South Sudan in new push to tap its massive farm potential

By Seth Onyango, bird story agency

South Sudan is adopting new economic policies intended to shore up the nation’s agriculture output as it seeks to slash its reliance on oil revenues.

South Sudan is looking to increase its share of agriculture exports with its latest Fruits and Vegetables Sector Strategy, designed to replenish its food basket and create jobs.

The strategy was developed with technical assistance from the International Trade Centre (ITC) as part of the East African state’s wider Jobs Creation and Trade Development Project.

It is expected to help unlock employment opportunities for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the fruits and vegetable value chains.

More than 90% of South Sudan’s land is arable. It also has untapped water resources and large stocks of cattle and fisheries. In addition, the South Upper Nile region is one of Africa’s most fertile areas.

Despite 50% of its arable land mass being prime agricultural land, however, only 4% is cultivated – either continuously or periodically. The very low ratio of cultivated to total land compares with 28% in Kenya and 8% in Uganda.

Most of this land use in South Sudan is accounted for by smallholder subsistence farmers that, in the absence of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, practice some form of shifting cultivation.

The fruits and vegetable strategy if implemented is, therefore, expected to inject dynamism into the country’s agriculture sector.

According to the ITC, the goal is to ultimately foster vibrant, resilient and sustainable food systems, inclusive growth, and job creation.

The Fruits and Vegetables Strategy is a five-year roadmap that addresses the sector’s constraints and defines opportunities through a detailed plan of action.

“This strategy provides a clear market-oriented vision, a framework for collaborative action and pragmatic and realistic recommendations. But it is only the first step: a good strategy is one that gets implemented and generates results,” said Darius Kurek, senior officer for export strategy at the ITC.

By implementing the strategy South Sudan will be indirectly tapping into the growing demand for fruits and vegetables from Africa’s burgeoning health-conscious middle class.

Globally, ITC figures show the production of fruits and vegetables has increased consistently over the last few years to cater to the growing world demand.

In 2020, the worldwide production of fruits was estimated at approximately 887 million tonnes, while the production of vegetables was estimated at approximately 1.14 billion tonnes.

With South Sudan’s conducive climatic and soil conditions for fruit and vegetable cultivation, the sector has potential for development, offering market opportunities in the region and globally, especially for women and youth who are forced to move to urban areas in search of jobs.

But, South Sudan will have to feed its citizenry before it feeds the world as the former are still reeling from the effects of its turbulent political past.

It will need to also invest in infrastructure to facilitate the transportation of food products.

It currently has an estimated road network of about 17,000 km, of which only about 4,000 km are all-weather roads and thus faces a huge infrastructure deficit.

In 2012, it received a US$38 million World Bank grant to help rehabilitate feeder roads and increase access to rural communities in high agricultural potential areas.

It, therefore, needs to accelerate infrastructure investments and link the economy with more established regional peers like Kenya and its Mombasa port for future agriculture exports.

/bird story agency