May 14, 2010 (JUBA) — The semi-autonomous government of Southern Sudan has resolved to exempt from taxes all food commodities as one of immediate measures taken in response to the looming hunger in the region.
The decision was taken on Friday in the Council of Ministers’ meeting chaired by the Vice President-designate, Dr. Riek Machar Teny.
About 80% of population in Southern Sudan is currently said to be at risk of hunger resulting from food deficit as the region’s 8 million or more people are in need of 225 metric tones of food to fill the gap, according to an assessment reported by the ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
The huge food deficit was also due to poor harvest last year and unpromising yields this year, coupled with lack of food strategic reserves. The caretaker minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr. Samson Kwaje, presented a memo alerting the Council about the magnitude of the situation.
The chunks of the food commodities consumed on daily basis in the urban settlements are imported from the neighboring countries such as Uganda and Kenya and also from northern Sudan.
Market prices are usually high while these consumables do not reach wider markets in rural areas. "The urban communities have better access to food through markets. However, the situation has not improved especially for most rural pastoral and agricultural communities," the assessment report has indicated.
This is mainly because of merchants compensating for their losses incurred due to ferrying and high taxes imposed on the food items at border points in addition to some other multiple inter and intra-state taxes when inside Southern Sudan.
According to the resolution, foreign and local merchants dealing with locally produced and imported food should not be taxed when importing from outside Southern Sudan and/or transporting them to various markets across the region.
This is to make food available in all the markets with affordable prices to the population, explained the government’s spokesperson, Paul Mayom Akech, in a press statement shortly after the meeting.
The estimated food locally produced in the states could only feed between 2% to 15% of their respective populations, leaving the rest vulnerable to acute hunger.
The ministry of Finance and Economic Planning was therefore directed by the Council of Ministers for immediate implementation of the resolution in coordination with all the relevant institutions of the state governments.
Mayom further explained that merchants who are importing food commodities to Southern Sudan are therefore encouraged to increase importation and should also begin to drop market prices as soon as the resolution comes into effect through the ministry of finance.
Market prices for food commodities are expected to be monitored for conformity by the relevant institutions after the resolution comes into effect on the ground.
Mayom, who is currently the caretaker minister of Information and Broadcasting, said the market prices must drop because merchants would now mainly worry about their spending on transporting food commodities to the markets and not about the taxes any more.
Another resolution reducing taxes levied on livestock and fisheries, destined for markets, was also passed by the cabinet.
The Council also resolved to avail 70 million Sudanese pounds to the ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in order to respond to the situation. Mayom added that the government has also appealed to the international community to help raise another 35 million, in order to make a total of 35 million.
Meanwhile the Southern Sudan Food Security Council, a body formed earlier to monitor the food security situation, is directed by the cabinet to devise long term solutions through development of mechanized farming and other methods.