Dongola, Northern State, (sudanow.info.sd) -- Agriculture in Northern State in general and the indigenization of wheat, in particular, on itsfertile soil and cold climate, are facing a major challenge which will hold them hostage, and perhaps might shape their near and far future, and could even have negative impact on the features of the economic and social development of most of the state's population, historically associated with land and farming.
A lot of traditional farmers, owners of small holdings (less than 20 acres), have failed to provide the necessary funds to prepare for the farming operations to plant wheat this winter, which should have started, as early as October. This situation a long with many other conditions represents strong signal of a possible disappearanceof traditional agriculture in favor of large and extensive farming investments unless the government intervenes and backs the small farmers.
Farmers in the region complain they have been for many years enduring harsh conditions to continue farming, especially wheat, but rise in the prices of production inputs has become far more greater a challenge than their affection to agriculture . They are of the view that the government should plan and provide a good support to agriculture in the state in a considerable level due to rising costs compared to the rest of the other states in the country.
Abdullah Mohammed Berm, a 92 year old farmer, standing in his home village of Mraqa Kaptod, locality of Dongola and who describes himself as the "oldest farmer in the entire region and still practicing farming,", said he has been working in farming, which he inherited from his predecessors since he was teenager and continues to tolerate it even now that he is very old.
He says that the (Feddan) acre was producing 35 sacks of wheat using conventional means, but this amount decreased until it reached five sacks only. He explains that agriculture became elusive for him following the rise prices of agricultural inputs and the lack of commitment in providing them in time and he is calling it as becoming “messy" or falling into disorder, chaotic and without sound foundations.
He adds that he no longer suffers from the cost of gasoline since relying on electricity instead of diesel, and its availability has reduced much of the cost of irrigation by more than 60%. But he still suffers from high cost of land preparation, fertilization, machines’ rent and seeds. Meanwhile he allocated areas for gardening as well as palm trees and cultivation of cereals, spices, fodder, saying that “the fodder brings many pennies."
Perm says that only a few days were left on the time of sowing seeds but he did not prepare his land and he is not able to find a tractor to plow the land because of its high cost and it is not always available. On the other hand tractors owners, including his children and grandchildren, prefer to hire them out to those who are looking for gold, easy living and rapid return.
According to Perm, the agricultural associations which used to extend help are no longer doing so efficiently, instead their management of the agricultural operations becomes poor with lack of commitment to the timetable for the operations of farming, making the farmer encounters inevitable loss in many cases. At the same time he asserted the need for support for agriculture in the Northern State.
Perm complained of neglect by the owners of agricultural holdings and their abandonment of agriculture together with poor management and lack of preparation and support of the state, which he called upon for follow-up and standing on the stages of preparation for the winter season. He cautioned that there is a move of wide range sale of land between farmers attributed to issues related to lack of experience and failure of repayment of the debt from the Agricultural Bank. He urged the government to intervene to protect the farmlands.
Wheat is a “Dervish” that gives high productivity
Farmer, Abdul Karim Mohammed Saleh of the Saadick village, locality of Dlqo told SudanNow that the federal government decided in the summer of 2010 to lift subsidies on gasoline, but promised that it will work immediately to provide electricity for agriculture for the farmers of the Northern State because they are most affected by this decision. However the power has not been received yet, he continues to buy a barrel of gasoline at 335 pounds, plus 46 pounds for lubricant. He added that large amounts are required to meet the costs of these inputs during the whole season, increasing the cost of production and makes it difficult to achieve any gain or profit from agriculture.
Abdul Karim cultivates about 100 acres and produces 30 sacks of wheat per acre if he succeeded to provide the inputs of production, and between 15-16 if not. The production may decline to only 9 sacks if he uses bad quality seeds or unsuitable machine for land preparation.
He says that according to their rich experience with wheat, the production yielded in the areas of Dongola, Mahass and Halfa can be improved enough that the Sudanese need of wheat can be met but they can also export.
He describes wheat, his predecessors did, as the “Dervish” plant that does not catch any diseases easily, even if subjected to harsh conditions, such as a dervish man, that gives abundant ouput just if is well treated. But the State government in the first place should support its cultivation if that is to happen, he said, adding that the establishment of sound structures for farming, land preparation, fertilization, provision of seeds, pests control and provision of the machineries, all on time is more than just a simple farmer could afford.
