes, yet again, how much poorer households with smaller flocks and reduced availability of labor miss out on this resource in the production process. (p.103)

Table 4.1 Importance of different feed resources for sheep.

Very Important

Important

So-So

Not Important

Irrelevant

Score

%

Cullen plicata

18

2

0

0

0

78

97.5

Grasses

18

1

1

0

0

77

96.3

Astragalus vogelii

17

3

0

0

0

77

96.3

Convolvulus deserti

16

4

0

0

0

76

95.0

Euphorbia granulata

17

2

1

0

0

76

95.0

Pulicaria crispa

17

2

1

0

0

76

95.0

Cleome chrysantha

17

1

1

1

0

74

92.5

Glinus lotoides

12

4

4

0

0

68

85.0

Tamarix nilotica

3

6

11

0

0

52

65.0

Acacia

1

2

17

0

0

44

55.0

Maize from Aswan

1

0

3

15

1

25

31.3

Sorghum from Aswan

1

0

3

14

2

24

30.0

Balanites

0

0

5

13

2

23

28.8

Note: The data in this table are derived from asking twenty Bedouin households to score the importance of each vegetation type on a five-point scale from ‘Very Important’ through to ‘Irrelevant.’ For each ‘Very Important’ response, a score of four is attributed; for a response of ‘Important’ a score of three is attributed, and so on, with an answer of ‘Irrelevant’ receiving no score. The total score for each cell is then calculated, and the cells for a particular vegetation type are added up to provide an overall score. This is then expressed in the final column as a percentage of the maximum possible score, assuming that all twenty households rated the vegetation type as ‘Very Important’—that is, the maximum achievable score for any vegetation type in this table is eighty.The second main source of feed is around the lakeshore. In particular, grasses are rated very highly. These grow as soon as the lakeshore starts its annual retreat. Typically, the grass will be left for about two to three weeks after first appearing, at which point sheep will be moved there for grazing. As the lake retreats, more grass becomes available and this is grazed in turn. However, as the temperatures rise in the spring it is common for new grass to be burned off by the sun before it has chance to mature for grazing. The Arabic word nagila is used as a collective noun for these grasses, and they include four main species, these being Fimbrystlis bisumbellata, Eragrostis aegyptiaca, Cyperus pygmaeus, and Crypsis schoenoides. Similarly, Glinus lotoides (toroba in Arabic) also grows after water retreat and offers another important source of seasonal grazing for sheep around the lakeshore. This is a ground cover plant and can grow to a height of twenty to thirty centimeters. Like grass, it is highly nutritious for sheep in its early growth stages but becomes toxic to them as it matures, and hence is then avoided. This produces the rather incongruous sight of seemingly large amounts of untouched grass growing freely around parts of the lakeshore.

(p.104) More permanent sources of feed around the lake are provided by tamarisk (ablor taifa in Arabic), acacia, and, to a much lesser extent, Balanites aegyptiaca. Indeed, Balanites aegyptiaca is seen to be the least important source of feed for sheep among Allaqi Bedouin (Table 4.1.

Tamarisk leaf, although salty, is used as a source of feed. It tends to be the new leaf growth that is selected as this is less salty than older growth. The Bedouin are well aware of this, as well as the fact that tamarisk is not particularly nutritious. If over-dependent on tamarisk for feed, milk yields from sheep fall and the incidence of intestinal diseases increases. Since 1998, however, tamarisk has been available much less as a source of sheep feed in Wadi Allaqi because of the record high inundations of Lake Nasser water. In both 1998 and 1999, the lake level exceeded the expected 180-meter level and hence inundated the entire stock of tamarisk in the wadi. This has created considerable hardship for many of the sheep-owners, in that a reliable and year-round source of feed has been eliminated. Acacia leaf is also used and scores relatively highly. Although unaffected by lake inundation, acacia is not particularly abundant in downstream Wadi Allaqi and hence has been unable to substitute in volume for the loss in tamarisk.

A final source of feed is made up of purchases of maize and/or sorghum in Aswan. As Table 4.1 shows, however, this is not an important source of feed for most Bedouin; indeed, only one respondent saw this as a very important source. Most Bedouin consider it to be an unimportant but, significantly, not irrelevant source. In other words, for many, maize and sorghum bought in Aswan is seen as a measure of last resort when there are few or no other sources of feed available. The price of grains is about LE1.5 per kilogram, although there are slight seasonal price variations around this. Unsurprisingly, it tends to be the wealthier sheep-owners who use this source the most, yet another factor reinforcing differentiation in the community.

Interestingly, the data presented in Table 4.1 were collected in the late 1990s, and since that time there has been added aquatic vegetation, and particularly Najas (shilbeika in Arabic). During the 1990s Bedouin largely ignored the lake as a resource base, except as a reliable water supply. However, successful experimentation has taken place using this aquatic vegetation species, and hence it has now become an added element in the diets of sheep and goats. It is not without its problems, however. Shilbeika has to be dried, and therefore loses considerable mass before being consumed by livestock. In its natural state, it contains a large amount of water, such that if it is consumed in this state, it can cause in major intestinal problems (p.105) for the livestock, and subsequent loss of condition. In extreme cases, it can result in death.

Sheep provide a range of essential products for Allaqi Bedouin. Every household uses milk produced by their sheep and goats; this is clearly the most important reason for keeping them, followed closely by wool production. Interestingly, none of this milk is turned into cheese, although butter is produced, being mainly used as a type of skin moisturizer. Products that follow from slaughter, meat and skins, also have a high level of importance, but are usually extracted after the sheep are sold.

Table 4.2 Importance of sheep production problems.

