Prolinnova-Sudan field study leads to catalogue of ITK/local innovations

Researched & written by Nageb Ibrahim Bakheit

“The real classroom is outside. Get out into it!”

A. Introduction:

A Sudanese proverb goes “He who forgets his past is lost” (Ibn Oaf translation, 2008). Indigenous technical knowledge (ITK) might be old, but need not be outmoded. ITKs were cost-effective, locally available, and mostly organic in nature, thus environmentally sound and culturally and socially acceptable (Sanjavika. V, G. Selverani, 2021). It was against this background that Prolinnova-Sudan, around 2005-2007, ran an exploratory field study. The objective was scouting and documentation of ITK. It was also a learning process to identify promising local innovations and discover local innovators. The hypothesis: a number of farming practices existed among the farming communities and they could be scouted, documented, rationalized, validated and standardised through laboratory and field experiments and integrated into the recommended package of practices for dissemination and adoption among farmers.

  • Methodology: The researcher had come from a background of field professions in the agricultural sector of Sudan, as Production and Extension Officer in the Rainfed Mechanized Farming and as Field Inspector in the Irrigated Gezira Scheme, so the field/community observation was a very important tool/skill for data collection, i.e. ITK. Use of key informants: such as agricultural extension workers from the State Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources Management, farmer opinion leaders and people in the local industrial areas. They indicated the whereabouts of some farmers or artisans who had been designated locally as innovators. Still photography, the camera was used and also proved a powerful device to develop social rapport and empathy with the field experiment/experience subjects! Sampling: purposive for whatever seen locally as useful new idea, material or farming practice that was ecologically oriented and in natural resource management (NRM). Some items would have the advantage of being small case studies e.g. the hibiscus harvester. Secondary data: information on indigenous knowledge (IK) was tapped for theoretical framework.
  • Conclusions: It was concluded by the scientist that the documented indigenous practices must be subjected to a rationality study and only rational practices must be validated and standardised through laboratory and field experiments before blending with modern technologies. Further, such field studies into ITK and local innovation serve as good indicators for an extension farmer-first approach and respect of farmers’ knowledge.


  1. V, G. Selvarani (2021) Indigenous Technical Knowledge (ITK) practices: A way forward for sustainable agriculture development. An abstract for: International Virtual Conference on Transformation of Agricultural Advisory Services to Mitigate the Effects of the Pandemic for Farmers Welfare (ICTAAS). November 12 and 13, Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India.
  2. Mirghni Ibn Oaf and Nageeb Ibrahim (2008). Local Innovations and Indigenous Practices from the Sudan: The Hidden Power of the Poor. Prolinnova Sudan/Practical Action Publication. Khartoum, Sudan.

B: A few samples of ITK practices and local innovations are given below, coming from Western, Eastern and Central Sudan States, respectively: North Kordofan, Kassala and Sennar.

North Kordofan

Old Gargara

Innovation (1): The old “Karkade” (Hibiscus sabdarifa) Harvester: It is a small elongated cylinder with a wooden handle. It separates seeds from the glumes. For efficiency purposes this was modified by a new version – see next slide

Photo by Nageeb Ibrahim

Innovator: community-based

Improved Gargara

Innovation (2): A nut cracking- type: It has a small spring. More efficient in terms of quantity and quality compared to the old type. It is a promising innovation – created more demand.

Innovator-farmer: Ahmed Babikir El Manna. Tested since 1998 in Um Rowaba District. Sometimes the local innovation reflects the importance of the crop, hibiscus is now widely known for its, food, feed and medicinal values.

Photo: by Nageeb Ibrahim

Livestock Husbandry Innovations

Innovation (3): Breeding control technique. ‘Kinnan’: Innovative practice of tying up seminal chord by Shanabbla sheep pastoralists of N. Kordofan The gadget is removed in February-March at start of the breeding season.

Innovators: Shanabbla sheep pastoralists (community-based)

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim


Livestock Husbandry Innovations cont.


Innovation (4): ‘Tashweek’ (Thorns): Feeding control technique: the mother ran away when frequently prickled by calf thus abandoning sucking her

Innovators: Innovative practice of ‘Baggara’: S. Kordofan cattle herders

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim.


