The Jordanian government is pinning its hope on Sudan to help secure the Kingdom's food security. A large-scale agricultural investment project 350 kilometers north of Sudan's capital, Khartoum, is hoping to attract Jordanian businessmen to invest in a 242,000-dunum swathe of land, nearly as big as the Jordan Valley, to supply Jordan with urgently needed agricultural products.
Increasing water shortage and the limitation of fertile land on the one hand, and the insistent policy of the government to increase the country's food security on the other, prompted the project.
“The water problem accelerates this project. It is serious and [we] have to look outside of Jordan to have food, even in closer Arab countries, for establishing such projects to support our needs for agricultural products,” Karim Nusheiwat, director of the monitoring and evaluation unit at the Ministry of Agriculture, told the Jordan Times.
“We should increase self-reliance in agricultural production. It is [also] one of the objectives of the [agricultural] policy itself, and [it is] also part of our law to increase the food production. Food security needs to be defined. The FAO is saying that it means the ability of any country to make food available to the people, either by production or by import,” said Ibrahim Abu Otailah, assistant secretary general for technical affairs at the Agriculture Ministry.
The huge land that Jordan is leasing at a symbolic price of around $60,000 per year, was allocated to Jordan in 1985 as a Sudanese gesture of appreciation for the Kingdom's assistance to the African country.
“The story goes back two decades, [to] when Sudan was facing a civil war between the north and the south. There were also many refugees from surrounding states and [severe] drought. Jordan, through the Hashemite Charity [Organization] assisted and helped the Sudanese government to overcome these difficulties,” Nusheiwat said. “The organization established medical centers in different areas and sent Jordanian doctors to work there.”
Wheat production, livestock breeding and the production of fodder crops for Jordan's national livestock — all areas in which Jordan is strongly lacking — will be the thrust of the scheme.
In 1999, Jordan produced only three, 43 and 12 percent of its annual consumption of wheat, red meat and fodder crops, respectively; equivalent to 12,000 tones of wheat, 21,000 tones of red meat and 209,000 tones of fodder, according to data obtained from the Agriculture Ministry.
A pre-feasibility study estimated that the Sudan project's production potential amounts to 74,000 tones of wheat, 7,000 tones of red meat and 174,000 tones of fodder crops annually in the first stage of the project. At a later stage, the output is expected to grow according to the progress of the project and Jordan's requirements.
The government plans to set up infrastructure, such as construction of main surface channels to drain water from the Nile River and pumping stations to convey water to the fields. At areas farther away from the Nile, the government will drill artesian wells to secure the water supply. The private sector is expected to contribute the remainder.
“It is a government project, but the private sector in Jordan will be the executive side in this project. The roles of the government and the Agriculture Ministry will be observing, controlling and advising. The private sector will be totally responsible for production. [Private participation] might be through individuals or through companies or alliances [among] a group of companies,” Nusheiwat said.
In several meetings between ministry officials and businessmen under the aegis of the Jordanian Business Association, the ministry tried to attract businessmen to participate in the initiative. But while the government has already started a livestock-breeding project to supply the army with red meat, the private sector is cautiously waiting for the finalization of a technical feasibility study to be conducted by the Damascus-based Arab Organization for Agricultural Development that is to be finalized in around six months.
“We are waiting for the technical feasibility. After we see the study, we can see if it [the investment] is profitable. Businessmen want a study, not only talk,” said Ali Yousef, secretary general of the Jordan Business Association.
The ministry, however, is confident that the project can be a successful one, mainly due to the high fertility of the soil and perfect climate, both of which resemble the conditions in Jordan's Disi and Mudawwara areas. But some fear that the Sudan project will fail with regards to covering Jordan's shortages, just as the Disi project has.
“We have already a [similar] agricultural project here in Jordan in the Disi area. The government initiated it for Jordanian companies and required these companies to produce wheat and fodder crops. But the companies started to produce potatoes, crops for which the government did not plan the project,” said Yousef.
“When we are now going to Sudan, and they [the government] tell us you have to produce this and that, the private investors will say, we will produce what is wanted in Europe. That's what I expect. When the private sector enters into the project, they will export to Jordan if there is a good profit, or export to any other country [when they expect more profit there],” he added.
Officials diminish the threat of a possible diversion of flow of agricultural products away from Jordan in favor of export to other countries.
“Whoever is going to invest in this project will have to sign an agreement with the government as to what and how much to produce for the Jordanian market. Till now we are not tackling this [issue] in detail, but it is planned that most of it [the production] should go to Jordan,” Nuweishat said.
But Yousef countered that signed agreements do not always mean a total commitment to the stipulations thereof, as with the example of the Disi farms. “For company owners, it [the Disi-farming project] is a great success, but they did not adhere to the agreement with the government [to produce the urgently-needed agricultural products],” said Yousef.
“They will have to honour the agreement they sign with the government,” Nusheiwat said, without explaining how the government plans to enforce the regulations in a country far from Jordan. — ( Jordan Times )
By Dana Charkasi
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)