Very Important

Important

So-So

Not Important

Irrelevant

Score

%

Not enough grazing

3

2

6

1

8

31

38.8

Sheep diseases

0

0

2

18

0

22

27.5

Not enough water

0

1

7

2

10

19

23.8

Not enough feed

0

0

5

3

12

13

16.3

Animal attacks

0

0

0

13

7

13

16.3

Transport to Aswan

0

0

0

6

14

6

7.5

Unreliable market

0

0

0

1

19

1

1.3

Note: the Score column is calculated by multiplying all the responses in each line of ‘Very Important’ by four; all the responses of ‘Important’ by three; all the responses of ‘So-So’ by two; all the responses of ‘Not Important’ by one; and no score at all for a response of ‘Irrelevant.’ These are then summed in the Score column and then expressed as a percentage of the maximum score possible in the right-hand column of the table.

Despite the difficulties posed by a harsh physical environment in Wadi Allaqi, production problems for animals are not seen as a major issue by most Bedouin (Table 4.2). Even the lack of grazing receives a score of less than 39 percent, perhaps surprising in the light of the fact that this particular survey was carried out at the time of annual lake inundation when the availability of grazing in Wadi Allaqi is much reduced as it disappears under water. Respondents took a broader view of availability, including upstream (p.106) resources, and hence only four took the view that lack of grazing was a very important problem. There is, without doubt, a clear seasonal dimension to this question. In the winter, if a sheep-owner has the labor available, grazing is not particularly problematic in the upstream areas. Similarly, in the spring, as the lake recedes, new grazing becomes available as the land around the lakeshore reemerges. It is in the late summer and autumn when grazing resources become stretched. This was especially so in 1998 and 1999 as one of the key grazing resources during this time of year, tamarisk, became almost totally inundated as a result of the record high lake levels. However, by 2004 the problem of lack of grazing had grown significantly in importance as a result of drought in the gabal, where grazing was virtually eliminated, and by lake inundation that covered most of the tamarisk and other bush and shrub stock. Only seasonal grasses and toroba are now really available, and neither has the biomass capacity, even when combined with the aquatic shilbeika, to provide the volume of good-quality grazing needed for secure sheep production.

Sheep diseases are also not regarded as a big issue for most of the respondents, with nobody seeing these as either important or very important. Nonetheless, the main disorders seem to be intestinal disorders and liver fluke, both of which can have a significant impact on sheep quality. Some attributed intestinal problems to the use of dried feed collected in the upstream areas or elsewhere in Allaqi itself, while others blamed the use of aquatic plants. Other problems are relatively unimportant, including both transport to Aswan and market difficulties.

Most respondents sell lambs when they are aged between one and two years and weigh between twenty-five and thirty-five kilograms, although some wait until they are slightly older, sometimes up to three years old. Typically, all the male lambs are sold for slaughter, while females are used to replace ageing ewes, or to increase the overall size of the breeding flock. The timing of sales varies throughout the year. Factors such as high market demand for sheep at the Eid al-Adha are important, as are specific household cash needs at particular times of the year for households. Lamb sales can, therefore, provide a steady supply of income for households throughout the year if, of course, they have a sufficiently large breeding flock in the first place. Cast ewes are usually sold between the ages of six and ten years, depending on the condition of their teeth. The quality of some of the grazing is such that teeth tend to be worn down quite quickly, such that by the age of six years some ewes have to be sold off for slaughter. Only a few are able to retain teeth, which allow them to graze successfully, up to the age of (p.107) ten years. Most Bedouin sell their sheep in Aswan, although one or two still retain a loyalty to traders in Shalatin on the Red Sea coast.

In summary, there are three key features related to sheep production in Wadi Allaqi. First, the availability of household labor is a vitally important production factor. It is clear that the overwhelming bulk of labor committed to sheep production comes from the household itself; indeed, it is the amount of available labor that influences the extent to which a household can participate in taking sheep to winter grazing. Larger households have the labor to do this, and smaller households do not. Without doubt, access to winter grazing at some distances from downstream Allaqi improves the overall health of the breeding flock and therefore improves lambing percentages. Hence, those households with more labor available are able to increase the size of their flocks more easily, which, in turn, gives them more income from the sale of male lambs and allows them to increase further the size of the base breeding flock from retained female lambs. As a result the bigger, more economically successful households become even better off, while the poorer households generally remain significantly worse off. Sheep production, therefore, is an important wealth differentiator between households in Wadi Allaqi.

Second, the sheep production system depends very heavily on access to a range of different grazing areas. By taking sheep to winter grazing in the hills, an opportunity is created for the recovery of grazing resources in Wadi Allaqi. Hence, the present transhumance system is a sound resource management arrangement. However, yet again it is the wealthier households that are best able to benefit from it for the reasons suggested above. Although there is no private ownership of land and grazing in Wadi Allaqi, there are nonetheless agreed rights of grazing access between the various family groups resident there. The poorer households, therefore, have no option but to graze their sheep on the same areas in Wadi Allaqi, but without the benefits of the rest period enjoyed by wealthier households. The threats from overgrazing are first felt by the poorer households, therefore further reinforcing their lower economic status.

Finally, it is clear that as access to Aswan has improved in recent years, with the completion of the asphalt road from the northern ends of Wadi Umm Ashira and Wadi Quleib, the opportunities for Bedouin sheep producers to become more commercial have increased. Bedouin have produced sheep for sale for many years, but difficulties of accessibility resulted in a loss of condition of sheep on the way to market or exploitation by some sheep traders from Aswan. The asphalt road has changed this. Without doubt, (p.108) this is a great opportunity for Bedouin sheep producers, but it also creates new challenges, and, in particular, the whole question of whether Allaqi sheep meet the necessary quality standards. Although there may be market advantages in selling genuine Bedouin sheep (for example, they are reputed to have a far fresher taste than Nile valley sheep), there are real disadvantages in quality as far as the consumer is concerned. This, therefore, is an area for concern with regard to the future of Bedouin sheep production in Wadi Allaqi.

