Al-Laota, Sudan: No one would have guessed from the sacks of wheat kept in the tiny house of Emad Abdullah that Sudan’s food security is hanging by a thread after an October coup and Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
But the wheat farmer fears the grain will soon rot, as his country’s cash-strapped government backtracked on a promise to buy it at incentive prices.
“It’s been two months since the wheat was harvested and I can no longer store it at home,” Abdullah said, pointing to a large sack full of cooked wheat at his small home in Al-Laota in Gezira state. South of the capital of Sudan.
He is one of thousands of farmers who have cultivated grain as part of Sudan’s largest agricultural scheme, Al-Geezira.
When Abdullah harvested in March, he was promised 43,000 Sudanese pounds ($75) per sack – a price set by the government to encourage farmers to cultivate the grain.
“We used to sell our entire crop to the government. We never had to bring it home. We also don’t have enough storage space. ,
Sudanese officials, however, have announced in recent weeks that they will not be able to buy the entire crop this season due to a lack of funds.
Poor Sudan has been battling a severe economic crisis for years, which deepened after last year’s military coup, forcing Western governments to cut critical aid.
By September, more than 18 million people, nearly half the Sudanese population, are expected to be pushed into extreme hunger, according to UN estimates.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both major grain suppliers, threatens to ease Sudan’s current food security problems.
According to a 2021 UN report, wheat imports from the two countries account for between 70 and 80 percent of Sudan’s local market needs.
Last month, dozens of wheat farmers in the northern state of Sudan protested outside an agricultural bank after they refused to harvest their crops.
Farmer Modavi Ahmed said, “This season I cultivated 16 acres of wheat, which filled a total of 12 tonnes of wheat in 120 sacks.”
He said the bank had only agreed to buy less than half of his crop, and now he fears the rest of the crop would be ruined.
Farmers working in the fields as part of the Al-Geezira plan have over the years contributed only a small part of Sudan’s annual wheat need of 2.2 million tonnes.
This year, local wheat production was estimated to meet only a quarter of the country’s needs, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The finance ministry said earlier this month that it was committed to building strategic wheat reserves of up to 300,000 tonnes.
But the government “has no money to buy the crop,” said an official from Sudan’s Agricultural Bank, which buys wheat from farmers.
“We have sought funds from the finance ministry and the central bank but we did not get any response,” the official said.
An official from Sudan’s Ministry of Finance confirmed the lack of funds.
According to agriculture expert Abdulkarim Umar, properly stored wheat with controlled temperature and humidity levels can last up to a year and a half.
But it “can deteriorate within three months” in insufficient storage, he said.
According to Omar Marzouk, governor of the Al-Gezira plan, traders have offered to buy farmers’ wheat, but at very low prices that barely cover the cost of production.
As a result, he predicted that “farmers would elect against grain cultivation in the next season.”