KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan will prioritise agriculture to target self sufficiency within five years after the devastation of decades of civil wars, its agriculture minister said on Monday.
Africa’s largest country must diversify its economy away from oil — from which it derives more than 90 percent of its foreign exchange revenues — as the oil-producing south is expected to secede following a January 9 independence referendum.
“We are targeting to achieve food self sufficiency within five years — agriculture is the way forward for Sudan,” Agriculture Minister Abdel Haleem al-Mutafi told Reuters in an interview.
Sudan has increased wheat production this year to cover 42 percent of its more than 2 million tonnes of consumption and is trialing soft and hard wheat large farms in its north.
A Saudi businessman has invested an initial $50 million in a 50,000 feddans (21,000 acres) pilot farm in the River Nile state, Mutafi said, adding the first wheat yield was 1.6 to 2 tonnes per feddan, low because the land was still virgin.
“They are expecting to reach good productivity within 2-3 years from today around 8-9 tonnes per feddan,” Mutafi said.
Sudan is also offering incentives to small farmers to produce wheat by buying the produce ex-farm for $350 a tonne, converting diesel water pumps to electricity, saving them 50 percent in costs, and starting to produce local fertilisers to further reduce costs.
Sudan’s north directly borders Egypt, one of the world’s biggest importers of wheat, and is near Saudi Arabia which is halting wheat production. With millions of feddans of arable land and unused water allocations from the river Nile, it has the potential to provide for the region.
But Mutafi said they needed foreign investment for such large-scale projects and their first priority was self-sufficiency.
“We need five years to be directly self sufficient (in wheat), but indirect self sufficiency by exporting other cereals to cover the cost of wheat imports, I hope to be doing that in three years time.”
Mutafi said Sudan was increasing production of sorghum and rice which prefer hot weather, adding in 2010 they expected to export 1 million tonnes of sorghum.
But he said the major export potential for Sudan was meat and livestock. Sudan is already exporting to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt and is in talks with Lebanon and Algeria.
“The production of meat and the exports is one of the biggest potentials for this country — we are targeting at least $2 billion from the meat industry in the coming five years from exports,” Mutafi said, adding in 2010 meat would bring in $400 million.
The minister said the government and private sector were creating pilot farms as an inventive to investors to either come and buy existing yielding projects, expand them or to run them as joint public-private ventures.
Mutafi also said Sudan would begin in 2011 to offer parts of Sudan’s 2 million feddan Gezira project to private firms to run to improve the efficiency of the massive irrigated farming scheme along the White Nile river.
Crops would include cotton, sunflower seeds and sorghum.
Sudan’s massive irrigated agricultural schemes fell into decay after decades of neglect and bad management. But a U.S. easing of sanctions on the agriculture sector and an opening of Sudan’s economy hopes to attract investors mostly from the Gulf to bring them back to life.