By: Alsir Sidahmed
In the midst of an economic and political crisis that is engulfing the country a ray of hope is penetrating the dark clouds, yet posing at the same time a new challenge for the government and the country as a whole.
Cotton production this year in Gezira scheme is breaking new grounds in various fronts. Thanks to the application of new technology to produce genetically engineered cotton. Planting only 115,000 feddans, farmers are expecting a bumper output of more than one million quntars in only three and half months, according to columnist and TV presenter Dr. Abdelatif El-Bony, who is following closely what is going in the agricultural sector. In the old days of the Gezira scheme in its heydays it used to produce the same amount out of a planted area averaging 500,000 feddans with a cultivation season of eight months.
But more significant is that all this achievement was carried out without any intervention from the government side. Following changes taking place in the Gezira scheme, farmers are free to produce whatever crops they want to produce. Moreover, the farmers took the burden of financing and administering their activities to produce cotton and other crops through self-finance, or in a form contractual agriculture with some private companies. Moreover, they paid the government coffers for the use of water and other dues.
Such move knocks down a long tradition of having a huge administrative machinery, in addition to mounting debts suffered by the farmers, who were forced to plant cotton. In later years the government used to write off debts so as to encourage farmers to produce cotton again and again. After all cotton used to be country’s main export and its source for generating hard currency.
However, this breakthrough was not met by a welcome from the government in terms of policies to tackle any problems facing the farmers. The main fear is that the newly imposed monetary policy to restrict and regulate the liquidity in the market is posing a threat that it will end up having a negative impact on the whole atmosphere. And the question is whether the new monetary policy will lead to Sudan missing the boat of exporting this bumper cotton production at the time the world market is opening up for more supply.
If the best way to tackle the depreciation of the national currency is through increasing production and exports, cotton production this year and a host of other winter crops are doing exactly that, yet they are faced with unexpected obstacle of liquidity scarcity.
After years of neglect and even dismantling the Gezira scheme in a haphazard way that even failed to maintain its assets, farmers and out of trial and error were venturing into new experiments to secure finance either out of their own resources or through contractual deals or resorting to the Agricultural Bank finance in addition to how to manage water flow, which is a headache on its own.
There is a growing trend to allow more room for private initiative be it through individuals or companies. That is fine as far as it relieves the government from the role it failed to perform, namely providing finance and management. The key in this case is the freedom the farmers have to plant what they want and cutting on layers of unproductive administrators.
Yet the government still has a role it can and should play. Putting out policies after consultations with farmers and then ensure forcing implementation. A case in a point is the contractual agriculture. Because it sprang out of necessity and it varies from one group to another terms of these contracts differ greatly as they depend on the strength of each party at the time.
The ministry of agriculture has announced that it is working on a framework agreement that could be a model to be followed by farmers before they commit themselves to new contracts.
In fact that seems to be a realistic approach to follow in general terms. To allow the private sector to take the initiative and reduce the role of government as much as possible. True the private sector is driven by the goal to achieve profit. No harm. But it is the role of government to make sure that it ensures that whatever profit is gained is being taxed and more important that taxation is used rationally for the sake of the society.
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