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Sudan Targets Wheat Self-Sufficiency, Plans Crop Diversification

Sudan has targeted self-sufficiency in wheat production in five years’ time and also plans to expand output of other grain crops, Agriculture Minister Abdel Haleem al-Mutafi said.

Sudan, Africa’s biggest country, imports 80 percent of its annual wheat needs and the country aims to attract investment from the Persian Gulf and China to boost production to its annual usage, al-Mutafi said. The country will consume 2 million metric tons in 2010-2011, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

“We are working hard to attract foreign investments to increase wheat production in the country,” al-Mutafi said yesterday in an interview in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

A U.S. decision last month to ease sanctions to allow the export of farming equipment in a bid to help the country reduce its reliance on oil and aid peace efforts may boost production in Sudan’s northern region, which has the country’s most favorable weather conditions for wheat production, the minister said. Equipment purchased directly from the U.S. will be cheaper than machines obtained from third parties in countries such as Dubai and China, al-Mutafi said.

To reach self-sufficiency, Sudan plans to increase the area devoted to wheat production by 25 percent each year from the 600,000 feddans (622,800 acres) it plans to plant next year, the minister said. The country produced 400,000 tons of wheat this year, he added.

Nebraska-based Valmont Industries Inc. is in talks with Sudanese companies including Kenana Sugar Co., to sell “a considerable amount” of irrigation equipment, Richard D. Berkland, Valmont’s vice president for international irrigation sales and marketing, said in an Oct. 25 interview after the announcement on the easing of sanctions.

‘Positive Signals’

Moline, Illinois-based Deere & Co., the world’s largest maker of farm machinery, and Racine, Wisconsin-based Case IH “have given positive signals,” al-Mutafi said.

Gulf companies, including Riyadh-based National Agriculture Development Co., known as NADEC, and Qatar’s Hassad Co., started wheat and animal feed production in Sudan last year, he said.

The farming equipment exemption came as the country’s semi-autonomous southern region prepares for a January referendum on whether to secede from the north. The vote is a key component of the 2005 peace agreement that ended two decades of civil war between the Muslim north and the south, where Christianity and traditional beliefs dominate. About 2 million people died in the conflict and more than 4 million were displaced.

Economic Sanctions

The U.S. classifies Sudan as a sponsor of terrorism and has applied economic sanctions since 1997. The easing of restrictions is part of U.S. efforts to shore up the peace agreement. It has also promised to invest in non-oil industries and resume diplomatic relations if the transition is smooth.

Sudan started a “parallel plan” to increase production of crops better suited than wheat to conditions in the country, such as sorghum, corn, rice and soy beans, al-Mutafi said. Revenue generated from exporting such crops may help finance imports of wheat, which mostly come from the U.S., Australia and Europe, he said.

Sudan plans to export 1 million tons of sorghum to Saudi Arabia, Italy and Japan after this year’s harvest, which is expected to reach 6 million tons, the minister said. The country consumes up to 4 million tons of sorghum each year, and it’s “the main food for humans and animals in Sudan,” al-Mutafi said.

The country will export 300,000 tons of sesame next year to countries including Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, after output of 6 million to 7 million tons in the year, the minister said. The country produced 5.5 million tons of sesame last year, and final figures for this year’s production are still unavailable, he added.

Talks with Egypt, Sudan’s northern neighbor, on cultivating wheat on the border between the two countries “haven’t exceeded hopes and dreams,” except for one Egyptian company conducting wheat cultivation experiments in the area, al-Mutafi said.

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