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Sudan’s new economic measures ‘threaten agriculture’

November 13 - 2016 EL GEZIRA
Sorghum (file photo)
Sorghum (file photo)

According to the El Gezira and El Managil Farmers’ Association of said that the recent economic measures and increase of fuel prices are threatening the current and coming agricultural season.

At a press conference at the National Umma Party headquarters in Omdurman on Thursday, representatives of the Association said that many farmers in the El Gezira Scheme have stopped using irrigation pumps and mechanical harvesting devices because of soaring fuel prices after Khartoum’s liberalisation of the prices on 3 November.

“The summer season’s yields -currently being reaped- are extremely meagre because of continuing irrigation problems,” Balla Mohamed El Hadi, member of the Association’s secretariat, told Radio Dabanga. As a result of sedimentation in the water channels, only 40 per cent of the water in the irrigation channels reaches the fields.

“And now, with the huge rise of expenditures and production costs, the farmers have not being able to even begin preparing their land for the winter season.”

El Hadi added that the Farmers Association rejects the increase in irrigation fees from SDG90 ($14) to SDG250 ($38). “We consider this measure as very unreasonable at a time when the official price of a [100kg] sack of sorghum is still SDG205 ($31).”

He said that the ruling National Congress Party “clearly intends to destroy the Scheme”, and pointed to earlier complaints by the Farmers Association about the federal government’s “grabbing of our farms and leasing them to foreign companies for cultivation”.

Not feasible’

The El Gezira and El Managil Agricultural Scheme between the Blue and White Niles south of Khartoum used to be one of the world’s largest irrigation projects. For nearly eighty years, it remained the sole source of hard currency for the country, through the cultivation of cotton.

During the last few decades, however, the cotton production was reduced to less than 100,000 acres. About 12 cotton gins in El Gezira state had to close their doors.

The acreage of cotton crops diminished again in 2014, to less than five percent of El Gezira Scheme, because of the high input costs, and the failure of the authorities to set a price for the commodity.

In late 2014, President Al Bashir described the Scheme as not feasible and a burden on the country’s budget.

Early September 2015, the Agriculture Ministry decided to replace the farmers’ unions with ‘work associations’. According to Dr Mohamed Yousef of the University of Khartoum this decision was a prelude to the sale of the farmers’ agricultural land shares at the stock market. “The government is betting on the weakness of the financial, administrative, and logistical capabilities of the farmers’ unions - and their failure in the end, to grant the lands to the affiliates of the National Congress Party.”

El Jak Mohamed Abu Shama, senior member of the Association confirmed to Radio Dabanga at the time that the government intends to sell the Scheme. He explained that the recent amendment of El Gezira Scheme Act aims at transferring the land ownership to the private sector and oreign investors by targeting the small-scale farmers of El Gezira and El Managil. “This will affect the livelihood of eight million people.”

Food security’

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) on Sudan, food security continues to improve in most areas in the country owing to expected above average harvests.

FEWS NET points to the above average rainfall in many areas during most of the main (June to September) rainy season, “leading to favourable cropping prospects and the likelihood for above-average 2016/17 crop production and pasture regeneration in Sudan”.

The “promising 2016/17 harvest season is leading to price decreases for locally produced cereals (sorghum and millet) in the markets of main production areas. [..] Despite this declining price trend, current staple food prices remain above average across many markets,” the report reads.

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