Milk processing: Kazgail

Innovation (5): Cheese making ( In Kazgail of N Kordofan): For household food as well as alternative income generating source. Practiced since 1965. He used a Chinese Cream Separator, but he had been exposed to other devices from England and Ethiopia by the Area Development Scheme of El Obied (ADSEO) for whom he acted as farmer-trainer. Rennin tabs were normally used, but an earlier practice was to add a weed fruit locally known as  ‘gubbein’: Solanum dubium.

Businessman: El Nazir Mohamed Ahmed El Nur in Kazgail 50km to the south of El Obied

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim


Milk processing cont.:

Innovation (6): “Bokhssa”. local cream separator used by ‘Baggara’ women to agitate milk. A large bowel carved in a ball-shape from some cucurbit fruit. Easy to carry on donkey while traveling. A goat skin version is also commonly used.

Innovator: Community-based: ‘Baggara’ women.

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim)


Food processing:

Innovation (7): A wood-work system driven by a camel. Practiced since 1940s by Gummaa Fadul Mohammed in Kazgail. Efficiency in terms of quality (pure oil) and quantity produced had been reported. The electrically powered mill was adopted in 1999, but abandoned in 2002 because of its high cost. A sort of intermediate technology both for home and the local community demand for oil. It indicated the importance of sesame (Sesamum indicum or Sesamum orientale) as multi-purpose crop worldwide, so also this is locally economically lucrative business.

Innovator: widely used by communities in Sudan including the capital, Khartoum. Operator: Gummaa Fadul Mohammed

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim


Central region

Sinnar and Blue Nile Areas

Suluka Um Shoka

Innovation (8): Improved Salluka (sowing hoe). Controlled plant population by fixing spaces between holes. Spacing of all crops: sorghum, millets, cotton etc. Promoted within AOAD programme for Increasing the Role of Agricultural Technology; it had been developed by the staff of Agricultural Extension and Technology Transfer Administration (AETTA) in Sinnar State. Since 2001, an increasing demand for the technique by farmers was created.

Innovator: staff of Agricultural Extension and Technology Transfer Administration (AETTA) in Sinnar State.

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim



Innovation (9): It was no tomb or a grave; grain store pit (matmora). Depth was 1.25m; capacity 16 tons of sorghum. For community food security in times of drought. Also seen as a saving bank for times of need.

Innovator: community-based

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim


Innovation (10): Naggad was a small area grown with sorghum sown in as early as just in or before the first rainy showers (Rummaid). The crop was harvested from near the farmer homestead earlier in the crop season. Drought-coping strategy.

Innovator: community-based

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim


Dry food: Waika Sarra

Innovation (11): Wild okra (Hibiscus esculentus): Sarra. Diversifying food sources from vegetables: food shortage-coping mechanism. Sometimes mixed with cultivated types, dried and kept for future use.

Innovator: community-based

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim



Innovation (12): Gisheish local variety of sorghum (Sorghum durra). Quick- maturing variety. The name originated from a village local community near Sinja, the capital town of Sinnar State. Commonly grown in eastern Sudan (Kassala), Blue Nile and Jebel Moya.

Innovator: traditional farmers: community based

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim



Innovation (13): ‘Ramad’. Ash for plant protection. Against chewing insects or beetles attacking cucurbits.

Innovator: common practice among traditional poor vegetable growers

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim: site: AbuNaama Agricultural College Farm!


El Shareett

Innovation (14): The vibrating tape. Normal recording cassette tape. The effect of wind on the tape made the vibrating sound that scared birds. It had an appearance of an electric wire which might add a repelling effect. Audio-type of scarecrow!

Innovator: traditional farmers in Jebel Moya/community-based

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim



Innovation (15): Rakouba (local veranda) with hanging water container for attracting birds. Particularly done in summer time when water was scarce Roof is made of sorghum thatch, supported by tree branches’ posts and open on all sides to allow for free air movement. Thus rural life was made more beautiful spiritually as well as environmentally. Rural tourism made more attractive by nearby Welcome Pasha historic Palace

Innovator: Local community of Al Kumur. Landscape is hilly, Jebel Moya (Waterhill!)

