News Analysis: S. Sudan seeks to transform agriculture to improve food security

by Denis Elamu

JUBA, June 15 (Xinhua) — Oil-rich South Sudan before conflict broke out two years ago was being touted as a potential bread basket in the region but it has failed to diversify its economy from the risky black gold that has disrupted its macro-economic stability due to global shocks.

Analysts say the still fragile country just emerging from civil conflict should prioritise improving its non-oil revenue dwarfed by the over-reliance on oil exports to finance 98 percent of its fiscal budget.

But little seems being done in agriculture and other sectors like mining which could help widen the country’s meager resource revenue and attract foreign direct investments reducing on the bloated civil service.

This is despite having in place the five-year agricultural sector policy framework and the 25-year Comprehensive Agricultural Master Plan (CAMP) and yet the government continues to allocate less than 2 percent budget to the sector while security and defence take 40 percent – lion share of funding for the last decade since signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with Sudan.

Also the country aims to produce 2.5 million tons of food annually from 1.5 million tons to cover a cereal deficit of 400,000 tons annually but to achieve this increased funding towards the sector is inevitable.

The United Nations estimates about 5.3 million South Sudanese face starvation due to food insecurity and yet less than 4 percent of the country’s arable land is under cultivation.

Despite having more than 36 million livestock the prospects of achieving modern and profitable agriculture remains a pipeline dream due to cultural and social hindrances leaving the sector backward.

According to Professor Mathew Udo, the Undersecretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, South Sudan needs to increase annual fiscal funding from the dismal 1.5 percent to about 5 percent to have meaningful impact on achieving food security.

The Maputo convention calls for not less than 10 percent funding to agriculture by governments.

“We have come up with projects but it’s not only the government to take the lead, the private investors must come in through public private partnership to transform agricultural sector from subsistence to modernized agriculture,” he said.

Udo revealed the need to capitalize the agricultural bank to offer soft loans to local farmers in rural areas.

Makuei Malual, undersecretary of the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, said much focus should be put on supporting agricultural extension services, building infrastructure like laboratories, roads, research institutes and water points along migratory routes during dry seasons.

“During dry season majority of livestock keepers stop along water points which exposes the animals to diseases,” he said.

The agriculture remains heavily reliant on unreliable rainfall and yet proximity to the Nile River could help irrigation farming.

Stefano De Leo, Head of the European Union delegation in South Sudan, said the country has agricultural potential provided security is improved and use of improved technology and production techniques can spur the sector.

“The EU strongly believes in rural development of livestock and fisheries programmes to support small holder farmers working in difficult conditions,” he said during the launch of the national agriculture and livestock extension policy in Juba on Wednesday.

FAO expert, Serge Tissot, emphasized the importance of extension services to empower agriculture and cautioned South Sudan to start planning and involving its population to embark on improvement of the livestock and fisheries.

John Andruga Duku, one of the country’s large scale farmers along the Nimule-Juba road, said many farmers including him struggle without government support to invest in the sector. He added that most farmers are facing problems of buying expired seeds at exorbitant prices in the market.

“We have very serious challenge about the type of seeds we get in South Sudan. The private sector takes advantage of this loophole and import expired seeds they sell to us at exorbitant prices,” Duku disclosed.

He said the altercations between cultivators and cattle keepers over grazing land and resources may incite the next deadly conflict in the fragile country.

Duku also said that he was hiring expensively a tractor to plough his farm from Uganda due to the expensive and scarce fuel in the country and that this has pushed up the costs of operations. Enditem

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