In the centre of Khartoum State, tourists flock to Tuti Island, known for its sandy beaches, natural landscapes, and impressive sunrises. However, despite its idyllic location, its fertile lands and an endless supply of water, many farmers on the island are struggling to survive. Lacking knowledge of modern techniques while facing governmental neglect and a temperamental river, the odds are stacked against the less fortunate who try to cultivate crops on the island.
“We still do traditional farming, same as always, and no experts or representatives from the ministry of agriculture come to direct us. We want to learn new ways of cultivation, what type of crops are best for our land and other information that could help us maximise our production,” says Mahmoud Yasin, an old farmer living and working on the Tuti Island.
Another farmer, Elhadi Abdul Wahab, says that he has cultivated the same crops every season for years with very little profit. “We have many questions that remained unanswered, like the late timing of the rains, the huge amount of sand that came with the floods, and the unexpectedly low production. No official addressed those issues.”
Agricultural engineer Abeer Ali also pointed the finger at the government. “The governmental entity responsible is Agricultural Guidance, but they are not doing their job. They don’t even keep up with the latest agricultural tech. Only the big-scale private sector projects are using modern technology, starting from choosing the right type of crops to the methods of irrigation and cultivation.”
On Tuti, a model needs to be implemented.”
“On Tuti, production is very low. They face many challenges starting from preparing the soil. Farmers don’t examine the soil of their farms. In Khartoum State alone, various soil types have different properties, some with higher salt levels than others. And farmers should do these tests to determine what type of crops to cultivate,” she explains. The Ministry of Agriculture does have a soil samples database, yet it has remained outdated for decades, and it is expensive for farmers to do the testing. Private sector investors are the only ones that do this, for both the soil and the irrigation water. In addition, the types of seeds available are not the best, outdated and in poor shape.
Ali says that modern cultivation methods are essential, from preparing the soil to the irrigation method. “It’s possible for small farmers to develop their methods with the resources they have if they know how to use the same traditional tools. Then grow suitable crops, place seeds the right way and maximise the use of water for irrigation. On Tuti, a model needs to be implemented so that farmers will be encouraged to follow its example.”
Abdul Wahab explains an unknown disease outbreak last year killed large amounts of livestock, and there was no governmental reaction. “Even the veterans and agriculture experts on the island ignored this. This year, agricultural production has decreased significantly. Big and small-scale farmers are wondering about the reason. And the same, no care or response.”
“In fact, the governmental bodies have gotten worse after the revolution. The managers changed, but the same neglecting staff members remained. The corruption and lack of supervision are worse now. In the same way, the laws and regulations were not amended or changed. Farmers have no legal protection nor an active entity that supports them and addresses their problems,” an official source that prefers to stay anonymous told The Niles.
Ali says that it is difficult for farmers and engineers to organise themselves. They can’t form committees, for example, to lobby the government to do its duties, change the laws, actively supervise the activities and support the farmers, “Sudan needs to adopt new methods of agriculture, import modern seeds, machines and so forth.”
In the past months, there were dozens of deaths and other health issues related to the unregulated use of pesticides by farmers unfamiliar with the products, she says, adding that these issues are neither reported by the media nor addressed by the authorities.
Adding to the challenges facing farmers, climate change has shifted the agricultural calendar. “For example, in Khartoum State, the seasonal cultivation period used to start around October. Now it comes months earlier, and preparations and cultivation procedures must be made accordingly starting from June and July. Unfortunately, farmers plant late, meaning that crops are unlikely to thrive,” Ali says.
In addition to its neglect, the government is raising electricity fees for farms. When it provided designated gas supplies, it only did so for big farming projects, exposing small-scale farm owners to the greed of black-market traders.
Those with limited resources must now buy from the market, adding to expenses and decreasing the scarce profits. “We formed a group and tried going to the ministry to get fertilisers and discuss other issues we face. Someone gave us a warehouse to keep gas, and the ministry arranged for us to access a reasonable amount to be made available regularly. However, they stopped the process in less than two months and ordered us to get it from the gas stations. We had to resort to the black market due to the gas crisis, which adds even more expenses,” explains Yasin.
We want equality, to be treated the same way they treat big-scale farmers.”
He added that he had to let go of labourers due to all these challenges. These days he manages the farm primarily by himself and one worker. Yasin tells The Niles that he doesn’t seek financial aid from the government – he just wants them to do their duties by providing fertilisers and gas.
“We want equality, to be treated the same way they treat big-scale farmers. My farm needs half a barrel for one round of irrigation (with subsidised gas, this costs around SDG 40,000 SDG (USD 90) or twice as much on the black market). Crops need to be irrigated around four times on average. We also have problems regarding spare parts and general price increases,” he says.
As problematic as it may be, cultivating the crops is followed by the process of distribution and sales. And this part is more challenging than it seems. “Market brokers are a big problem for us. They monopolise sales and distribution, buying from us at low prices and selling at much higher prices. We can’t make direct-selling points as they will fight us every step of the way”, says Abdul Wahab.
To address this issue, Ali explains that in some of the projects handled by the company she works for, they tried to establish centres for direct selling to the consumers. However, they were discouraged by the obstacles from governmental institutions.
“Middlemen are a major issue, and due to the severe lack of supervision, they have thrived and keep pressuring the farmers on prices and increasing it for consumers to gain the maximum profit,” she adds.
The complicated issues affecting Tuti Island farmers cannot be solved without governmental intervention, and the same applies to the nationwide agricultural challenges. Yet, more sustainable agricultural schemes, where farmers achieve self-sufficiency and combine farming with other activities, might be a step in the right direction.
“One of the issues in farming is labourers. Most agricultural lands are far from urban areas, so farmers need to provide food and accommodation. They would need to develop other small projects, raising chickens, sheep, cows and planting various vegetables and fruits if possible. This way, labourers would be properly fed and increase their production in terms of quantity and quality. We implemented such modules and achieved great success. We also added fish farms to some of the projects,” Ali says.
She further says that cultivating more than one crop or vegetable enhances the farmer’s economic viability. Knowing what variety to grow and when, starting with those with short grow times, will help farmers stay productive around the year. Meanwhile, having several types of products helps them improve sales, meaning they are not dependent on one commercial product that is susceptible to the whims of the market. In a way, they could also weaken brokers’ grip on the market.
This, of course, doesn’t come without challenges, such as the expense of animal feed. However, these issues can be addressed in small steps such as planting and preparing fodder within the farms, selling other products such as milk, eggs and meat, and using the livestock waste as organic fertilisers. On Tuti Island, some people are slowly starting to consider making small changes, such as Yasin, who recently introduced cows and sheep to his farm.
“This module of sustainable farming is part of the solution to Sudan’s agricultural issues, and it can encourage people to practice farming. They will increase their productivity and become self-sufficient along with their families. And that means they will be better nurtured and will cut their expenses, besides running a successful and sustainable business,” Ali says.