Agriculture in Sudan

Farida Mahgoub

Urbanization and long-lasting civil wars and conflict mean that the demographic pattern in Sudan is changing drastically. Nevertheless, 60%-80% of Sudanese engage in subsistence agriculture. Agriculture remains a crucial sector in the economy as a major source of raw materials, food and foreign exchange. It employs the majority of the labour force, and serves as a potential vehicle for diversifying the economy. However, no rigorous studies have explained productivity in this sector in relation to food security. The literature reveals the pervasive inefficiency of Sudanese farmers and large-scale state-owned schemes, such as Gezira Scheme, which produce significantly below their thresholds. Many studies have found that their output levels are less than optimal. This is because of recurrent drought, land degradation, inefficient irrigation infrastructure and inconsistent agricultural policies.
The literature also shows that fluctuations in agricultural productivity happen because of fluctuating weather patterns. The situation has worsened because agriculture in particular has been neglected since the advent of oil production in the early 2000s. Moreover, Sudan’s agricultural growth has been unbalanced, with the majority of irrigated agriculture concentrated in the Centre and a huge disparity in development indicators between the best- and worst-performing regions. Thus, studies show that the vast majority of Sudanese are reported to be food insecure, especially internally displaced persons (IDPs) and in conflict regions such as Darfur, Kordofan and other regions.
After decades of civil conflict and associated political instability, because of human-induced and recurrent natural disasters (floods, droughts, outbreaks of livestock diseases), millions of people in Sudan continue to face severe and chronic food insecurity. Given that between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of the working-age population rely on agriculture for their food and livelihoods, the sector’s importance to economic recovery and the consolidation of long-lasting peace in Sudan cannot be ignored. At the same time, the new phenomenon of large- scale land acquisitions of agricultural land is taking place in Sudan. Many countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries have interest to invest in agricultural lands. However, only one case of large-scale land acquisition is mentioned in this report. This case is mentioned in relation to The Gezira Scheme and its deterioration. I argue over the validity of the practice in Sudan, backed by images of the poor, peasants, pastoralists and IDPs displaced by conflicts and environmental crises.
I have conducted a thorough desk review using a large body of literature on national and local knowledge on agriculture in Sudan. The purpose was to bring together several studies on agriculture and provide a platform for coming studies on the mentioned phenomenon of large-scale land acquisitions of agricultural land, and thereby equip observers and readers with a holistic picture of agriculture in Sudan. This will allow them to understand the potential scale of the implications that the phenomenon poses to agriculture and the people especially those who depend on different land uses for their food and livelihoods in terms of national food and water supplies. This will be achieved by shedding light on the current status of agriculture and water resources, as well as the food situation in Sudan, especially with regard to recurrent droughts, desertification and climate change conditions. The report consists of five parts. The first part comprises the introduction and general country information; it ends with historical background about agriculture in Sudan, and how agricultural production has fluctuated according to changes in weather patterns. The second part reflects on the current status of agriculture in the country, and various water resources and irrigation methods.
The third part sheds light on major agricultural schemes and refers to the examples of the Gezira and New Halfa Schemes. The food situation globally, regionally and locally makes up part four. The picture would not be complete without taking into account the extent of impact of climate change on agriculture in general and water resources in particular and consequently on food security. That is the theme of part five, which ends by suggesting a number of climate change adaption measures. The study draws on a literature review; qualitative interviews with major Sudanese scholars; and electronic national and international newspapers in English and Arabic.

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