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Ch 1. Downing College

Ch 2. Gold Coast/Ghana

Ch 3. East Pakistan

Ch 4. Zambia

Ch 5. Bangladesh

Ch 6. Retirement

Ch 7. Afterthoughts


Ch 4. Zambian interlude 1972−1974


As I indicated at the end of Chapter 3, FAO saved me in the nick of time from accepting a World Bank job in Mexico by offering me a posting to Indonesia. But then, as had happened once before, that posting was delayed and I was invited instead to take a 12 months’ posting to Zambia, where I went in January 1972. That was an OPAS assignment in which I occupied the government post of Senior Soil Scientist and FAO topped up my salary. It was a way in which I preferred to work: in a responsible role, not merely as an adviser. My supposed task was to defrost a team of Norwegians on offer from their government to strengthen a rudimentary national soils team in the Ministry of Rural Development. In the event, the Norwegian team did not come for over a year, and my assignment was extended for another 12 months.

My soils work in Zambia was very different from that in the Gold Coast/Ghana and in East Pakistan: a new challenge, in fact. Whereas in those territories I had been part of a large organisation working on reconnaissance soil surveys and increasingly in a managerial capacity, in Zambia I was very much on my own and the priorities were surveys for soil conservation in settled areas and for assessment of possible areas for new settlement in ‘bush’ areas. My formal counterpart was a young Zambian soil scientist working on the central agricultural research station at Mt Makulu outside the capital Lusaka. However, his other duties often prevented him from joining me, so I frequently went out accompanied only by a driver/assistant in a Land Rover equipped with a power auger mounted on the back and with a strengthened front bumper which enabled us to force our way through bush with trees up to 4 inches in diameter (and making enough noise to frighten off lions or elephants that occupied the bush: one of my predecessors, Dick Webster, working alone, had spent a day in a soil profile pit surrounded by a herd of elephants giving a rumbling commentary on his occupation). It was hands-on work for me as a soil surveyor! Later, a young British Planning Officer − Barry Clayton (not the bottom-scratcher in Figure 4.1) − was transferred to assist me; and, eventually, the Norwegian soils team arrived and were introduced to tropical soils and their management.


Figure 4.1. Inspecting power-auger sample with driver/assistant and Land Planning Officer in Zambia


Reminiscences of a career in Geography

Again, this was an interesting and exciting experience, often in remote savannah environments (MMBA to some!)⁴, following in the footsteps of an illustrious ecologist predecessor, Colin Trapnell. I recall two incidents in particular. One was the moment when − deep in the bush, probably many miles away from the nearest other person except for my driver − I came to a novel conclusion about the genesis and classification of soils extensively developed on the Barotse sands in western Zambia and wondered where this side of the moon one could, in 1973, turn up 20- (perhaps 30-) thousand square miles of terra previously incognita.


The other incident was my encounter with a young British ecologist who was visually upset by my answer to her question about the effect on the environment of cutting down savannah trees for agricultural expansion: desertification was her firm conviction; a rising water-table with reduced evapotranspiration was mine. As it happened, later on that field trip, I was approached by an older British ecologist who had been sent out to examine why riverine forest in that area of eastern Zambia was reported to be dying and had found it dying in the wrong places: from waterlogging at the lower end of the valleys, not from drought at their upper end.


In my 24 months in Zambia, I visited all but one of its 52 Districts (together with – in the course of duty! − the Victoria Falls and several of the country’s game parks). Before my departure in January 1974, I produced a new soil map of the country with both a technical and a popular report on the country’s soils (Brammer, 1973a, b). Although I did not know it then, that was the end of my soil survey career, after 22 years working constantly on the frontiers of scientific knowledge. The unexpected change that came next will be described in Chapter 5.



Brammer, H 1973a  Soils of Zambia, 1971-1973. Soil Survey Report No 11, with 1:2.5 million soil map of Zambia. Ministry of Rural Development, Zambia


Brammer, H 1973b  Soils of Zambia. (A popular account of soil survey and the soils of Zambia), Rural Information Services, Ministry of Rural Development, Zambia





Miles and Miles of Bloody Africa.

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