Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 25 August 2011

South Sudan potentially the region’s breadbasket

By Jacob K. Lupai

August 24, 2011 — On all counts the Republic of South Sudan has an immense agricultural potential hence the Republic is a potential breadbasket of the region. Out of the Republic’s total surface area of about 650,000 square kilometers, notwithstanding large areas that are made up of swamps and marshland not suitable for arable agriculture unless drained, only about 4 per cent has been cultivated. However, modern technologies are available to enable reclamation of land for development. In the Netherlands and in the Gulf states of the Arabian Peninsula land has been reclaimed from the sea for development. So about 96 per cent of total surface area of South Sudan is available for socio-economic development.

One can confidently assert that with investment in agriculture and related sub-sectors such as forestry, animal resources and fisheries the Republic of South Sudan will indeed be the breadbasket of the region. However, for now cultivation consists mainly of rain-fed traditional subsistence agriculture characterized by low productivity and rudimentary cropping techniques. Given the vast untapped potential, agriculture and the related sub-sectors should be seen as the engine for economic development in the Republic of South Sudan. The greatest challenge though is how to transform the Republic’s traditional subsistence agriculture into a productive surplus generating business given the fact that since the interim period (2005-2011) agriculture has underperformed. Basic food items are still being imported from the neighboring countries. It may be interesting to know to what extent are people comfortable with such dependency on neighbours for their three meals a day. No clear-minded individual will ever accept to be helplessly dependent on possible unpredictable neighbours.

According to Food and Agriculture Policy Framework of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, South Sudan should have been food self-sufficient and self-reliant by 2011. This was obviously an overambitious projection or worse wishful thinking. South Sudan is nowhere closed to being food self-sufficient leave alone being food self-reliant. However, this shouldn’t have been the case. In Sub-Saharan Africa South Sudan is one of the most endowed with vast natural resources. South Sudan’s land surface is prime agricultural land and available in abundance. There exist some of the rare and indigenous crop varieties such as finger millet and sorghum including other food crops that could be mechanized to feed the region. In addition, cash crops such as cotton, coffee, sugarcane and tea are grown and with investment may become lucrative foreign exchange earners for development in the Republic of South Sudan.

As already mentioned above another important sub-sector is forestry. As may be known forests are essential for ecological stability. Forests contribute significantly to food security and poverty reduction. Forests and forestry activities contribute in the improvement of the well-being of the people by generating incomes in achieving household food security. Natural forests and plantations play an important role in stabilizing and increasing agricultural production and development. The Republic of South Sudan has wide range of natural forest types ranging from woodland and savanna in the north to the highland mountain forests in the south. The Green Belt agro-ecological zone found in Western, Central and Eastern Equatoria States has natural forests and woodlands with many commercially valuable tree species. It can therefore be seen that with investments the Republic of South Sudan can be self-reliant in forestry products and may even export any surplus to earn foreign exchange for development in providing the badly needed basic services.

In the animal resources sub-sector South Sudan is a region densely populated with livestock mainly cattle and small ruminants. In contrast South Sudan is an importer of livestock products from the neighbouring countries. Again this shouldn’t have been the case when the South has abundant animal resources. However, the major constraint facing livestock productivity in South Sudan is the traditional subsistence production system. This system is characterized by low milk production, low meat-for-market production and lack of livestock value-added products. With investment in the animal resources sub-sector livestock production could be improved substantially for both the domestic and foreign markets in generating revenue for further investment in the sub-sector to improve living standards.

The fisheries sub-sector is a very important livelihood activity for a large number of resource-poor households. Substantial fisheries resources exist in South Sudan that have remain underexploited. These are contained in the vast inland water resources. The Nile is rich in fisheries. However, modern processing and preservation facilities are lacking. The traditional fishing methods in inland rivers include poisoning, damming and crude fishing lines. Fishermen sometimes use traps but this can be very dangerous because harmful creatures such as snakes may be trapped. Nonetheless it can be perceived that in South Sudan the fisheries sub-sector has the potential for higher returns. Investment is therefore of great importance to develop the sub-sector to increase the capacity of South Sudan as the breadbasket of the region.

