Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience

Principle investigator

Dr Philippa Ryan 

Department of Conservation and Scientific Research  

This is a 10 month project that began in November 2017 and is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund and Arts and Humanities Research Council. This is funded through the ‘Follow-on Funding for Impact and Engagement scheme’ and under the AHRC research theme Care for the Future: thinking forward through the past


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Learning from the past: Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience, crop choices and endangered cultural heritage

The Nubian traditional knowledge and agricultural resilience project aims to:

  • - Advocate the importance of using traditional agricultural knowledge to help create strategies for agricultural resilience.
  • - To highlight the potential future role of increasingly little-used cereals and pulses.
  • - To promote the way ethnobotanical and archaeobotanical approaches can contribute to agricultural research.
  • - To preserve traditional agricultural knowledge that can be considered as endangered cultural heritage and simultaneously as practical knowledge relevant to future agricultural resilience.
  • - To illustrate relevance of the past, and archaeological research, to local communities.

This project is funded by GCRF and AHRC through the ‘Follow-on Funding’ scheme for research generated by the 'Sustainability and subsistence systems in a changing Sudan' project. A key output for the project is the creation of a community-orientated book Nubia past and present, agriculture, crops and food. The book was completed in March 2018 and aims to help preserve for future generations, 'oral histories' of agricultural changes, and local ecological knowledge.

Local stakeholders – farmers, schools teachers etc - were consulted on the booklet content, and English and Arabic versions produced. Recording Nubian terms for crops, agricultural tools and foods was another key objective. The book was widely distributed, free of charge, in the Abri region, within villages and schools, as well as to universities and research organisations in Dongola and Khartoum.

The book focuses on details of traditional crops and cultivation, agricultural practices and foodstuffs and how these have been changing in recent decades. Associated material culture such as traditional kitchens, and less tangible cultural heritage such as the daily routines connected with older modes of agricultural practices, are also documented. A summary of the ancient history of crops grown in the region provides a long-term context to crops grown today and in the recent past.

Preserving local knowledge about local crops, cultivation and cuisine has implications for future food security through offering unique insights into local adaptive solutions. Developing ways - and highlighting the importance - of conserving traditional agricultural knowledge is vital to managing present and future agricultural resilience to seasonal, annual and long-term climate variation and change.

Exploring how archaeological, historical and anthropological studies can contribute to cross-sector debates about agricultural sustainability and how the role of increasingly ‘little-used’ crops is understudied. These issues will be explored in a cross-sector conference Lessons From The Past: Archaeology, Anthropology And The Future Of Food which is being organised at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, UK in collaboration with Dr Kelly Reed at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food.