Sudan wants to ‘turn the desert green’ in agricultural modernisation push

Pivot irrigation at the Abu Hamad project in Sudan about 10km from the banks of the River Nile 
Financial Times | 25 January 2021
Sudan wants to ‘turn the desert green’ in agricultural modernisation push

by Andres Schipani 
It has the feel of the fertile Argentine pampas: fresh green pastures, harvesting machines baling alfalfa, the smell of wet, cut grasses.
But this massive agricultural oasis lies in the Nubian Desert in northeastern Sudan on the right bank of the Nile, in circles of grassland sprayed 22 hours a day by centre pivot irrigation systems.
“This is the desert, you know, but we are turning it green,” says Osama Daoud Abdellatif, chairman of the DAL group, Sudan’s biggest conglomerate and one of the country’s top private agricultural investors. Step outside each grass field, and the desert stretches to Egypt.
“We have the Nile, then we have many other rivers, we have rain, we have underground water, and we have one of the flattest countries in the world,” he says. “Under the layers of sand there is good soil. So it’s not exactly difficult. You know, everything is there, you need to make it grow.”
DAL’s $225m greenfield project in Abu Hamad — a joint venture with the Royal Group of Abu Dhabi and about 10km from the banks of the Nile — is watered by 18km of canals drawing water from the world’s longest river, which has nurtured desert agriculture for millennia. The goal is to cultivate 170,000 acres — split into 750 rounded plots — of pastures, wheat, grapefruits, and other crops. There are 50 plots in operation since the project started last year.
“The key is irrigation. If you can make irrigation work, you can make agriculture work,” says Nazim Khalil, DAL’s head of animal feed, grabbing a handful of fresh alfalfa. “This is a tough place, we often have sandstorms,” he says.
In Abu Hamad temperatures can rise to 48 Celsius during the summer, which makes irrigation challenging as the water evaporates faster during the day. As Sudan’s largest private company, DAL is one of the few with enough financial muscle and knowhow to make such a project work.

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  •   FT
  • 25 January 2021
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