Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience

Principle investigator

Dr Philippa Ryan 

Department of Conservation and Scientific Research  

This was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Global Challenges Research Fund

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Nubia past and present; agriculture, crops and food

Philippa Ryan


A community-orientated book, Nubia past and present; agriculture, crops and food was created as part of the ‘Nubian agricultural knowledge’ project (2017-2018). The book aims to help preserve traditional agricultural knowledge that can be considered as endangered cultural heritage, and simultaneously provide practical knowledge relevant to future agricultural resilience.

Nubia past and present is focused on Ernetta Island and the Abri area, where are in the Sikoot region of northern Sudan. The book discusses present-day crops, agricultural practices and foodstuffs, and how these have all been changing since the middle of the twentieth century. A summary of the ancient crops grown in the middle Nile valley, including at the ancient town of Amara West, is also included and provides a long-term context to crops grown today and in the recent past.


An initial draft of the book was created based on interviews with farmers and their families undertaken as part of an earlier project 'Sustainability and subsistence systems in a changing Sudan' (2013-2016). Illustrations were commissioned to depict activities that are no longer practiced today, such as threshing with donkeys and the use of waterwheels (saqia). During 2018, the book content, design and structure were discussed and refined in collaboration with the local communities, and both the Arabic and English versions were edited with local school teachers. The book is aimed at adults and older school children. Knowledge about older agricultural practices is rapidly disappearing with some information only remembered by elderly farmers: the book aims to conserve these 'oral histories' as well as local ecological knowledge for future generations.

In March 2018, free books were distributed to communities locally on Ernetta Island, in the town of Abri and the adjacent village of Amara East, as well as to nearby Murfraka and Dal. Books were given to eight local schools and the content introduced in classes. Further away, in Dongola and Khartoum, we met with and gave books to agricultural research and cultural institutions, museums and universities. 730 Arabic and 230 English books were distributed whilst in Sudan.

The Learning from the past: Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience, crop choices and endangered cultural heritage project is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund and Arts and Humanities Research Council, within the framework of the Amara West Research Project, generously supported by the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project.