Camel Herding

Camel herding constitutes an important activity, although in terms of labor allocated it is a relatively minor one. There is also considerable variation in the numbers of camels owned by households. Within the Wadi Allaqi community this varies from between about 1,000 camels for one of the households, down to only two for the household with the fewest camels. Leaving aside the 1,000-camel household, the typical household has ten to fifteen camels at the most. Camels not only make up an economic investment in their own right, but they also provide the means for further economic activity. They are, therefore, one of the key factors in wealth differentiation between households in Wadi Allaqi. For those households with significant numbers of camels, these represent a stock of savings that can be drawn upon as capital when needed. In addition, they provide the means for further capital accumulation, especially as a key mode of transport that allows households to participate in grazing in winter grazing and charcoal production, as well as transport for selling products in Aswan and elsewhere beyond Wadi Allaqi. Those households with fewer than six or seven camels cannot afford to commit such scarce resources to these types of activities because of the other economic demands exerted on the household.

Typically, most households keep only a few of their camels in Wadi Allaqi close to the encampments, these being camels that are used for transport, camels that are sick, or camels that have recently foaled. The rest of the camels are allowed to roam freely in the desert for extended periods of time, sometimes of up to two to three years. Some Bedouin talk of camels being away for up to six years, but this figure is unsubstantiated. This roaming is quite important in maintaining the grazing resources of Wadi Allaqi itself, because if all the camels were kept in this area, there would be extreme pressure placed on these resources. The camels bear the owner's unique brand-mark (washam in Arabic), and even foals with their mother are likely to be branded with the same mark, even by Bedouin who may not be the (p.109) owner. This system of trust is absolutely central to Bedouin, and, without it, Bedouin society, culture, and ultimately economy breaks down. Although there are increasing pressures, this honor system still largely exists.

When there is need to seek out their camels, Bedouin go out into the desert to look for them. This is not as random as might initially appear, and Bedouin can typically find their camels within a couple of days. This ability draws on two elements. First, there is the inherent, intimate Bedouin knowledge of the desert and its resources, and particularly the locations in which water and tree grazing are found in areas in the Red Sea Hills, and especially in Haimur, Umm Qareiyat, and Ungat. Second, there exists a well-informed and relatively sophisticated information network (khabrat in Arabic), in which travelers relate sightings of camels with particular brands, as well as other information on the distribution ofephemeral grazing, the state of trees and so on. This information is passed around Bedouin communities and is being constantly updated.

Charcoal Production

Charcoal production by Wadi Allaqi Bedouin is closely related to winter sheep grazing in the Red Sea Hills. Consequently, those households that commit labor and other resources to taking sheep to these areas are also those that engage in charcoal production. fu has already been seen, it is access to camel transport that is a key determinant of whether or not this activity takes place. The ability to produce charcoal therefore further reinforces patterns of household differentiation.

The labor demands associated with sheep and charcoal production are quite complementary. While away with the sheep, Bedouin allocate time to producing charcoal at the same time as watching over the grazing. Typically, teams of three or four Bedouin will accompany a flock of 200 to 300 sheep for periods of up to two months. This provides sufficient security, company, and labor to meet both the sheep and charcoal requirements. It also permits one or two of the team to return to Wadi Allaqi every twenty days or so to collect supplies such as flour, oil, mulukhiya (mallow), and coffee, and to take any charcoal that has been produced back to Allaqi.

The preferred wood for charcoal is acacia, and especially Acacia tortilis. The harvesting of the wood is managed very carefully, as Bedouin are acutely aware of the need for good tree management for the protection and sustainable use of this resource. Only dead or dry wood is collected and used in the production of charcoal, and green and growing wood is left undisturbed. Typical production levels can work out at about five sacks per person per (p.110) month, although they will be commensurately lower than this when wood has to be collected over an increasingly wide area. Overheads are negligible so charcoal realizes a reasonably good profit, especially as its production takes place at the same time as the livestock are been watched; hence the complementary labor is crucial.

In recent years, however, the relative contribution of charcoal to household income in Wadi Allaqi has been in steep decline. In the past, the strength of charcoal production has rested with its being complementary to sheep production. But this is also its weakness. With the decline, and in some cases disappearance, of transhumance associated with sheep being taken for winter grazing in the Red Sea Hills, the opportunities to produce charcoal have been much reduced or eliminated. In the same way that there are concerns about whether the winter transhumance of sheep will ever be restored when the current drought ceases, there are equal and associated concerns about the future of charcoal production as a key economic activity for Wadi Allaqi households.

Cultivation

Over the last fifteen years many Bedouin have taken cultivation increasingly seriously as part of the household economy, not as a replacement for livestock herding but as a omplementary activity, and one that spreads risk somewhat more widely. Every household in Wadi Allaqi is now currently involved in cultivating small farms. These vary in size from a few square meters to a couple of hectares in some cases; the same farm can also vary in size from one year to the next. Two key factors underlie these variations, the first being the availability of labor, particular at the land preparation stage, and the second the availability ofwater, either soil water that might be left behind for a short period in the surface layers after inundation or by extracting water from specially dug wells. The average number of crops per farm is between five and six, but some farms grow as many as ten different crops, not only to meet dietary demands, both of humans and livestock, but also to spread the risk resulting from the possible failure of one or more crops in any season. The most commonly grown crops are watermelon, maize and wheat, followed by sorghum and tomatoes. Some households took the opportunity during the early 1990s to plant permanent tree crops, including lemon, acacia, Balanites aegyptiaca, and Sesbania sesban. However, the lake inundation to 182 meters above sea level at the end of the 1990s saw the end of these trees.

There is some disagreement among Bedouin as to the best locations for cultivation. Opinions on the best areas are split between three locations: the (p.111) runnel formed by flowing water in the center of the wadi; sites at the edge of the wadi; or sites near the lakeshore. To some extent the choice of preferred site depends on the ethnic group of the respondent. In one of our surveys, for example, four out of the six Bishari respondents preferred the runnel. However, the situation was far less clear with regard to Ababda respondents; of the twenty-two, nine preferred the edge of the wadi, seven the runnel and six the lakeshore. It may be significant that the Bishari, as relatively recent arrivals in Wadi Allaqi, appear to have a rather greater consensus on the best locations for cultivation. This may be due to the fact that Bishari experience of cultivation in the desert has been rather limited, a reflection of opportunity, and where it did take place it was typically confined to runnels within wadis. The Bishari have, therefore, simply transferred previous experiences across differing environments and come to the conclusion, based on limited Allaqi experience, that the runnel still affords the best potential. On the other hand, the Ababda, with a longer history of settlement in Wadi Allaqi,

Sustainable Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management: Challenges For the Bedouin1

Figure 4.2: A member of the Ababda tribe watering his small cultivated plot from a shallow well. Note that the plot is protected against predators by a fishing net. Photograph by Ian Pulford.

