Sud Soudan : The soil not the oil
“South Sudan has virgin land. Yet we import most of our food from neighbouring countries,” South Sudan’s finance minister, David Deng Athorbei, complained. South Sudan has ignored agriculture since it achieved its independence in July 2011. Up to 75 per cent of the country’s land area is suitable for farming. During the first two years of independence, the country was producing nearly 245,000 barrels of crude oil per day, raking in billions of dollars in revenue annually. As a result, the elite saw no value in labour-intensive activity like farming. “The business of trade is over. We now need to embark on the business of production. We have to change our ways of doing business. Let’s start with agriculture,” Athorbei advised.
Before the fall of oil prices below $30 a barrel in the international market, oil-rich South Sudan used to import virtually all of its basic requirements from overseas. Chicken came from Brazil. Tomatoes, onions, maize flour, cooking oil, dairy products and beans are still being imported from neighbouring Uganda. China and Dubai export a variety of goods such as soft drinks, smart phones as well as construction materials. In South Sudan prices have continued to spiral beyond the reach of the poor. The crisis has prompted parliament to urge government to reduce inflation to mitigate the sufferings of ordinary persons.
Every year, South Sudan spends between US$200-300 million on food imports, according to estimates for 2013 provided by the Abidjan-based African Development Bank (AFDB). “South Sudan currently imports as much as 50 per cent of its needs, including 40 per cent of its cereals from neighbouring countries, particularly Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia”, according to AFDB.
Campaigners are now focusing on food production to mitigate the impact of a devastating civil war. South Sudan has vast fertile lands, abundant water and climate suitable for production of wide variety of food and cash crops. Experts estimate that up to 300,000 metric tonnes of fish could be harvested on a sustainable basis from its share at the River Nile swamps and tributaries. What food South Sudan produces often is left rotting in the bush due to poor road network to transport the commodities to the market.
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