South Sudan, one of the world’s most food insecure states, hopes to become self-sufficient in food in three years and become an exporter by 2024, according to its agriculture minister.
“If there is peace, with the rate of people going for farming, and the rate of people being trained in modern farming, we think that after two or three years we will be self sufficient and in another five years we will be exporting.”
South Sudan, the world’s youngest country after it gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, is one of the most food insecure places on earth. Around 6.1 million or 60 per cent of the population suffers from extreme hunger, according to Unicef. Conflict and a lean growing season have pushed the country to catastrophic levels of food insecurity, with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation noting the country now requires $75 million to meet its food requirements.
South Sudan’s agriculture minister agreed the situation in the country was “very dire” but not to the extent of famine.
“It is in the stage of major food crisis, but also threat of hunger this year [because of] lack of rain last year,” said Mr Nyikwec.
He also cited pest infestations, particularly the fall army worm, which infected crops across South Sudan in 2017. The FAO developed a $26m five-year plan last year to tackle the problem.
“It destroyed part of the agriculture sector, maize, in most of the parts of the country,” said Mr Nyikwec.
An additional pressure on the country’s food resources is the return of refugees to South Sudan following the peace deal signed between rival factions last year after five years of civil war.
“So there’s been an increase in food demand. In some areas 30,000, in some areas 50,000 [people have returned],” observed the minister.
Around 400,000 people were killed in the war, which has also displaced 4.4 million since 2013.
The country, which already benefits from commitments from the FAO, now plans to invite foreign investment to commercialise its agriculture sector to realise its self-sufficiency and export ambitions.
“What we need are investors who come and invest and also look into capacity building,” said Mr Nyikwec.
South Sudan would target the cultivation of sunflower and groundnuts as well as the cereal crop sorghum.
Japan, Israel and Sudan are interested in the country’s production of sesame, noted the minister.
“Even with sorghum, not all countries [require] sorghum for food. Mostly the Arab nations need it as animal feed. So we can export it to them,” said the minister.
“We are encouraging cultivation of tea and coffee, even cotton,” he added.
South Sudan’s six ecological zones would provide ample opportunity to cultivate coffee, maize and cassava and the country aims to distinguish itself by growing only organic produce.
“If you compare Ethiopia with South Sudan, our land is more fertile. We don’t use fertilisers, we do organic farming. The world now needs organic vegetables, so we’ll be attracting good investors,” said Mr Nyikwec.
South Sudan, through which three-quarters of the River Nile and its tributaries flow, lacks adequate irrigation systems to water its crops. Much of the existing facilities were destroyed during the devastating civil war and the country now looks to push for investment to support its agriculture sector.
“We had irrigation systems in the northern part but it got destroyed during the war and now we’re trying to revive them and we are trying to plant,” said the minister.