At its peak in the 1970s, the Gezira project accounted for a third of Sudan’s economy, producing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of high – quality cotton each year, which is exported worldwide. Today, the largest irrigated agricultural project on the African continent has fallen into disrepair, but the new transitional authorities in Khartoum hope to lift Gezira from the ashes.
Saifeddine Ahmed is preparing to plant a few acres of cotton. He is worried because too little water is reaching his fields. “The situation is very bad. The water comes late, the canals are blocked. The government has promised to rehabilitate them, but for now it is empty talk. I want the project to regain its place in the Sudanese economy. The authorities must focus on irrigation, we have no alternative, he says.
In Gezira, a huge network of irrigation canals covering almost one million hectares of fertile land, cotton has long been the main crop. But today, this “white gold” no longer weighs at all in the country’s economy, laments Mohammed Abdallah. This farmer condemns the mismanagement of Omar el-Bechir’s regime.
“The regime allowed the farmers to plant what they wanted. It had a negative effect on the project. Diseases increased, the administration was beheaded and production fell. The land was depleted because it was cultivated continuously. Before, the plots were allowed to rest for a year. It is over. There is no longer any administration to organize all this ”.
In the middle of the fields lay dilapidated houses once upon a time the agricultural engineers of Gezira. During 30 years of dictatorship, almost 12,000 project workers have been laid off. Today, the transitional authorities aim to revive cotton production.
“The transitional government has committed itself to financially support the project to get it back on track. This is the first time this has happened in 30 years. We are talking about an investment of 8 million euros. We return to the cotton cultivation. We start with 20,000 hectares. We want to create added value, export cotton as finished products, not just raw materials, ”explains Elsidieg Abasheera, the project manager’s new manager.
More than 130,000 families are still living from the Gezira project. Many are waiting to see if the government’s promises come true. Just to rehabilitate the irrigation canals would take more than $ 750 million. But at the moment, the Treasury is empty and foreign investment is delayed.