(p.112) have had the time to develop experiences based on all three alternatives, and have developed strategies to suit particular needs under differing household circumstances.

Very clear advantages are perceived of a site in the runnel located on the floor of Wadi Allaqi. Many talked about the soil being finer and hence more fertile, although some were well aware that the longer the time periods between flow events, the drier the soil becomes and the more susceptible it is to wind erosion and removal. In this context, several respondents suggested that the runnels in tributary wadis to Wadi Allaqi, where flow events may be more infrequent and more spatially concentrated on the wadi floor, are preferable to those found in Wadi Allaqi itself However, there was a clear division of opinion about the reliability of the runnels for cultivation in the sense that water flow, which provides the rationale for cultivation, is also seen to be a major disincentive in that it can lead to the loss and destruction of crops from flooding. Some specifically mentioned the impact of torrents and suggested that this was the key reason why they chose sites away from the runnel, typically located at the wadi edge. There was the further view that as the runnels support some vegetation, however scarce, dabuka (camel trains) tend to follow these paths in Wadi Allaqi, and hence any cultivation is vulnerable to opportunistic camel grazing.

Of the three areas identified, the runnel is physically the most distinct, with the surface cracking of the sediment and the trapping of sediment by vegetation. Comparing the soil texture in the runnel with that in the rest of the wadi floor, the silt content rose from a value of 1 to 5 percent elsewhere on the wadi floor to between 25 and 35 percent in the runnel, and clay content from similar low values to between 12 and 15 percent; the coarse sand content fell from 50 to 80 percent to between 15 and 30 percent in the runnel. The finer texture of these soils was identified by the Bedouin as being a positive feature for cultivation, an observation that may have been supported by the greater density of vegetation in the runnel, but emphasis was placed on physical factors, such as water retention, rather than on nutrient supply, although this was recognized to some extent.

There is less clear-cut evidence for the value of the soils at the edge of the wadi. Deposits of wind-blown soil have collected at the wadi edge, but, even though these soils have a somewhat elevated content of fine sand, silt, and clay size particles, they tend to be less stable and more prone to dispersal by wind. There is also the disadvantage that rocks and stones may fall down from the hills at the side of the wadi into these areas, a feature clearly identified as being a disincentive to cultivation. Such areas are not, however, (p.113) in danger of inundation by lake water or subject to the effects of flowing water in torrents, unless situated at the mouth of a tributary wadi. It appears that this security is rated more highly by some Bedouin than soil quality in the choice of cultivation site.

Lakeshore sites attracted a number of Bedouin, with virtually all respondents acknowledging the high quality of lake-derived soils and recognizing that annual inundation by Lake Nasser maintains fertility. In addition, the lake provides a reliable source of water for irrigation. However, most took the view that these sites are difficult because of the annual, and unpredictable, flooding by Lake Nasser during the late summer and autumn. “For an experimental farm the best location is the lakeshore, but for a longer-term productive farm it is better to be in the runnel,” one Bedouin said. His reasoning was that the experiments were best carried out under conditions of water reliability, whereas once a rather longer term perspective was being used, then investments would be less frequently threatened by torrents in the runnel than by inundation by Lake Nasser. There may be a view, held by some, that in any case access to water is a more important determinant of cultivation site than soil quality.

Inundation by lake water, in addition to depositing a layer of lacustrine sediment, has a considerable influence on soil properties, especially on the content ofsoluble salts. After a short time of exposure following inundation,

Sustainable Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management: Challenges For the Bedouin1

Figure 4.3: Cultivation plot of Bedouin settlement on the lake shore surrounded by water during regular inundation by Lake Nasser. Photograph by Irina Springuel.

(p.114) evaporation from the soil results in the concentration of salts at the surface, giving the soil a white color. Without doubt, soils with a white color are perceived by Bedouin in a highly negative way, a view that can be supported by the high conductivity of the soil. Bedouin are well aware of the problems of salinity in the area, with some considering it to be their biggest challenge. Salinity is further exacerbated by the growth of tamarisk, and the link between tamarisk cover, found especially in the lakeshore area, and high levels of salinity in the soils is well understood by Bedouin; indeed, several have specifically made mention of the fact that they prefer cultivation sites in which there is no or minimal tamarisk present.

With regard to the choice of a specific site for cultivation, it appears that the color of the soil and the ease of clearing vegetation are the two key determining factors. White soils are clearly recognized as unsuitable for cultivation and the preferred color is invariably described as yellow, with perhaps a reddish-brown tinge, although some talk about darker red soils sometimes being better, especially if found relatively near the lakeshore. Interestingly, this latter comment is not supported by soil analysis, as high conductivity values have been measured on the red soils found around the high water line, suggesting higher salinity levels in these soils.

For Bedouin, the feel of the soil seems to be nearly as important as its color. The best soils are considered to be “smooth” with a “sandy/clay” combination. Indeed, the importance of a fine sand content is widely acknowledged as “it helps drainage.” Interestingly, it is the drainage that is widely seen to be important in maintaining fertility, rather than the ability of the soil to supply nutrients. This is helped by the soil being “loose.” Coarse sand is to be avoided if at all possible, and soils that contain significant amounts of gravel and/or stones are definitely to be avoided; Bedouin frequently mention this without even being prompted. The reasons for such avoidance include the difficulty of working such soils, as well as their limited fertility.

