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Only 4.5% of South Sudan’s land currently under cultivation

A satellite land cover survey by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has revealed that only 4.5% of South Sudan’s available land is currently under cultivation, highlighting the agricultural opportunities in the world’s newest country.

A southern Sudanese women working in the fields of a cooperative farming project.

A southern Sudanese women working in the fields of a cooperative farming project. Picture: ACT Alliance

On 9 July South Sudan gained independence after the region earlier in the year voted in favour of secession from the north. The referendum was a core component of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended decades of conflict between the Southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Khartoum government.

George Okech, head of the FAO in South Sudan, said in a statement that the region has an abundance of natural resources and that the agricultural sector holds great potential.

The civil war had an negative impact on agriculture. “There are cases where populations within a locality or within an area would cultivate and within no time, there would be conflict and they would run away and leave the crops behind, and all the crops would be destroyed,” Okech explained.

“The few places where there was some relative peace, people just . . . concentrated on cultivating within the homesteads. You can imagine that this was a very small area just surrounding the homestead, which was just barely enough eat. Maybe they could just afford to eat one meal a day,” he added.

Dr James Thubo Ayul, a professor in agricultural economics, last year wrote in an article for Pachodo.org, that even though South Sudan is currently a net importer of agricultural goods, the region has a good natural resource base for the production of a wide range of crops, forest trees, fisheries and livestock. He says opportunities exist for rain-fed mechanised schemes for grains and cash crops; irrigated farms for sugarcane, fruits and vegetables production and processing; dairy, pig and poultry farms; and financial services, to name a few.

South Sudan’s agriculture minister, Anne Itto, earlier in the month told reporters that the country wants to export cereals. She said the ministry of agriculture is planning to produce two million metric tonnes of cereals alone in three years time. “We only need 840,000 metric tonnes of cereal for ourselves. The rest needs to go somewhere,” she noted.

She added that other African countries should be able to import cereals from South Sudan, instead of Russia or the US.

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