Thinking Big, Behaving Bold12 April, 2020
One of the emerging results of the current Coronavirus is its stimulation of nationalistic feelings and policies. Though the virus by its very nature cuts across borders, but a growing list of countries are adopting measures to safe guard their narrow interests to the extent of revitalizing regulations banning exporting of some materials because they are needed at home. As a result the idea of self-sufficiency and domestic productions got a shot in the arm to avoid being prey at others’ mercy especially in the area of medical supplies, every country got into hasty programs to boost their internal output.
Sudan should not miss the boat and needs to utilize the new change of mood into the international relations for a radical and aggressive change in handling its own domestic affairs.
Luckily enough an opportunity is emerging with the current wheat season. Thanks to the good weather where spate of cold winds took longer time blowing through wheat plantation that eventually helped in overcoming some of the obstacles that have otherwise hampered the season.
The forecast looks promising to the extent that the Minister of Agriculture Essa Osman expects that this year wheat season can cover 5 months of the country’s consumption, which amounts roughly to producing 1.2 million tons. And by adopting some measures like mixing wheat with sorghum flour, which is technically possible can help increase flour availability to meet a good percentage of the domestic needs. Research and experiments have been going on for decades in this field and it is time to work towards implementation. But that will happen only when the government decides not to import any wheat from abroad, which requires a political will.
The history of wheat imports shows clearly the need to review and change this course. It has jumped from 99 metric tons in 1960 to 2222 in 2018 with a drop of 13.8 percent from the previous year when imports totalled 2580 tons. Wheat imports crossed the 1000 tons thresholds in 2004 by importing 1522 tons, a jump of 52.9 percent from the previous year.
Production on the other hand was mere 25 tons in 1960 growing gradually to 500 tons in 1990 peaking to 875 tons in 1992, then start to deteriorate and fluctuate going as low as 170 tons in 1999, then improved registering 600 tons last year and 595 tons in 2018, which makes total consumption 2.8 million tons.
However, to realize such promising forecast some logistical problems related to providing machinery, sacks and finance needs to be met heads on at the highest executive and political level possible to send a message of seriousness; in addition of course to the thorny and chronic subsidy issue.
Subsidizing wheat has helped in accelerating its consumption specially into ever expanding rural areas at the expense of traditional cereals and into making pastries instead of bread. Equally some wheat is being smuggled to neighboring countries. Lifting subsidies on wheat has been in the center of political discussion all time along and it has proved to be a dividing issue between Minister of Finance and the Forces of Freedom and Change, who represent the political body supporting the government.
Though the issue of lifting wheat subsidy is being seen as a hot potato that nobody wants to handle it, but it is high time to take a decision within a greater plan that have a big picture and able to make the necessary bold moves to make its vision a reality.
A breakthrough in this area will provide the much needed incentive to venture into a new attempt to revive the old dream of making the country bread basket for the Arab world. It has been more than four decades since that phrase was coined. Though it has a dismal record due to various reasons, but the fact that Kenana Sugar Company, created out of Arab investments, continue to operate and sustaining its success shows a living example that the possibility is there.
Moreover, the Coronavirus has highlighted yet again the need to secure food and other necessities. Already a number of Gulf countries have embarked on attempts to rent lands in some countries including Sudan. These deals need to be reviewed and be based on a strong, transparent grounds to re-start a new drive to feed the country’s people and nearby Arabs.
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