Sudan’s farmers worried over late rainy season

Late rainfall has Sudanese farmers fearing for their crops – and their finances.

Agriculture in Sudan
Summer rains in Sudan are estimated to have declined by up to 20 percent since the mid 1970s. [Ahmed Saeed/Al Jazeera]

Khartoum, Sudan – It was early June in Sudan’s Gadarif state, and Abd Alghani Abd Albagi was contemplating his options for the imminent rainy season. He needed to rent a tractor and buy diesel – a lot of diesel – because his vast lands stretch across roughly 105 hectares.

“At the time, my worries were finding a tractor to rent before they were all taken and where to get the money, and whether my produce would turn a good profit,” said Abd Albagi, who mainly grows sorghum, sesame, sunflowers and peanuts.

Although Sudan is home to the Gezira Scheme, one of the largest irrigated agricultural projects in the world, several regions of the country are dependent on rainfall for farming.

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In Gadarif, agriculture depends on the rainfall, which usually starts in early June. After the few first days of rain, the land is prepared by tractors. Then, by mid-June, seeds are sowed.

But now, Abd Albagi is very worried. Rainfall has been delayed and is still scarce at a time when, in past years, it would have been abundant.

Though yearly statistics are unavailable from local authorities, the US Agency for International Development estimates that summer rains in Sudan have declined by up to 20 percent since the mid 1970s. 

“This is a catastrophe,” said Ghareeg Kambal, deputy head of the Sudanese Farmers’ Union, which is scattered across the country with different state bodies.

Any attempt to try and get the farmers to catch up when the rain finally starts falling is an exercise in futility.

by Ghareeg Kambal, Sudanese Farmers' Union

The director of Sudan’s Khartoum-based Farmers’ Bank said at a recent press conference that the bank had created a scheme to finance the agricultural season by directing seeds and loans to target areas.

Yet, Kambal predicts that produce will suffer from this season’s late start – and, consequently, so will Sudan’s farmers.

“It is a real crisis which we must deal with realistically,” he told Al Jazeera. “Small farmers will not able take part in production, especially those with small plots of land. And those farmers represent a large number of farmers active in rain-based agriculture – especially the growers of food oil seeds such as sesame, peanuts and sunflower.”

The Sudanese parliament is also concerned and has called for measures to address the late rainfall and its effects on produce and farmers.

But Baha Aldin Khamis, the undersecretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, told local media late last month that there is no cause for alarm, as the government has been preparing farmers to make the most of their crops when rain resumes.

“The irrigated agriculture sector in Sudan represents a safety net for the country, and we have made arrangements to increase production vertically and horizontally, especially with regards to food oil seeds,” Khamis said, also attributing the season’s late start to climate change.

“Using these alternatives, and in addition to the strategic reserve from last year, we will hit the necessary production threshold and safeguard food security,” he said.

He also added that the ministry expected rainfall to resume at higher rates throughout the country. But Abd Albagi believes that the amount, no matter how much, will not be enough to make up for the delay.

“Most of the time, it does not matter if the rain is heavy at a later time than usual,” he explained. “The crops need water at the same time each year.”

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Many farmers are also concerned about loans they took out prior to harvest time. Abd Albagi says he borrowed almost $2,000 to prepare his land for the rainy season, but he worries that even if the rain resumes, he will struggle to succeed this season.

Kambal also remained pessimistic, noting: “Any attempt to try and get the farmers to catch up when the rain finally starts falling is an exercise in futility.”

On the western edge of White Nile state, farmer Nasr Aldin Ahmed also expressed concern. Although his family did not borrow money to grow crops, they reached deep into their savings to prepare the land for the rainy season.

If it does not rain enough soon, we will lose the savings we used up, and we won't have any produce to show for it.

by Nasr Aldin Ahmed, White Nile farmer

“If it does not rain enough soon, we will lose the savings we used up, and we won’t have any produce to show for it,” he told Al Jazeera.

“We are also worried we might have to buy sorghum so as to make our own meals, instead of having enough from our own produce from the current agricultural season,” Ahmed added.

Although city dwellers in Sudan usually rely on a wheat-based diet, much of the rural population still depends on sorghum.

Sudan-based agricultural expert, Izzat Izz Aldin, said the entire region has been affected by the late rain. If the rainy season’s late arrival becomes a recurring pattern – which he believes is likely – then several measures must be taken, Aldin said.

“The crop formula must be changed. Sorghum and sesame require certain conditions. If the fall season continues to be late, then, for example, a shift towards growing more wheat must be discussed and applied,” he told Al Jazeera.

“It is particularly important, since the rain-fed agricultural sector represents the bigger part of farmed land in the country.”

Source: Al Jazeera