Factors affecting production in the agriculture, forestry, animal resources and fisheries sub-sectors in South Sudan are varied. Importantly production in the sub-sectors is affected by acute budgetary constraints, erratic rainfall and insecurity. Acute budgetary constraints affect the availability of modern technology such as farm machinery in improving production for self-sufficiency and surplus for export. For example, in budgetary allocations the sub-sectors fare the worst with regard to the other sectors of the economy. In the Government of South Sudan budgetary allocations of 2011, Agriculture and Forestry, and Animal Resources and Fisheries combined got 1.9 per cent of the total budget. In contrast Security, Education and Health got 28.5, 7 and 3.9 per cent of the total budget respectively.

It can be seen that Agriculture and Forestry, and Animal Resources and Fisheries combined got a mere 1.9 per cent compared to Security which got 28.5 per cent of the total budget. With such a tiny budget it is pathetic to expect agriculture, forestry, animal resources and fisheries to perform to the expected level. It is strange that agriculture, forestry, animal resources and fisheries on which the very economic survival of South Sudan hinges should be outrageously neglected. What we often hear about agriculture is misleading lip service. It can be asserted that it is a disgrace for the backbone of the economy of the country to be so neglected in this way. In 1985 the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) called upon African governments to devote up to 25 per cent of government budgets to the agricultural sector for the achievement of food security. For a start South Sudan can at least devote 10 per cent of the total budget to the agricultural sector.

Paradoxically although Security gets the lion’s share of the total budget, regrettably insecurity is rampant. Stories of men in uniform robbing, shooting and killing people abound, and deadly cattle rustling seem on the increase. In fact the son of the Commissioner of Juba County was robbed and shot by a man in uniform. The man is now in custody. Some criminals may hardly be caught and if caught may escape justice. It is difficult to know what the explanation is but it could have been partly due to poor governance with corruption also rampant. It is not uncommon for people in uniform to demand the unconditional release of their colleagues from custody in disregard to the rule of law.

With insecurity rampant it is difficult to see how investors can be persuaded to invest in the agriculture, forestry, animal resources and fisheries sub-sectors to make the Republic of South Sudan the breadbasket of the region. The large budget to Security should have been seen to correlate to the level of peaceful-co-existence and stability, and people in uniform are disciplined in the region otherwise people’s perception may be characterized by loss of confidence in the system.

Erratic rainfall may be something beyond control. However, there are ways of addressing the menace of erratic rainfall. A quick maturing seed variety is one solution and irrigation in another. As an independent country the Republic of South Sudan has every right to use the Nile for irrigation and electricity as does the Republic of Sudan, the neighbor to the north. In addition, the Republic of South Sudan has tributaries and inland water resources such as streams and lakes. These can be harnessed for irrigation and livestock. With advanced technologies in harnessing rain water and seasonal streams, the agricultural sector can be developed with the aim of making the Republic of South Sudan the breadbasket of the region.

In conclusion, it is not impossible to make the Republic of South Sudan the breadbasket of the region. With substantial oil reserves, prime agricultural land, and endowed with vast forestry, animal and fisheries resources, and with minerals in abundance, South Sudan has every advantage to make it as the land of plenty. What may be lacking is commitment, farsightedness and the culture of hard-working. Dependency culture is the one that is causing havoc where people simply idle around. People tend to depend on handouts from friends and relatives, and this unfortunately encourages corruption to make ends meet. However, while as individuals who want to swell their pockets quickly through the culture of corruption and greed, let’s also have that patriotism for the nation to be reckoned with as glorious and exemplary. It is hoped that the transitional period will end with a note of high commendation but the first step has to be taken in building a prosperous nation that people identify with and in which the rule of law is supreme and respect for human rights is high. We can do it.

The author can be reached at jklupai@googlemail.com