KHARTOUM, May 10, 2011 (AFP) – Some 800 farmers demonstrated on Tuesday in Gezira state, Sudan’s agricultural heartland, against a government offer to buy their land at an “unacceptable price,” one of the protesters said.
The farmers held a sit in at the headquarters of the so-called Gezira Scheme, a vast but neglected farming project between the Blue and White Nile, south of Khartoum, and vowed not to leave until their demands were met, Hassan Gasim Sayyed told AFP by phone.
“The government published a report last week on how to solve the problem of land compensation. But the price they offered for every feddan of land was not acceptable,” he said.
“Tomorrow we’re going to bring our families to join us,” he added.
The security forces arrested 10 of those demonstrating, the farmer said.
Under the Gezira Scheme, set up in 1925 by the British colonial powers to cultivate cotton and spanning 840,000 hectares of land divided into lots of 20 feddans (around 8-9 hectares), Khartoum was supposed to pay the farmers rent in return for a share of production.
But it has not done so for more than 40 years, despite receiving 50 percent of what they produce, which includes wheat, sorghum, vegetables and peanuts, as well as cotton.
Since the mid-1970s, production has not risen noticeably.
In 2005 the government introduced a string of reforms aimed at breathing new life into the project, including a law nationalising ownership of the land in return for rental payment in arrears and compensation for the farmers.
Sudan is desperately seeking foreign investment for its agricultural sector to boost output and offset the expected decline in oil revenues after the secession of the south in July, where around 75 percent of the country’s crude is pumped from.