By Dr. Hanan El-Amin Muddathir
Osman Elhassan has over the years practiced agriculture in Sudan. He has 100 feddan and cultivates crops and cereals; mainly zea maize, wheat, chea beans, and cotton. His farm yield remains low as farmers in other areas enjoy much more output from their gardens. To Elhassan, farmers like Mohamed Balal Azraq, a wheat farmer; who gets at least 20 sacks per feddan are from another ‘farming planet’.
The magic is that Elhassan is located in an area called South El Gezira Scheme, where the use of Effective Microorganisms (EM) technology is not yet adopted while farmers like Azraq are using the game-changing technology.
A naturally disadvantaged country on the rise
Sudan is the largest country in Africa with a total area of over 250 Million hectares, much of which comprises arid areas and deserts.
Mean annual temperatures vary between 26 and 32C across the country. Rainfall which supports agriculture is erratic and varies significantly from the northern to southern ranges of the country.
According to the UN Development agency- UNDP, the unreliable nature of rainfall, together with its concentration in short growing seasons heightens the vulnerability of Sudan’s rain-fed agriculture.
Data from UNDP shows that in the central area, around and just south of Capital Khartoum, average annual temperatures are around 27C with rainfall averaging about 200MM/year and rarely exceeding 700MM/year.
This coupled with problems like high soil pH, high soil salinity, poor water holding capacity of the soils, residues of chemical fertilizers in soils, non-living soils, poor soil microflora, imported plant diseases, slow seed germination, poor plant growth, poor crop yields (quality and quantity), makes agriculture close to an impossible task in this North African nation.
But after years of persistence, adaptation, and responsive to innovations, farmers in Khartoum, and other parts of Sudan have defied the climate change – triggered odds to improve agricultural production- thanks to Effective Microorganisms (EM) technology.
EM: A Source of revolution for development
Effective Microorganisms (EM) technology is a Japanese innovation and is currently used in more than 160 countries all over the world including the USA, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia and some African countries.
EM technology was developed by Prof. Teruo Hega, Professor of Horticulture, University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa, Japan. He developed microbial inoculants that have proved key in improving soil quality, crop growth, and crop yields.
According to Sudan’s National Research Council, as farmers seek to change from chemical-based, conventional farming systems to more sustainable kinds of agriculture, they need to utilise the most effective means available if they are to be successful.
The council views EM technology as “a potentially valuable tool that could help farmers to develop farming systems that are economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable.”
According to scientists, Effective Microorganisms are mixed cultures of beneficial naturally-occurring organisms that can be applied as inoculants to increase the microbial diversity of the soil ecosystem.
Studies by various scientists show that EM inoculation to the soil can improve the quality of soil, plant growth, and yield.
Likewise, according to the permaculture research institute, studies have shown that not only does the use of effective microorganisms in agricultural soil suppress soil-borne pathogens, but also increases the decomposition of organic materials and consequently the availability of mineral nutrients and important organic compounds to plants.
The use of this technology is already afoot in Sudan and farmers are already celebrating.
Dr. Abu Abdallah Bukhari, director-general of Moroug, a company that extends this technology to farmers says that with this innovation, the country is on course to realising its dream of being the world’s food basket’.
To Dr. Bukhari, EM is, “a wealth and gold technology,” central to sustainable agriculture, mitigation, and adaptation to climate change.
Tomato farmers who use EM report increased production, production of disease and bacterial-free tomatoes compared to those who are yet to adopt the technology.
They are also able to grow tomatoes during the traditional off-season (June – September), when it’s autumn in Sudan – thanks to EM.
Mohanad Zakaria, an Agricultural Extension worker, notes that improvements in yields have been recorded in different crops and farmers are able to have enough quality and quantity food to eat and for both the domestic and foreign markets.
Jamal Dafallah Taha, the director of Sudan Farmers Federation says farmers are even able to celebrate high wheat production this year despite the unfavorable cold conditions; thanks to EM. To him, this “creative amazing biofertilizer solution” is behind increased productivity that is enabling farmers to enjoy better market prices for agricultural products.
Mohamed Mohamed Nour, a tomato farmer in the Northern part of El Gezira state; after years of feeling helpless and hopeless now has a reason to smile and go to the farm every day. He says that EM due to his adherence to advice from experts on the use of EM, his tomatoes, “yield faster in 90 days instead of 120 days,” but also the quality and quantity of the yields is much higher. With good quality and quantity, Mohamed is now venturing into tomato export.
They are not only farmers who are in awe of the great contribution of EM technology to Sudan’s agricultural sector. Dr. Bushra Hamid, Secretary-General of the Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources observes that, “EM is considered a high revolution bio technique in environment, and fertilization.”
He adds that this technology, “is a very effective treatment agent for soil reclamation, health, and environmental problems.”
And according to Dr. Babikir Hamad Ahmed of Sudan Agricultural Development Program, “EM is the perfect solution in Sudan for increased agricultural production, for decreasing soil PH and boosting soil fertility.”
This reporting project by InfoNile was supported by Code for Africa with funding from the National Geographic Society.
Additional reporting and editing by Fredrick Mugira