Although many of the soils are high quality, they are fragile and in need of careful management. Bedouin manifest this in a number of ways, but particularly with regard to fertilizer use. Although most recognized the need for less fertilizer on clay-rich soils, there is still a view that fertilizer use is necessary to a greater or lesser extent on Allaqi soils. Indeed, some Bedouin bring clay from other areas, such as the wadi edge and the lakeshore, to increase the clay content of cultivated soils and improve fertility. The most common fertilizer source is sheep or goat dung obtained by grazing animals on land that is subsequently to be cultivated. However, this is considered (p.115) to be a less than satisfactory source, especially in terms of volume but also in terms of quality: the generally poor quality of grazing material results in relatively poor-quality dung in terms of fertility. Some supplement this source of in situ dung by transporting in extra loads from other locations. Dung is seen as being particularly important for watermelons and maize, as well as for some tree crops, particularly lemons. Burnt vegetation is valued as a realistic alternative, with the advantage that it gives greater control over volumes applied. It is considered to be a particularly effective fertilizer for tomatoes and watermelons, as well as being a preventative measure against insect damage, a particular problem for watermelons.

The use of chemical fertilizer generates considerable discussion and disagreement among Bedouin. The only points on which there is general agreement relate to the expense of buying such fertilizer and a questioning of how cost-effective it is anyway in the context of their agriculture. A strong view expressed by those Bedouin not using such a source is that the soils are sufficiently fertile in their present form and do not require extra input, at least not from such an expensive source. There is the further view that the use of chemical fertilizer adds to salinity levels, an extra threat that cannot be tolerated.

Interestingly, the decision as to whether to use chemical fertilizer is frequently determined by whether the crop is to be sold, and especially so in the case of both watermelons and tomatoes. Most recognized that the use of chemical fertilizer produces larger fruit, but that this is very much at the expense of taste. The consequence is that chemical fertilizer is used for those crops to be sold as “people in Aswan are much more interested in quantity than quality,” and other fertilizer sources are used for crops to be consumed within the household to maximize “the natural taste.”

There is also a recognition that in order to be effective the use of chemical fertilizer requires access to reliable and quite large amounts of water, and herein lies a further problem. Many, but by no means all, households have access to a petrol-driven pump, but only pumps with limited capacities. Consequently, this is a key constraint on the area of land cultivated. More significant, however, is water reliability. As has already been noted, the typical annual variation in the water level of Lake Nasser of six to eight meters results in a lateral variation along the floor of Wadi Allaqi of up to ten kilometers between the highest and lowest water levels in anyone year. As a result, cultivated plots that start off being located within a kilometer of the lakeshore, and hence with few difficulties of water access, can find themselves three months later being six or seven kilometers away, with all (p.116) the resultant problems, not only of a limited water supply, but also of a water supply that becomes increasingly brackish. For many Bedouin this, rather than soil fertility, is the key issue.

The physical management of the soil is taken very seriously. Land clearing and fencing are the two most time-consuming and onerous tasks, and, to a degree, they are related. Vegetation that is cleared is then frequently used as fencing material. This is crucial, as growing crops need protecting from marauding sheep, goats and camels, all of which are seen as particular pests by Bedouin. Bird-scaring is another important task. Wadi Allaqi is an important bird flyway between East Africa and Europe, and crop loss from bird attack is a major issue among Bedouin cultivators. Various measures are taken, including covering crops with fishing nets or attaching old clothes, cans, and even bits of dead birds to ropes that are then strung across the plots over the growing crops.

In summary, it is possible to distinguish three broad areas of Bedouin understanding of soil characteristics that they use to support their cultivation activities. There is a good understanding of the physical characteristics of soils, especially in relation to aspects such as water retention, drainage, and erosion risk. These are all factors that are readily observed visually and therefore can easily be absorbed into the local knowledges of the Bedouin. Less easily observable, but also understood by the Bedouin, is soil fertility. Clearly understood is the value of natural materials such as animal dung and plant ash, possibly as a result of observing improved vegetation growth in soil to which these materials have been added as a result of grazing or the burning of vegetation. They are equally aware of the potential use of synthetic fertilizers, but also of their cost and their effects on food quality.

The third area is concerned with those soil characteristics about which the Bedouin are apparently unaware. This is exemplified by pH, a factor argued by ‘science’ to be a major controlling parameter in many soils, and a soil measurement from which much other information about a soil can be inferred. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, pH as such has never been raised by Bedouin, nor, more significantly, have they mentioned acidity or alkalinity issues. This may be because the soils of the area, although alkaline, are not overly so. It may be that what science understands as pH is simply not important for Bedouin in this setting. Alternatively, pH is not a factor that is immediately apparent by visual observation, except in cases of pH extremes where vegetation is killed off or will not grow. It may well be that Bedouin recognize that under such circumstances there is a soil problem, but it is attributed rather to high salt content rather than a high alkaline pH.

(p.117) It has to be recognized that most Bedouin are using and managing soils for cultivation only because grazing and charcoal resources alone do not provide sufficient levels of income to support household reproduction. There is, indeed, an ambivalent attitude toward cultivation, with many taking the view that cultivation does not represent an economically realistic alternative to livestock herding. A common view is that it is not worth committing scarce labor resources to cultivation, when greater levels of expertise are available for sheep herding and production. However, it would be misleading to suggest that the view that cultivation is irrelevant is universally held among Bedouin; indeed, many see crops and livestock as very much complementary activities, but recognize that the soils need a significant amount of care if they are to satisfy needs and remain productive. There is also a minority view in which cultivation is actually preferable to livestock herding, especially if water availability is not an issue, in that crop production is seen as being easier to manage than that livestock. Moreover, there is the reward of “soils responding to effort,” as one Bedouin put it.

Medicinal Plant Collection

Medicinal plant collection is a minor economic activity, not only in terms of the labor allocated to it but also in terms of its contribution to household income. Only a few households are involved, and then rarely on a systematic basis. Medicinal plants are usually collected on a demand basis, mainly to treat an illness or ailment within the household itself rather than for sale in the markets of Aswan or elsewhere.

