South Sudan Seeks Unlikely Economic Salvation With Farming

South Sudan Seeks Unlikely Economic Salvation With Farming
  • Agriculture minister says new crops could make up for oil fall
  • Ongoing violence in areas of country casts doubt on proposals

South Sudan, ravaged by three years of conflict and impending famine, said it’s seeking investors for agricultural land in a bid to offset a fall in oil revenue that’s spurred an economic crisis.

The government is assigning more than 50,000 feddans (about 51,900 acres) in each of the East African country’s 32 states for investors to grow crops that are in demand in local and export markets, acting Agriculture Minister Kornelio Kon Ngu said in an interview. Selling cash crops such as sesame, sunflower seeds and corn as well as regulating exports of gum Arabic and honey could bring in foreign currency, he said.

“It is better for us to do this agriculture and not depend on oil,” Ngu said Tuesday in the capital, Juba. He didn’t say who’s expected to invest in the land, which would include acreage in several states still roiled by violence, nor what the government would charge for its use.

The civil war that began in December 2013 has claimed tens of thousands of lives, forced more than 3 million people from their homes and slashed oil production by at least a third to about 130,000 barrels a day. Combined with a drop in prices, that’s cut government revenue, which is almost entirely reliant on the fuel. Authorities say security is being boosted at oil installations to restore daily output to about 300,000 barrels.

Farming Dependent

As much as 95 percent of South Sudan’s about 12 million population depends on farming or fishing, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. In November, the agency warned of the rising risk of famine in 2017, fueled by renewed fighting.

Persistent violence in South Sudan will make the agricultural sector a tough sell, according to Laura Hyde, an Africa country risk analyst with London-based BMI Research.

While South Sudan has “huge amounts of arable land” and there’s significant agricultural potential, “the unattractive security environment and poor infrastructure would discourage most investors, and there is little fiscal space for such developments to be led by the government,” she said by e-mail.

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