Last week and with the start of the new year the government unveiled what is termed as the first economic plan prepared with the help of the private sector. The ambitious plan hopes to raise the country’s exports revenue meager $1.8 billion last year, expected to top $2.5 billion this year to $10 billion in three years.
Problems and woes of Sudan economy are well known: low, weak production and growing consumption that led to deficits and inflation. Solutions have been debated for long and are well documented: increase productivity and exports, but in effect these solutions remained virtual general plans on papers without getting down into the real world of business.
All government plans to face up to the economic shock that followed the separation of South Sudan in 2011 came to nothing. That separation came with the tough economic loss of the main oil revenues. Neither the 3-year stabilization program, nor the 5-year one that followed were able to restrain the economic deterioration. The sticking problem it seems these were plans devised by the bureaucrats and in most cases at the expense of the producers.
The difference this time is that the private sector and out of its touch with reality and being in the field is coming out with detailed plans to increase production vertically and horizontally through improved seems, using machinery and technology in rain fed areas that constitute the bulk of arable land as they amount to 170 million feddans only 35 million have been utilized. The plan calls even for added value through manufacturing or agricultural industry.
The government on its part has committed itself to helping in policies and even for the $870 million earmarked for this year, which is the first leg of the program.
This ambitious plan is expected to be met with serious skepticism given the poor record of previous performances. The sporadic protests that erupted in Khartoum and Medani is a message in that direction and more important nobody looked at the recently announced budget as a first step in a reform program that will lead eventually to improved living conditions.
However, with the involvement of the private sector through timetables, specific assignments and a joint framework body involving both the government and the private sector for follow ups and review helped with a technical committee, such mechanism will succeed, hopefully, in keeping things on track.
On the positive side of the involvement of the private sector is the fact this private businesses have embarked on new development through what is called contractual agriculture where companies provide finance, extension and fertilizers against an agreed upon deal with the farmers who are to concentrate on production. Terms of such agreements vary from one company to another and experience is expanding covering areas in Gezira, Rahad, Northern Kordofan and others to the extent that the ministry of agriculture has started debating a draft law to regulate this form of business, which stepped in to fill the gap created by the inability of the government to carry on its usual role of providing finance, fertilizers etc.
More significant is the impressive results achieved by some companies in rain-fed areas like Gedaref and North Kordofan, where the application of new technology helped increase output several times. It has been announced that businessman Hisham Saleh Yacoub managed to increase groundnuts output in Eddeain area, which is a rain-fed to 700 kgm/feddans, that is almost equivalent to what is produced in irrigated land and that is against the typical 200 kgm/feddans produced in the rain-fed lands.
Highlighting such successful experiments is the best demonstration that something could be done and change for the better could be ensued. More important such improvement will benefit the producers in the rural areas and hopefully will eventually lead to restraining the influx into the cities.
For such approach to succeed it needs a sustained informative media campaign, not propaganda with clear political under-taking so as to enable people to look at these developments within the big picture and where it is leading.
It is an uphill battle that needs to be fought at all levels starting with the simple clear message that this year is the first leg into a long journey that needs all hands on board specially from those political parties representing in the government and the parliament.
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