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim


Kassala State


Innovation (16): Harvesting ground water: manually dug bore-wells (Massaffi). Maximized water use: surface water during rains and deep groundwater in summer. Minimized capital cost by capitalizing on local labour. Cutting on power requirements as a result of decreased pumping level. Increased land use by putting more area under irrigation during summer period which was not possible until about mid-70s. Exchange of skilled digging labourers and ITK between Sudan regions, e.g. as between Kassala State on the one hand and the River Nile and Sinnar States on the other.

Innovator: Kassala community-based. Famous operator is George in Kassala Local Industrial Area, an Artisan who merges craftsmanship with farming!

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim

Gassabbia’ or leveler


Innovation (17): Levelling and dividing the area into small plots by making border lines. Drawn by oxen. Cutting blade was modified into iron from wood which made deeper cuts into the soil more possible than by previous practice, thus improved soil property. Scarce water use during summer is maximized.

Innovator: Owner is Mohamed Atta Allah, nicknamed: George Stevenson!

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim


Innovation: Made the finishing of the oxen work. A man fixed the flat blade to the ground and the other man pulled the rope which had been tied to both sides of the tool. The flat used to be made from wood, but working with iron is now common practice.

Owner: Mohamed Atta Allah, famous craftsman in Kassala industrial area.

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim


Hargel for plant protection

Innovation: ‘Hargal’or Argel (Solanstema argel) had insecticidal effect: Sack-full placed across water course and water took the solution into the plants. Believed to be effective against fruit worms in onions and okra. Against termites in fruit trees. Complemented simsodin in tomato. Widespread practice among fruits and vegetables growers; cheaper than chemicals: 15-20 thousands Sudanese pounds.

Innovator: community- based innovation

Photo: Nageeb Ibrahim



Innovation: Handicraft. Local materials and skills used. Mostly done by women for income generation. Some versions are used as cover for large wooden or aluminium food plates, as in Darfur and Kordofan States and locally known as “bartal”

Innovator: Women groups, for modification of the bartal,

Photo: By late Mohamed Majzoub, former Director, Practical Action Sudan



A bartal is cover for a round aluminum plate used to hold various food dishes. In Sudan this cover of food dishes plate is important especially during season known for frequent dusty winds and abundant insects.The bartal is made of leaflets of DOAM trees and strips of BANU grass stems (Doum= Phoenix dactylifra and Banu= Aristida sp. ). As both plant species are common in the Sudan and as raw materials for production of countless numbers of bartals, an innovation of the bartal into a “CLOWN” hat could lead to an INDUSTRY of a headwear to be named BARTAL HAT. The art of the bartal hand-making is well known to women in Sudan with the women in Darfur and Kordofan as highly experienced in colorful bartal production.  In consequence the introduction and production of a bartal hats can lead to an attractive occupation of thousands of women in Sudan. The economic sequence of inception of an industry of this nature can be easy to envisage. Marketing as a determinative factor in any industry to sustain and flourish can be assumed for the bartal hat in the local market and abroad. One of the target marketing regions outside the Sudan may include the Caribbean countries and West Africa South of the Sahara.

Ibrahim Jagoad


C: Acknowledgements

Ethically, due commends go to the local communitiesin all selected States who permitted the conduct of this field experiment and hosted the researcher. Many thanks go to Mabrouk, then Prolinnova Focal Person in Practical Action (PA), late PA Director, Majzoub and late Ibn Oaf, for their role in facilitating this field experiment/.experience. Due praise also go to Mawahib for revitalising anew Prolinnova-Sudan and to her assistant Rajaa. I would like to commend the work done by Jacob Wanyama, Prolinnova Subregional Coordinator for Eastern and Southern Africa, whose comments and editing inspired this text writing. Last, but not least many thanks go to Ibrahim Jagoad, retired vet, for his deep interest in local innovations, particularly in the case of “Bartal” (the Darfur local food dish cover modification into hat making – see last item).


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