Fighting in Sudan leaves farmers struggling to get crops planted

A war between military factions in Sudan is putting at risk the production of staple crops this year, farmers in several states say, threatening to drive the African nation deeper into hunger and poverty.

Reuters spoke to more than a dozen people including farmers, experts, and aid workers who reported delays in planting crops such as sorghum and millet, partly due to a lack of credit from banks and the high prices of key inputs such as fertiliser, seeds, and fuel.

Four of the farmers Reuters spoke to said they may not be able to plant at all before heavy rains expected this month, the traditional window for planting.

The worsening conditions for farmers suggest a looming hunger crisis could be even worse than the UN and aid workers have forecast.

In May, the United Nations said it estimated that the number of people going hungry in Sudan would rise to 19.1 million by August from 16.2 million prior to the conflict, which started in April.

Shortages of key staples — exacerbated by the looting of warehouses in cities like the capital Khartoum — would further worsen a hunger crisis that has been steadily building in recent years.

It could also cripple livelihoods and deprive Sudan of foreign currency needed to import basic commodities, as cash crops such as sesame and peanuts accounted for $1.6 billion in export revenues in 2022, according to central bank figures.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), nearly 65% of Sudan’s population of 49 million is engaged in the agricultural sector.

While U.N. experts say it’s too early to officially declare a famine in Sudan, four farmers told Reuters they believe the situation is already heading in that direction.

“Peanuts should have been sowed. People should have started to grow sorghum. Until now, our preparation is zero,” said Abdelraouf Omer, a farmer and union leader in Al Gezira state, a key agricultural region in central Sudan that hasn’t seen fighting. “We think we’re threatened with a famine.”

FAO said last week it had started emergency distribution of sorghum, millet, groundnut, and sesame seeds, and hoped to navigate “complex security and logistical challenges” to deliver enough to cover the needs of 13-19 million people.

The U.N. World Food Program said it would continue to analyse the situation over the next six months and after the planting and harvest season.

Omer said he feared it might now be too late to plant, a view echoed by three other farmers.

Although fighting had not directly affected their farms, a central problem was a lack of financing and unfulfilled promises for credit or in-kind support from banks, Omer added.

As fighting between Sudan’s army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a large paramilitary faction, that broke out on April 15 tore through the capital Khartoum, banks were looted and had to limit operations.

Though most agricultural areas of Sudan are relatively calm, supply chains centred on the capital have been widely disrupted.

Some warehouses for inputs such as fertilizers, seeds, and pesticides have been plundered, according to eyewitnesses.

In El Gezira, farmers have been struggling financially for years as Sudan has sunk deeper into an economic crisis.

They now face challenges paying back loans in order to get new funding, said farming cooperative leader Mohamed Balla, adding that just a small proportion of land had been prepared for planting.

(NAN)

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