It tends to be women who have a better understanding of the use of medicinal plants and other remedies, but, as with other aspects of Bedouin life, their knowledges—and how these are used—have been changing. Although the preference for modern medicine has been supplanting Bedouin reliance on traditional remedies, the medical skills held by many of the Bedouin women, especially older women, are generally valued and represent an important knowledge in the community. Indeed, some women are well known for their medical skills. For example, a medicinal plant called kharwa' (Ricinus communis) is occasionally cultivated by some as a treatment for digestion systems and for controlling fevers. People are well-informed about plants like Lawsonia inermis (henna) as a treatment for burns and headaches, and lemon is used directly on scorpion stings. Others put acacia seed mixed with henna on wounds, and harjel (Solenostemma arghel) is used for a range of illnesses. However, care must be take with harjel as it is reputed not to (p.118) retain its medicinal properties when grown on farms with irrigation, so many Bedouin take the view that it must always be collected from the wild.

Other Economic Activities

Over the last fifteen to twenty years, wage-labor has developed in the Wadi Allaqi area and a number of Bedouin men have found some limited local employment. In the mid-1970s deposits ofeconomically exploitable reserves of marble and granite were discovered, mainly in the Haimur area in the hills to the east ofWadi Allaqi. The Aswan governorate established a company, Marnite, to exploit these resources in a number of quarries to the east of Wadi Allaqi. In the region about one hundred jobs have been created locally, and some Bedouin are employed as laborers, desert guides, watchmen and as other casual labor. A handful of other jobs have been created for laborers on the three South Valley University Unit for Environmental Studies and Development experimental farms in Wadi Allaqi and the adjoining Wadi Umm Ashira, as well as jobs as guides for the Allaqi field station of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency. However, the scale of this employment is really quite limited overall, and it has had little discernible impact on raising household incomes in the area.

An activity that has had an important impact on some Wadi Allaqi households has been the servicing of passing camel trains (dabuka). It has been estimated that about 100,000 camels per year make the journey across the desert from Abu Hamed in Sudan northwards through Wadi Gabgaba before joining Wadi Allaqi, where the camels take on some water before continuing their journey further northwards to the major camel market in Daraw, some thirty kilometers north of Aswan in the Nile Valley. The journey from Abu Hamed across the Eastern Desert is the alternative to the more famous Darb al-Arbain route on the west side of the Nile through the Western Desert and takes a minimum of ten days, although some drovers take longer, sometimes up to fourteen days, depending very much on expected market conditions at Daraw. Most dabuka stay in Wadi Allaqi only a few hours at the most, as the drovers are not keen to allow the camels to drink too much water from the lake, nor to eat too much fodder, as this will only make them sluggish for the remaining journey of three to four days to Daraw. Consequently, given the number of camels that come through this route each year, there is remarkably little pressure put on the grazing resources of Wadi Allaqi itself Each dabuka typically comprises 300 to 400 camels, and the peak months for passing dabuka are between November and March.

(p.119) The dabuka provide an economic opportunity for some Bedouin households, largely through the transport opportunities that are available. Allaqi Bedouin sell charcoal and medicinal herbs to the drovers, who then resell these goods on arrival in Daraw. The drovers are also a good and reliable source of news and information from the desert (khabrat, as mentioned earlier), passing on information about the locations of particular owners' camels, the location of ephemeral grazing, the condition of trees and, it has to be said, general gossip. The dabuka can also be a source of new camel stock to the Bedouin. New foals and sick camels are often left with Wadi Allaqi Bedouin, sometimes as payment for food and hospitality offered.

Over the last five to ten years it would seem that the importance of the dabuka to the Wadi Allaqi economy has declined, both in relative and absolute terms. This has come about for several reasons. First, in the past the absence of roads meant that the camel provided the most reliable means of transport, and hence the dabuka could provide a much-needed service for Wadi Allaqi Bedouin. Nowadays the presence of an asphalt road to within twenty kilometers of Wadi Allaqi and the greater reliability of four-wheel drive vehicles has much reduced the necessity for camels as a means of transport. The dabuka drovers therefore have less control. Second, with the rise in the lake level since the late 1990s the dabuka have taken a more easterly route that does not pass by the Bedouin settlements. Finally, the number of camels coming across the border from Sudan by this eastern route seems to have declined in recent years. This is a result not only of reduced demand in Egypt for camels, especially as a means of transport and power, but also of a major security clampdown by the Egyptian military and other security forces, especially since 11 September 2001, which has resulted in very strict border area controls.

Bedouin Indigenous Knowledges

Underpinning much of this discussion has been the central role of the local Bedouin in the management and decision-making associated with the Wadi Allaqi Biosphere Reserve. Indeed, this is wholly consistent with the original UNESCO concept, which initially used the term ‘Man and Biosphere Reserve.’ Although somewhat politically incorrect these days because of its gender bias, the term does, however, capture the importance of people in this process. Much of the discussion so far has drawn on both formal scientific knowledges of Wadi Allaqi, as evidenced by the work led by the Unit of Environmental Studies and Development of South Valley University in Aswan, and the knowledges held by the Bedouin themselves (p.120) about the physical environment in which they find themselves and from which they must make a living. However, making use of this indigenous, traditional, and local knowledge system can be no less problematical than making use of formal science in trying to understand environment and development issues.

There has arisen a view among some development practitioners, rather more implicit than explicit, that where indigenous environmental knowledges are seen to be present and held by members of a community, they should be captured and used in the promotion of sustainable development. The trick is how to find and use these knowledges. There has developed a tendency in such approaches to see indigenous knowledge as something that is unchanging, even static and timeless. However, the Bedouin of Wadi Allaqi demonstrate that this is not the case at all, and that their local knowledge repertoires are in reality dynamic, provisional, transitory, and highly negotiable. The Bedouin constantly rework and reevaluate their knowledges, constantly adding new ideas and experience, and are more than prepared to discard existing ideas that have been superseded or become irrelevant. Environmental knowledge is constantly acquired, tested and reworked, even if this is only to confirm what is already known. Second-hand information is not to be trusted without being first tested and experienced. Firsthand experience produces knowledge that an individual never forgets, one Bedouin argued; another remarked: “Environmental knowledge is about bservation, experiment, and only then knowledge.” Secure knowledge about preferred grazing species is frequently developed from observation of animals' feeding behavior and subsequent growth rates. Such a reworking and reevaluation of knowledge is a slow and careful process. It has to be. For Bedouin living close to the margins, they have rather more to lose if they get things wrong.

