Mounting warnings that agricultural season ‘has failed’ in Sudan

Farming in the rainy season (File photo: Albert González Farran / UNAMID)

The National Umma Party (NUP) has issued a dire warning about the state of Sudan’s agricultural sector, highlighting the failure of the current season and the “looming threat of famine”. In West Darfur, the state governor asked residents to cultivate crops to avoid food shortages.

 In a statement released on Facebook yesterday, the NUP detailed the catastrophic conditions affecting the El Gezira Agricultural Scheme, one of the largest irrigated agricultural projects in the world*.

The NUP said that only 10 percent of the El Gezira Scheme’s sections were harvested using agricultural machinery this season. “Another 20 percent was harvested by traditional methods not seen since the project’s inception, 30 percent of the crops were destroyed by livestock, while 40 percent perished due to drought and lack of irrigation.” The upcoming rainy season is expected to wipe out any remaining unharvested crops.

The war, which has engulfed many agricultural areas in El Gezira and El Managil, coupled with a shortage of machinery and fuel, has severely impacted productivity. As previously reported by Radio Dabanga, one of the calamities as a result of the war is that many farmers abandoned their agricultural machinery, selling it to pay off their debts from the previous season, or losing it to looting, especially in areas that witnessed battles and fighting between the parties to the war in the state.

“The situation in the El Gezira Scheme has reached a critical point, with only nine agricultural departments managing to harvest the strategic wheat crop”, the statement laments.

The NUP called for urgent interventions to prevent a famine in El Gezira, and to facilitate the return of farmers to their villages and insurances for their protection. They appealed to the warring parties to withdraw their forces from agricultural areas, and requested regional and international support to provide production inputs, fuel, and agricultural machinery to prepare for the next season.

West Darfur

The wali (governor) of West Darfur, El Tijani Karshoum, urged residents of the state to
“leverage the relative security in the area” to focus on agriculture.

Speaking to Radio Dabanga, Karshoum emphasised the state government’s efforts to protect and support the agricultural season “through the formation of a community-based committee to overlook financial support for agricultural activities in West Darfur”.

The governor encouraged West Darfur residents to “cultivate the largest possible area” this rainy season to mitigate the food shortage. He called for unity and resilience, particularly during Eid festivities, as an “opportunity for recovery, reconciliation, and strengthening family ties”.

Karshoum expressed gratitude for the efforts of various state authorities and community initiatives in maintaining security and stability in West Darfur. He appealed for continued regional and international efforts to end the ongoing conflict and alleviate the suffering of the Sudanese people, aspiring for a future free from war and conflict.

‘Hunger hotspot’

Last week, Sudan was flagged as one of the highest concern “hunger hotspots” in three separate reports published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Clingendael Institute of International Relations in the Netherlands, and a joint Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Children have not been spared, as multiple reports indicate a child malnutrition surge in several of Sudan’s camps for the displaced. Last week, Abrar Suliman, a nutritionist working in Kalma Camp for the displaced in South Darfur, told Radio Dabanga that the centre receives 10 cases of child malnutrition every day

In Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, war conditions have severely hampered agricultural activities, prompting many to say that the harvest season in the region has effectively failed this year. Food instability has led some to resort to eating tree leaves.

The El Gezira and El Managil Agricultural Scheme encompasses 150,000 feddans (156,000 acres). Most areas are irrigated with pumps. On average, 1,000 kilogrammes of sorghum used to be produced per feddan, but this slowly decreased due to mismanagement of the Scheme, alleged malpractices by Sudan’s Agricultural Bank, and sheer poverty.

The agricultural scheme used to be one of the world’s largest irrigation projects, yet has been prone to land grabbing and other malpractices in the past few decades. In late 2014, President Omar Al Bashir described the Scheme as “a burden on the country’s budget”. A year later, the Agriculture Ministry amended the El Gezira Scheme Act, to be able to transfer land ownership to private sector and foreign investors. That same year the Farmers Union was disbanded by the Al Bashir regime.