The aim of this paper is to document current trends in pastoral production in the North West of Omdurman District, in the vicinity of Sudan's capital, Khartoum. The proximity of a large urban market means that the forces of change affecting pastoralists in Sudan are particularly important in this region. The data challenges the classic image of pastoralists as a group of wandering people chasing pasture and water to maintain a herd of domesticated animals in accordance with the limits of a given ecology. While they may depend on the herd as the main means of livelihood, there is increasing evidence to show that pastoralists supplement pastoral production with activities such as trade, crop farming and so on. In the vicinity of Omdurman, milk selling is particularly important. The penetration of the market economy, the imposition of modern systems of governmental control and an increasing frequency of natural disasters, such as drought and desertification have dramatically changed the picture for pastoralists, who have become ever more dependent on and vulnerable to fluctuations in the market economy of which they are an integral part.
The paper questions the view of pastoralist production which takes ecology as the most important determining factor, and supports Dahl's view that "however important ecology has been historically, its importance in shaping pastoral modes of life is in decline; the political and economic place of the pastoral society in a wider national and international context is more important for the future of pastoralism" (1980, p. 200). The processes of change involving pastoralist society are, moreover, in no way unique but have much in common with those that are taking place in other traditional sectors of production, such as the peasantisation of subsistance crop farmers.