The Bedouin also demonstrate a lively dynamism in their development of local knowledge. For example, Bedouin have observed that their small livestock, particularly sheep, prefer crop residues to other feeds. As an experiment, a Bedouin woman fed her livestock a range of cultivated feeds, the results of which showed that her livestock preferred bersim hijazi (lucerne) rather than another variety, bersim baladi, as the latter contained a higher proportion of water in relation to feed matter. Significantly, because it was a woman who had led these experiments, this resulted in a degree of women's empowerment within the community. Indeed, this empowerment was subsequently further reinforced by the use of shilbeika, an aquatic plant found in Lake Nasser and unknown in Allaqi before the construction of the Aswan (p.121) High Dam, for animal feed. After sheep were observed eating dried shilbeika washed up on the lake shoreline, some women collected it, dried it, and fedit to their sheep, an experiment that was successful and generated new ideasand new knowledge. The current use of shilbeika is seen to be very muchthe product of women's efforts and, indeed, for many men the suitability ofdifferent varieties of the plant, and how much they should be dried before being fed to sheep, is still largely unknown.

Implicit in the romanticizing of indigenous knowledges is the sense that indigenous environmental management is somehow ecologically harmonious, and that indigenous resource management will necessarily promote sustainable development. While this may often be the case, it is not always so, as groups must sometimes take action to facilitate their own survival. In Allaqi, some changes are forced, such as the restrictions on winter hill-grazing resulting from several consecutive years of drought. A consequence has been the emergence of extreme grazing pressure in parts of Wadi Allaqi, as there are no alternative sources of grazing available. There is also the view that indigenous knowledge is closely associated with identity. While this may be the case in the most general of terms here in the wadi, the Bedouin are highly pragmatic about the knowledges they hold. If any agricultural or environmental idea has been supplanted, or is of no practical use any more, it is quickly discarded. Clearly, indigenous knowledge is adapted to deal with new opportunities and new resources, and new, hybrid knowledges constantly emerge and develop. For indigenous knowledge to have value for the Bedouin of Wadi Allaqi, it must contribute to the enhancement of production, a markedly utilitarian view.

The dynamism of economic activity ensures that knowledge must adapt to changing economic circumstances and opportunities. One of the Wadi Allaqi Bedouin was well aware of the fact that his environmental knowledge repertoire, and those of his two sons, was changing and adapting to new circumstances. His sons now know virtually nothing about the natural environmental and its resources beyond Wadi Allaqi itself, because the household had chosen not to migrate to the Red Sea Hills for winter grazing for several years. Thus, the sons have not had the opportunity to observe, evaluate, and work with the different plants and grazing resources found in these areas. Even the knowledge base of the man himself was being erode through lack ofengagement. Two reasons explain this. First, the drought that has affected the Eastern Desert since the late 1990s has discouraged migration and encouraged a greater use and development of alternative shoreline grazing resources along Lake Nasser in Wadi Allaqi. The longer that these (p.122) winter migrations fail to take place, the more likely that the environmental knowledges the Bedouin retain ofsuch areas will gradually disappear. This is a particular risk for younger people for whom these areas are now becoming economically irrelevant. Already, at least one family has become quite content with the more sedentary life in Wadi Allaqi, and the advantages of easy access to lake water and the Aswan market. This family talks about building a permanent home, at which point a return to seasonal migration patterns elsewhere in the desert will be even less probable. Knowledge of these grazing resources is then likely to be lost forever.

Second, with the major economic changes and opportunities that have been caused by the creation of Lake Nasser, new local knowledges have had to be developed. Consequently, there has developed among the younger generation something of a knowledge vacuum concerning traditional grazing areas and other resources in the wider desert, such that there has developed a ‘generation gap,’ with older Bedouin possessing a different range of environmental knowledge than their sons. For example, one Bedouin commented that his son had not had the opportunity to learn the direct route from Sayalla to Umm Ashira (two important locations in the desert) because “the days of camel travel were over.” Pick-up trucks are the new camels, and his son's knowledge reflected this; as his father dryly put it: “He can tell you the owner of any passing pick-up … and as long as there is a track he will not get lost.” But other changes have contributed to this; for instance, as market activities have become increasingly important for Wadi Allaqi Bedouin over the last ten to fifteen years, so there has developed a marked tendency to rework and evaluate environmental knowledge within households on a more active, regular, and systematic basis to meet these changing demands.

For the Bedouin, if indigenous knowledge is to contribute to sustainable development then it has to be anchored within the economic and sociocultural structures of the households involved. It has been made clear that there has developed quite a marked wealth differentiation between Wadi Allaqi households. This issue reemerges with regard to indigenous knowledge acquisition and development. Those households with the wealth to afford camels exhibit a wider indigenous knowledge base than those who do not. Those owning a sufficient number of camels, for example, have the resources and capacity to take livestock for grazing during the winter months in the Red Sea Hills or on the lakeshore crop residues. Such access is unavailable to poorer families, who do not have the same the economic resources in the form of camels to travel to these areas, and therefore their (p.123) knowledge bases of these areas are nothing like as informed as those of the wealthier Bedouin.

