Another oil crisis averted! As Sudan retracts the threat to close its pipelines to oil from South Sudan (BBC, Reuters), it seems appropriate to repeat some words of a 2011 editorial I co-authored with Zach Vertin. Not much has changed:
Moving beyond oil is a prerequisite for the future stability of both countries, and necessary to broaden prosperity outside of the narrow elite at the centre. The majority of people in both North and South depend on agriculture, and the industry has considerable potential for growth. But neglect of the sector in the North has left productivity languishing. Production of cotton in 2010, for example, was less than a third of the 2005 harvest, itself a fraction of the production records achieved in the early 1970s.
Ravaged by war, most agriculture in the South is focused on subsistence. Little is mechanised and despite fertile land and ample water, tens of thousands of hectares of land lie fallow. Access to markets is still limited.
The transport infrastructure needed to move crops and other products is poor, often making it cheaper to bring basic foodstuffs from neighbouring Uganda and Kenya than to move local produce domestically. Amid chronic food shortages in the Horn of Africa, South Sudan could become a net food exporter to the region, and beyond.
For both North and South, agriculture and rural development must go hand in hand. Rural areas lag far behind development levels in the handful of major cities. Greater focus on the sector, broader opportunities for local farmers and increased agricultural productivity could bridge the hunger gap, allow self-sufficiency, raise average income and prove to be a more important export earner.
It is important that policy in this sector must be carefully harmonised with the pastoralist livelihoods of many Sudanese.
Development of the service industries is another path to diversification, but it is important that this sector does not grow exclusively in the capitals of Juba and Khartoum, but brings benefit to other regions. Other extractive industries can play a role too; mining is increasingly important in both North and South, while logging and wildlife tourism could be new earners for the South.
Reaching a deal over oil is crucial. But oil alone will not guarantee an inclusive and stable economy for either country. Economic diversification, with a renewed emphasis on agriculture, is necessary if a viable economic future is to be enjoyed by citizens of the two Sudans.
For the full article, see here.