Sudan war dashes hopes of good harvest in Nuba Mountains

A farmer in a field of sorghum in the El Gezira Agricultural Scheme (File photo: FAO)

The heavy rains currently falling in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains should herald a good autumn agricultural season. However, the war conditions the area has witnessed since April 2023 – notwithstanding a recent respite in combat operations – reduce the chances of achieving a successful agricultural season that could potentially contribute to alleviating the severity of the famine that is besetting the country.

Speaking to Radio Dabanga from the Nuba Mountains, journalist Abdelrahim Kunda says: “It has become very clear that the current agricultural season faces challenges and difficulties that exceed the capabilities of large farmers, let alone small farmers. There are clear indicators that confirm this failure.”

‘Dead letter’

The governor of South Kordofan, Mohamed Ibrahim, issued a decree early this year to form the High Agricultural Committee to guarantee a good 2024 agricultural season. “The decree remains a dead letter due to the absence of implementation mechanisms and the absence of the state apparatus in the South Kordofan localities,” Kunda explained.

The insecurity is not the main threat to the agricultural season, as large areas of South Kordofan are witnessing stability that enables farmers to begin agricultural operations without any significant security threats. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) halted combat operations in all areas, which allows farmers to prepare early for the agricultural season. The RSF are only present in the north-western parts of the state, he says.

‘In parts of the Nuba Mountains, people are eating tree leaves…’

“However, other direct and indirect effects of the war cause the agricultural season to fail and the spectre of hunger to approach the region that usually exports its surplus harvests of sorghum and millet to all states in Sudan and abroad. In several parts of the Nuba Mountains, people are resorting to eating tree leaves,” Kunda said.

“The financing of the agricultural operations is the major and fundamental dilemma that threatens the failure of the entire agricultural season,” the journalist states. “The weakness of financing in previous rainy seasons was mainly due to an inability of farmers to repay financing advances, in addition to a scarcity of cash liquidity.

“The inability to repay last season’s advances and the scarcity of cash liquidity are the reason for the weakness and deterioration of production,” he added.

“The mechanised agriculture projects in the state also decreased at significant rates due to the war conditions, especially in the area of Delling and neighbouring Habila. The Delling branch of the Agricultural Bank closed its doors and its employees fled due to the military operations that the town witnessed at the end of 2023 and early this year.”

The Delling Agricultural Bank branch is considered the most important branch in the state because it provided financing for 80 per cent of the areas in mechanised agriculture projects, estimated at about 400,000 acres, to carry out ploughing, cultivation, cleaning, harvesting and maintenance operations.

Fuel and roads

In addition, the oil companies supplying fuel to agricultural projects were damaged and stopped working due to the war in both El Obeid and El Rahad in neighbouring North Kordofan. Consequently, the fuel distribution stations in Delling, Habila, and Um Burambita stopped working, and this constitutes a real dilemma, as the price of a gallon of petrol has now reached SDG20,000. The creeks and waterways are full, the few bridges over them have been damaged, and the heavy rain has eroded the dirt roads.

“Closed roads and besieged towns has exacerbated the living situation, in addition to providing farmers’ supplies, especially with regard to spare parts for vehicles (means of transportation, transportation, and agricultural machinery).”

There is a problem with the maintenance of agricultural machinery. The area of Habila is considered the oldest and largest centre for the maintenance of agricultural machinery. The maintenance stores were subjected to widespread looting and sabotage after they were attacked by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the fall of the army garrison at the beginning of this year, and all the skilled workers fled.

In the field of maintaining agricultural machinery, along with most of the citizens, who are the labour force, Habila town has become a ruin, in addition to the scarcity of spare parts that come from Kosti in White Nile state, due to the distance, as the dirt roads become bumpy during the rainy season.

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 for 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.

Kunda added that the lack of improved seeds for this year’s sorghum and sesame crops and the cessation of operations to combat agricultural pests, especially locusts, which threaten large areas in South Kordofan.