However, there is more to this than just the economic. Social and cultural contexts are also highly significant. Sedentarization is creating new social roles within the family and thus also different knowledges. Knowledge acquisition is, to a large extent, controlled by experiences that accrue with age and, due to the different spatial extents of men and women, gender. The concept of gender is used here carefully, recognizing that there are different groups of men and women in the household whose knowledge and decision-making power are differentiated. Within those more sedentary Bedouin families, the extent of women's environmental knowledges seems to be changing rather more than those of the men. Women's work, and the knowledge required for it, is determined by their location. If the resources needed for household reproduction are located close to the household itself, then women will have developed a knowledge of them; if resources are located further afield, in more overtly male spaces, women's knowledge is much less well-formed, or even nonexistent. This impacts not only on women's knowledges, but also on those of the entire family. Women are responsible for the early education of children up to the age of ten or twelve years, which means that women's more restricted environmental knowledges tend to reduce children's early environmental education in scope. Thus, sedentarization, and the greater involvement with market economies that has followed, has meant that some women have seen their roles as environmental knowledge experts actually reduced, notwithstanding the comments made above about some other women feeling more empowered through successful grazing experimentation.

It is clear from the evidence of the Wadi Allaqi Bedouin that there is no such thing as a pristine indigenous knowledge. Indeed, a key part of the process involved in the development and evolution of indigenous knowledge is the acquisition and evaluation of knowledges from outside Wadi Allaqi. Outside information and knowledge filters in. This may be through visitors to the area; return migrants who have spent extensive periods of time away from the area but have now returned on a permanent basis; visits made by Bedouin from the area to urban markets such as at Aswan; Bedouin individuals or groups who arrive from different areas; and so on. In other words, there exists a range of different sources of information, all of which may be evaluated in different ways, and to greater or lesser extents, by the Bedouin.

Although family and kinship contacts are crucial to environmental knowledge acquisition, external, non-family sources of information can be (p.124) equally crucial. Many Bedouin talk about acquiring information through friends, neighbors, and acquaintances throughout their adult life, and about exchanging information and knowledge, sometimes on a daily basis. Wadi Allaqi Bedouin women talk about discussions with Nubian women, whom they meet when visiting Nile Valley relatives. Such meetings have resulted in information about seeds, types of soil, and planting and harvesting times being absorbed by Bedouin, something that has become increasingly important with the process of sedentarization that is currently taking place in the area. Bedouin men spend considerable periods of time talking with a range of ‘outsiders,’ including incomer lakeshore farmers in Wadi Allaqi itself, Nile Valley farmers during the Bedouin's increasingly frequent visits to Aswan, and men passing through Allaqi. Consequently, what development planners might see as an indigenous knowledge in fact is not. What they are confronted with is a mediated, local knowledge that comprises a hybrid of various knowledge sources that are evaluated, reworked and deployed in the interests of household reproduction. Hence, Bedouin ‘indigenous’ knowledge is not something simply internal to this group, but has long been influenced by contact with various external groups. This clearly poses a problem, because all too often indigenous knowledge has been characterized as an alternative to scientific knowledge, whereas in fact local, so-called indigenous knowledges are more than happy to acquire, appropriate and use knowledges that are firmly grounded in the traditions of Western science, if those knowledges make economic, environmental, and sociocultural sense to the community. In a similar way, there is no such thing as shared community, household, or family knowledge. There is an unevenness in the knowledges held across individuals; some people's knowledge is different, limited and/or partial, compared with knowledges held by others. What has become apparent from living with the Bedouin in Wadi Allaqi is that there are multiple environmental knowledges. This does not mean that people necessarily hold radically different, conflicting, and opposing knowledges about the environment, but that they typically retain different emphases with regard to that knowledge and how it is subsequently deployed. The content and depth of environmental knowledge is uneven across both communities and households, suggesting that the concept of a (singular) community knowledge is unhelpful.

These are all very difficult and thorny issues, but ones that cannot be avoided. There is no doubt that the Biosphere Reserve concept offers real hope and opportunity by involving local people in its development and management, but there has to be a recognition of the ways in which the (p.125) knowledge systems of the Bedouin in Wadi Allaqi can genuinely contribute. This is not to suggest that indigenous Bedouin knowledges are in some way superior to knowledges produced by Western, ‘rational’ science, rather that they offer another way of thinking about and conceptualizing the natural environment in the interests of sustainable development.

Summary

There is little doubt that the Bedouin of Wadi Allaqi have taken the opportunities offered by the new natural resource opportunities, although it is apparent that some households have been able to access some of these resources more successfully than others. Indeed, those households that have been able to do so have become wealthier, and economic differentiation between households in Wadi Allaqi appears to be widening. The economic activities of the area are, nonetheless, still dominated by small livestock production, particularly of sheep, although for a few households, and again it tends to be the already wealthier ones, camel herding is still important. Increasingly, however, cultivation continues to gain in importance, and especially as the communities become more and more sedentarized. Interestingly, it appears to be the women of the community who are embracing the resource opportunities of Wadi Allaqi rather more than many of the men. Whereas many men still cling to the idea of being livestock producers and herders, even to the extent of still retaining geographical ties to the desert, although this has been interrupted in recent years by the drought, many Bedouin women are more interested in developing the resources of Wadi Allaqi, including cultivation opportunities. This next chapter, therefore, goes on to explore the changing role of women in Wadi Allaqi and gender relations more generally in more detail. (p.126)

Notes:

(1) Material in this chapter is based on Briggs 1989; Mohamed, Mekki, and Briggs 1991; Briggs 1991; Murphy, Pulford, Dickinson, Briggs and Springuel 1992; Briggs, Dickinson, Murphy, Pulford, Belal, Moalla, Springuel, Ghabbour and Mekki 1993; Briggs 1995; Briggs and Badri 1997; Briggs, Badri, Pulford, and Abdel-Samir 1998; Briggs, Badri, and Mekki 1999; Abdel-Monaim, Mekki, and Briggs 2000; Springuel, Briggs, Sharp, Yacoub, and Hamed 2001; Briggs and Sharp 2004; White 1995; Briggs, Sharp, Yacoub, Hamed, and Roe 2007.

(2) A lambing percentage of 100 implies that 100 breeding ewes produce 100 lambs in a season. A lambing percentage of 200 means that the equivalent 100 breeding ewes produce 200 lambs and therefore have many multiple births. A lambing percentage of 50 shows that production is poor with only 50 lambs being produced by 100 breeding ewes.