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Sudan, a very large and arid country, has been affected by internal conflicts for a long time. Sorghum, pearl millet and groundnut are very important crops for Sudanese farms. Some recent successes such as Striga-resistant sorghum varieties have shown that better seeds and appropriate farming practices could have a significant impact on Sudan's smallholder agriculture.  

75% - Sudan's grain production that comes from sorghum.

60% - Share of Sudan's agricultural GDP from livestock.


General context

Sudan, once the largest and one of the most diverse countries in Africa, split into two countries in July 2011 after Southern Sudan voted for independence, after six years of autonomous regime. The new Republic of Sudan (Northern part) represents a predominantly Arab population of 38 million inhabitants. The new country, South Sudan, has a population of about 8 million people of mainly African ethnic origin (Dinka, Nuer, Karo and other Nilotic tribes).

Critical issues such as the sharing of oil revenues and the exact location of the border demarcation continue to create tensions between the two countries, impeding development. It is estimated than over 1.5 million people died during two rounds of civil war and 2 million people were displaced after the Western Darfur conflict.

Sudan has plenty of resources, from oil reserves ripe for exploitation to fertile agricultural lands of which only a small share (20%) is being cultivated. Land grabbing has been a concern in recent years as Sudan signed deals with foreign countries (eg, Saudia Arabia), at the expense of pastoralists and smallholder agriculture [ref von Braun, IFPRI 2009 and recent figures for South Sudan].

Oil revenues mean the per capita average income is higher than many sub- Saharan African countries but a large share of the population, especially in rural areas, do not benefit from such income. Agriculture remains the backbone of Sudan's economy, providing a livelihood for over three quarters of the population.

Sudan is largely an arid and semi-arid country with rainfall ranging from none in the arid North to 800 mm at the border with South Sudan. The main staple crops in the semi-arid and savannah zones are sorghum (75% of grain production), millets (dukhun) and groundnut, cultivated in the confined 350-800mm isohytes. There are large irrigation schemes sourced from the Nile river and managed by the public sector. Grain legumes such as cowpea, faba bean and chickpea are cultivated as winter crops in irrigated lands and flooded areas. Livestock, mostly raised under a pastoralist system, is very important for the food security of many families, contributing over 60% of agricultural GDP in recent years (ref, InterGouvernmental Authority on Development).

There is great potential for improving the traditional farming systems in Sudan.

ICRISAT research in Sudan

ICRISAT has since long been collaborating with Sudanese agronomists in crop research, especially for sorghum which is cultivated on more than 4 million hectares.

Sudan is recognized as a major region of sorghum diversity and production. Recent studies on regional diversity show adaptation traits related to rainfall, day length and other local climate characteristics, knowledge that will help focus the work of crop breeders.

The first genetic marker-assisted sorghum varieties recently developed by African national programs including Sudan, are Striga resistant and can triple yields in infested plots.  

Other areas of crop research includes pearl millet (trials on early maturity cultivars from Uganda) and groundnut (eg, Bunting variety) improvement.

ICRISAT is working with the Agricultural Research Committee (ARC) of Sudan to help increase farmers' harvests under drought conditions. Innovations include adoption of improved pearl millet varieties [ref, ASARECA project update], diversification of cropping systems (sorghum-legume mixed system) and best bet fertility and water and soil management practices.


Sorghum is the most important staple crop in Sudan, which has an important diversity across the various agroecological zones.
A sorghum field infested with Striga, a major farming constraint in Sudan.
Groundnut is cultivated over 1.6 million hectares in irrigated clays, used for oil extraction. Improved Virginia-type large-seeded Bunting variety was developed to raise low average yields.