Sudanese agricultural producers are working under extreme conditions to continue supplying local and international markets. Since the outbreak of intense fighting in the country on April 15 until today, many industries supporting the agro-industry have been paralyzed, but farmers and exporters are making considerable efforts to continue their activities as best they can.
Large companies, which dispose of considerable logistical resources and well-organized operations, are in a better position to mitigate the situation. Umnia Mahgoub, Head of Strategy and Development at Mahgoub Sons Group, provides an update on the situation in Sudan.
Umnia says: "Most crops are still available for export, as we have just come out of the harvest season and the majority of production areas have not been affected by the conflict. All exports whose documents were processed before April 15 have either been shipped or are in the process of being shipped. At present, new exports are suspended pending the relocation to Port Sudan of government agencies, banks, and institutions involved in the administrative process for exports, and we hope that their services will resume soon. On May 22, the Central Bank of Sudan issued temporary policies and procedures for exports during this period. Crops that are not located in the west of the country and Khartoum [hot combat zones] are easily transported and accessible. However, there are difficulties with some crops such as peanuts, gum arabic, hibiscus, and baobab, among other crops."
Umnia continues: "Services and assets located outside Khartoum remain for the most part functional. Crops are generally processed in Omdurman, Khartoum, or Gedaref, in the east of the country. Most of Gedaref's facilities, including ours, are operational, but processing costs have risen due to higher running costs (diesel, spare parts, etc.). Transporters who had their trucks outside Khartoum are resuming work on secure routes serving mainly the northern, eastern, and central states. However, access to Khartoum is high-risk, as is transport to Western states. So far, the Port Sudan city port is operating normally, as it did before the conflict".
While logistics and routes are functioning outside the combat zones, the paralysis of the financial sector is making exports difficult, if not impossible, said Umnia: "The banking sector is the worst hit and which is seriously hampering our work. Most banking systems are down and have reverted to internal and/or manual systems. All banks are connected via the central bank's electronic system, which has been down for several weeks. There is also a shortage of cash, as most transactions are cash-only due to the breakdown of banking services. On the business side, there is currently no financing from the banks, so all activities are being managed from available cash. However, the Agricultural Bank and the Minister of Finance have issued a positive statement committing to provide funding for the next agricultural season."
Large groups with substantial human, logistical and financial resources, and subsidiaries covering the entire supply chain are, therefore, holding up better than small-scale exporters. This is the case of the Mahgoub Sons group, said Umnia:
"We are doing our best, given the extreme circumstances, to supply our customers, as our companies cover the entire value chain of food production, processing, sorting, and logistics. Almost all our sectors are operational, but this is largely due to the fact that many of our facilities are located outside Khartoum, close to the production areas, which is fortunately our strategy. We have moved our management to Port Sudan and Gedaref, in the east of the country, which was already our main hub. Some operations are continuing as before the outbreak of fighting, including processing last season's crops and preparing for the new season. Our crop cleaning and ginning facilities are open and operational, serving third-party farmers and distributors. Our transport company is up and running, moving mainly between the eastern and northern states. Our food processing sector is half operational, as our peas and legumes packaging factories are running in Gedaref to supply the local market and exports, while our similar facilities in Khartoum are out of service, and stocks there have been looted by armed fighters occupying the area."
Meanwhile, small-scale exporters, particularly those based in the hot zones, have been forced to shut down altogether. A Khartoum-based exporter told FreshPlaza that the heavy fighting had forced him not only to cease operations and abandon his crops but also to promptly flee the country with his family, fearing for their lives.
On the production side, farmers are carrying on as best they can, as production areas are located outside the fighting zones. Unmia says: "Preparations for the new season in Eastern and Central States are underway, with most farmers able to repair machinery and prepare the soil. At the Mahgoub Sons Group, we have done the same and prepared all inputs in anticipation of the rains. Farmers are however working in exceptional conditions, in need to buy inputs for the next season, which has resulted in the quick liquidation of old crops at low prices. As per the government's pledge, financing should be available in the first week of June, and there seems to be confidence in the success of the new season.
"Despite this positive and promising outlook, there are shortages of primary inputs, mainly fertilizers and chemicals. There are no official estimates, but according to our data at Mahgoub Sons Group, we believe the country only has 10% of the fertilizers needed for a normal season, and we expect some shipments to arrive soon in Sudan. Fortunately, almost all the seeds are produced locally, so there shouldn't be any seed problems. In the absence of fertilizers and chemicals, the majority of small and medium-sized farmers will continue to produce without them, which will reduce yields. Also, access to remote areas or dangerous routes remains the highest risk."
In these extreme conditions, where fighting has claimed thousands of lives and displaced a million civilians, farmers are making every effort to avoid a food crisis. Umnia testifies:
"Whether at Mahgoub Sons Group or any other Sudanese producer, we are doing our utmost to supply the local market with fruit, vegetables, and other crops," adds Umnia. "Some regions have their own self-sufficiency in production, and a state of emergency has been declared to control stocks and sales at reasonable prices and quantities. There has been some inflow from Egypt into the northern states, but it has not spread further. On the whole, old stocks are still available and the new season is about to begin, with the result expected in the coming month. Whether farmers are able to cultivate their land or not will give us a better idea of potential food security or the need to cope with shortages."