Reweaving the nation’s breadbasket

H.E. Prof Ibrahim Adam Ahmed al-Dukheri (IA), Sudan’s Minister of Agriculture, talks to us about the need to modernise the country’s advantageous variety of farming systems and to address water-harvesting losses, in order to capitalise on Sudan’s sprawling landmass and the Nile’s generous gift of water within it




LE: By 2050, the world will have an estimated total population of 90 billion and will need some 70% more food. In light of this, can you speak about the importance of Sudan as the breadbasket of the world?

IA: Sudan was identified a long time ago as a breadbasket; some say the breadbasket of the Arab world, others say of the entire world. Sudan is a resourceful country. We have more than 200 million feddans of arable land – in hectares, just over 150 million. We have every climate suitable for all types of crop: temperate crops can be grown in the north, and tropical crops in the south. In terms of natural resources Sudan just can’t be beaten.
Even after the secession of South Sudan, we are still the third-largest country on the African continent. There is enough land, and we are also blessed with a great water reserve thanks to the River Nile; it holds about 18.5 cubic meters of water and to add to that we have an annual 200 million cubic meters of rainfall able to be collected and utilised.
Since farming is the main livelihood source for 80% of Sudanese people, we have great knowledge and experience in agriculture. That experience can be shared and built on. Although we are a scarcely populated nation, you find people everywhere in the country, and that has resulted in many different farming systems. We have the beginnings of viable farming systems that could produce food not only for the nation but also for the region and even the world. All this is yet to be unfolded and explored. We are a breadbasket, yes, but  a lot needs to be done to uncover all this potential and uncover the possibilities of Sudan.

LE: Where can Foreign Direct Investors join the agriculture sector, in increasing its success?

IA: The Ministry of Investment is in charge of regulating investment in Sudan. There is a Higher Council of Investment chaired by the President, the focus and objective of which is to facilitate investment in all sectors of the Sudanese economy, where the leading sector is agriculture. The Ministry plays a vital role in providing necessary information about the potential in our sector and in facilitating some of the engagements of the investors coming to Sudan. I would say we have recently fulfilled the five-year development programme 2015-2020, which had investment as a major component. That plan was actually meant to bring about a real transformation in the agriculture sector, the backbone of which is the private sector.
The government is involved less and less in the production processes, which opens up space for the private sector and for lots of PPP. Our ministry plays an important role, however, in advocating ways and means by which that potential can be discovered. In fact we facilitate some of the problems and constraints that may be faced by investors when they come here. We are also in the process of developing an electronic-based information system relating to investment; investors always need information.
Sudan’s investment opportunities in the agricultural sector are too great to be crafted in a single document or told in one story. I would advise investors to come to find out about the country. It doesn’t take much to come to a very safe country like Sudan. If investors spend a couple of days here, we will talk freely to them all and supply all the information that we have; but they will themselves discover a lot more than what we can say

LE: What would be your dream agriculture investment project?

IA: A complete transformation in the sector. Or rather, given all of Sudan’s different farming systems, my hope and dream as a minister is to see those systems working at maximum levels of efficiency. We currently have the traditional rain-fed farming system, we have the semi-mechanised rain-fed system, and the irrigated system with its four big projects: the Gazira scheme, the Rahida Scheme, the Halifa scheme and the Sooki scheme. I want to see those systems transformed into modern and viable agricultural systems that can respond to the needs of the country, the region and the entire world.  There are also other schemes using some 4 million feddans of land (a little over 3 million hectares), which are now facing some institutional problems. Once we solve the issues at play, that land can be added to the production process of the central part of the country, which is the irrigated sector.

LE: What type of technologies are you looking for in order to affect that transformation and to improve efficiency?

IA: For one, the losses we endure in the production process and our harvest losses need to be addressed by modern technology; we need to explore storage systems and harvesting techniques. We have high losses in the rain-fed and the semi-mechanised rain-fed sectors caused in part by an erratic rainfall pattern, which sometimes starts early and sometimes late. There are water-harvesting technologies that have proven to be very efficient and to double productivity. We really need to stabilise productivity, as it is an essential element if we want to engage in international markets; there can be no breaks in the supply system.
We are privileged to have water-harvesting techniques in a place with 200 billion cubic meters of water, some of which is always lost along the streams. Capturing that loss would be a capital investment and would enable us to sweep across the country, from east to west, so that the entire landmass becomes viable land for all kinds of different crops.

LE: Is Sudan’s agricultural sector the best sector for outside investors to take an interest in?

IA: While the driving sector in Sudan is likely to remain agricultural, a lot of noise can be made about the service sector, which is still virgin, and the industrial sector — specifically agro-processing. Most of our exports come from raw materials, so investors have a chance to come and invest in these but this time further along the value chain, discovering the potential of agro-processing and of shipping finished products. This would benefit the economy, and would also be positive for bilateral trade with different countries. We must keep in mind that there’s a lot to say about the production sector, but let’s not forget the industrial and the services sectors too. In the end, all the sectors are linked.