Exploring southern Sudan’s potential for agribusiness

Southern Sudan’s agriculture sector holds good potential for investment across the value chain.

Southern Sudan's agriculture sector presents both potential and great challenges for prospective business people and investors. Photo: Oxfam

Southern Sudan's agriculture sector presents both potential and great challenges for prospective business people and investors. Photo: Oxfam

The region, with a population of 8.26 million, recently voted in favour of independence in a referendum that was part of a deal to end decades of conflict between north and south, driven by religious and ethnic divides.

“Southern Sudan’s agricultural sector is . . . a nearly limitless asset waiting to be acknowledged. It is absolutely underserved in every sense of the term and has an unfathomable depth for expansion,” says David Raad, a consultant who helps companies invest in the region.

According to UK non-governmental organisation FARM-Africa, southern Sudan has a vast natural resource base and huge agricultural potential, with more than 90% of the land being suitable for farming. The civil war has, however, had a devastating effect leaving much of the south of the country with little discernible infrastructure and a lack of social services.

Denise Melvin writes on the FAO’s website that “southern Sudan is blessed with ample land, a good water supply, and a generally favourable climate for agriculture.”

In an article for Pachodo.org, Dr James Thubo Ayul, a professor in agricultural economics, notes that although southern 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 banking and financial services, to name a few.

Despite the possibilities, he says that significant challenges remain. These include inadequate financial services; poor rural infrastructure that hampers access to markets; weak agricultural and livestock research and extension services; lack of control to pests and diseases of both crops and livestock; and a shortage of skilled labour.

Raad explains there are opportunities across the value chain. “I like to tell my more strategic-thinking investors [southern Sudan] is the place for entire business industries to be set up. For example, when investors talk about mechanised farming, I try to explain the unmet needs for not just production of every type of agricultural good, but also the inefficiencies in the rest of the industry. That means that there are opportunities in transportation, storage, processing, marketing, retailing, etc.; the list is as long as the value chain.”

According to Raad, southern Sudan has virtually no agricultural processing facilities such as flour mills and dairy plants. “Imagine the investor that can see and shape the entire process of their product getting to consumers; it can be almost limitless and massively lucrative. We haven’t seen this type of opportunity in 30 or so years in the region and we may not see it again elsewhere.”