Secretary of the Finance at the Executive Office of the Federation of Northern Farmers, Abdel Shafi Khapir says that the reports that many farmers left their land in search of gold is not true, but because of state policies, corruption and the lack of accountability and justice.
He said that the principle of punishment and accountability is applied to all farmers in the case of non-payment of his debts, while a blind eye is given over incompetence in management. The Agricultural Renaissance (development), which if well done and followed-up could achieve the state's agricultural renaissance. According to Khapir, the Renaissance did not achieve the desired results because of mismanagement and poor experience in imports of agricultural machinery, noting that there are quantities of spoiled alfalfa seed entered the state twice and affected many farmers. To encourage them to cultivate once again they exempted from the repayment of debt for two years.
He said that most of the agricultural projects of Halfa and Dlqo are not engaged in agriculture due to its high costandthe lack of electricity. 20% of the area of ??land south Halfa, are fertile basin areas that produce almost 45 sacks of wheat per acre, but it is rugged and remote areas, that demand hard work and employment of a number of farmers.
He adds, "If we want to correct this situation and revive the glory, the State must bear a portion of the cost and support the gasoline and accelerate electrify supply to projects, and the companies should not deal in a manner to reap money only. The government must examine and verify reasons pushing the farmer to leave his land, for example, the farmer bears the tractor cost of preparation the land calculated at 40 pounds per hour, the cost of gasoline at 360 pounds, pesticides at 150 pounds in addition to the cost of seeds and other inputs of production, which is borrowed from the Agricultural Bank either too untimely or failing to repay later. “The government, when the funds have been available, thanks to the oil, did not develop agriculture as a priority for funding and as a result of previous such non-favorable policies, farmers in the State abandoned agriculture", he said
Growing agricultural investment
The Governor of the Northern State, Fathi Khalil says that the traditional agriculture, which citizens of the state used to, is no longer rewarding them and they are keen only about their historical association with it.
He adds that the state is seeking to expand in agriculture, especially wheat in investment projects of large areas that follows the Nile.
“The Northern State is the first state that has developed a state-map of investment for proposed agricultural and agro-base manufacturing projects which also include investments in all areas, to ensure the exploitation of resources for the benefit of its citizens” Khalil said. He adds “The State’s Investment Act is better than the federal law itself, in order to attract investments to the state.”
According to the Governor, the state has succeeded in its quest and entered into several agreements to invest in the cultivation of wheat, fodder, besides investments in mining and others, the most important of which is the establishment of the first factory for modern irrigation systems in the Sudan, the first of its kind in the Arab and the Middle East region.
The Commissioner of Dongola Locality Dr. Fateh Hussein, on his part stressed that agriculture is a basic investment and a strong pillar of the economy in the State, where it has all the components of experience, water, land, climate which is favorable for sorts of winter and summer crops alike. "It can be sufficient for the needs of Sudan not only from wheat, but also from most other agricultural commodities especially horticultural and medicinal and aromatic plants."
According to statistics cited by the Commissioner, the Northern State is cultivating now about 375 thousand acres only, while enjoying some 4 million acres of arable land, mostly in the territory of higher terraces or remote lands off the Nile and all are very fertile lands, which could be exploited in large agricultural projects especially for wheat cultivation where one (feddan) acre produced a yield of 40 sacks in the central irrigation projects that use an integrated system of agricultural mechanization that made a big difference in the quantities produced.
He stated that the Northern State, particularly the locality of Dongola, has completed all necessary basic structures associated with investing in agriculture, which is essential to attract local and foreign investors who wish to market their products both internally and externally. There is a network of paved roads linking yhe Northern State with Khartoum and from there to the rest of the states in the country and another route linking it to Port Sudan and also there is a continental high way, up to the city of Halfa, linking it to the Republic of Egypt, which is expected to be opened soon for international traffic. In addition to the construction of a number of bridges connecting the east and west banks of the Nile, there is also an integrated network of communications and power supply which was completed by 90% for to the residential sector and 80% for the major agricultural projects of more than 20 thousand (feddans) acres.