Sun, Aug 18, 2013 - Page 14 News List

Rice plants seed of hope on Sudan’s damaged farms

With a yield about double that of wheat and sorghum, rice has the potential to revitalize a country where 12 percent of the 32 million-strong population are expected to need food aid this year

By Ian Timberlake  /  AFP, GEZIRA, Sudan

The engineers have passed on their knowledge to more than 200 farmers — out of about 116,000 who Osman said are working in the Gezira Scheme and a nearby smaller irrigation area.

By the time it nears Karim’s farm the main Gezira Canal has already flowed for 99km. It resembles an unusually straight river, with bushy green banks broken intermittently by small dams.

A secondary canal drains through a pipe under an unpaved road and into a dirt trough of glistening brown water which irrigates the rice in Karim’s fields.

Not all of the Gezira Scheme is working so well, experts say.

“It’s in total disrepair,” one agricultural expert told reporters, asking not to be identified. “You see channels filled in, banks are all eroded.”

Much of the scheme’s land is not producing anything, he said.

“Cotton, wheat and sorghum production dropped to very low levels, and many farmers migrated from Gezira to seek better work opportunities elsewhere,” a report issued last year by the UN Children’s Fund said, noting a lack of canal maintenance.

Veteran journalist Mahjoub Mohamed Salih wrote in a June column that privatization led to “the complete collapse” of the scheme’s other infrastructure.

Assets from the project’s former railway, its cotton mills and other property have been “squandered,” he wrote.

Osman said the Sudanese government was moving away from a “paternal approach,” in favor of privatization and leaving the farmers free to choose what they grow.

“The farmer should depend on himself,” he said, adding that rice gives them a new option. “It is a very promising crop.”

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