Renk County vegetable farmers in Upper Nile State are anticipating high profit as they prepare to dominate the market with fresh supply after embarking on large-scale vegetable farming, backed by a local NGO, Christian Mission for Development.
At around 6 O’clock each morning, 48-year-old Deng Ajak treads to his vegetable farm in Abu Khazera, about 40 kilometers from Renk town to clear weeds.
He ventured into the vegetable business in early 2,000, on a small scale at an island on the river Nile where he was planting watermelon, Okra, and cucumber to sell at Renk market.
However, this season, business is booming for the father of eight, who has introduced tomatoes and other cash crops in his four-and-a-half-hectare yard near the river Nile.
“This entire vegetable farm is about four and a half hectares where Okra is two hectares, tomatoes are one hectare and Kudra is half a hectare,” Ajak said.
“Growing vegetables has so many benefits because when I take the product to the market for sale, I sustain my family, pay the tuition fees for my children, and provide daily needs for my family.”
Deng is among the over 180 vegetable growers in Renk County who have received seeds, capacity building, and other extension services provided by Christian Mission for Development under its Resilience Agriculture livelihood project funded by the World Bank through the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The six vegetable farmer groups comprising 30 members have this season received assorted vegetable seeds such as okra, onion, pumpkin, eggplant tomatoes, red pepper, watermelon and carrots from Christian Mission for Development – CMD.
This is in addition to their local vegetables to enable them to increase production, supply market generate income for their families, and improve their diets.
Mr. Ajak said the high cost of agricultural inputs including fuel to run tractors remains a challenge to most of vegetable growers to expand their farms beyond the existing size.
“We are facing a lot of challenges because we are using fertilizers that we are importing from the North, we are also experiencing pests which is making our vegetables not to grow well and also the high cost of fuel, these are some of the challenges facing us which is making us not to expand our work,” he explained.
The majority of small-scale farmers in Renk County have between two to five hectares of vegetable farms used for family consumption as well as for commercial purposes.
Once harvested, Ajak hopes to earn more than two million pounds by the end of this month from his four-and-a-half-hectare vegetable farm.
In August 2022, Deng Ajak hired a tractor at 30,000 pounds to clear a hectare and he also employed two other young men who are working with him on the farm.
He said, if supported, he plans to expand his vegetable farm to at least ten hectares in the next two years where he will be planting varieties of vegetables including sweet potatoes and onions.
Locals around Abu Khazera in Renk North Payam, which lies along the Nile, are mainly engaged in large-scale vegetable production as the majority find it easy to irrigate their farms with Nile water.
This area was first designated by the then-Sudanese government as one of the green belts for large-scale vegetable farming in Renk County.
Abdullah Hamza, a Sudanese born in South Sudan, whose parents once worked in the area in the 1970s, has cultivated five hectares of varieties of vegetables this season.
Hamza has sweet potatoes, okra, tomatoes, and other local vegetables on his farm and plans to introduce new other vegetables in the next season.
“I inherited these skills of farming from my father and sometimes if I don’t cultivate, I feel like there is something missing in me, and this is the reason why I continue to cultivate.” He told Eye Radio.
However, the major challenge facing us here is the lack of tractors for land preparation, and also the price of fuel is very high. I also appeal to the government and organizations to help us with improved seeds and pesticides.”
According to him, land preparation, purchase of additional seeds, hiring of workers, and harvesting cost between 500,000 pounds to one million pounds.
This according to him depends on the type of vegetable planted for each season cite using hands is also a challenge.
“We can cultivate using hands but first of all it is very exhausting, second you cannot open more than two hectares and it is costly because you are using hands for cultivation so the cost for land preparation is very high,” Hamza added.
Renk is one of the 13 counties of Upper Nile State bordering Sudan to the north with its livelihood surrounded by sorghum, sesame, cowpeas, gum Arabic, okra, jirjir, tomatoes, onion, and amaranths among others.
Farmers in the area rely on rainfall agriculture with few engaging in irrigation due to sufficient support and technology required.
“There is adequate supply both for home consumption and also surplus selling them to the market.” Elizabeth Otunga, the Food Security and Livelihood Manager at Christian Mission for Development told Eye Radio on Friday in Renk town.
“The main target for this vegetable production is for two main purposes number one is to ensure that at the household level, there is vegetable supply given the crucial role that vegetable plays in the diet of human beings and the next one is selling.”
“Most of these groups, we want them to have the entrepreneurial mindset so that they become independent so the surplus that they get and actually the main objective is to make them have that surplus to be able to sell.”
“So, produce enough for the family and produce enough so that they will be able to sell it in the market and when they sell in the market, they have income which they can be able to buy other things.” She added.
She said her organization works to fight poverty, extreme hunger, illiteracy, and injustices to reduce human suffering and enhance community livelihoods in the country.
According to the local authorities in the area, vegetables are critical in improving one’s nutrition status, generating income, and improving their livelihood.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the County Agriculture Department are also encouraging farmers to frequently monitor their vegetables against pests and diseases to enable them to have a good harvest.
Sabeel Angok Ador is the acting County Director of Agriculture in Renk.
“Agriculture is being practiced and many of the farmers know the time for irrigation is either very early in the morning or late in the evening because if you irrigate during the sunny time of the day, it risks the crops and the type of farming,” Sabeel stated.
“We however urge the government and organizations to come in and support the irrigation system in the county.”
Meanwhile, Juma Chan Kolong, another large-scale vegetable farmer in Renk County says, “We got some news that there was some fuel which was distributed in Renk and for us here Abu Khazera have not received or get fuel.”
“Again, for us to get a tractor here for hiring is a big challenge because sometimes you can call the driver of the tractor and he will come after one month when you talk to the tractor driver, he will say I have some work to do like to clear land for large scale farm.”
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