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Social unrest and deteriorating macroeconomic conditions drive high food assistance needs

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Sudan
  • June 2019 - January 2020
Social unrest and deteriorating macroeconomic conditions drive high food assistance needs

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • During the June to September lean season in Sudan, food security outcomes are expected to further deteriorate and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected in parts of Red Sea, Kassala, Al Gadarif, Blue Nile, West Kordofan, North Kordofan, South Kordofan, and Greater Darfur. Of highest concern are the IDPs in SPLM-N controlled areas of South Kordofan and SPLA-AW controlled areas of Jebel Marra, where Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are likely during the August-September peak of the lean season. Also of concern are poor households in Red Sea state.

    • Food security is likely to improve seasonally with increased cereal availability from the October to January harvest. However, very poor macroeconomic conditions are expected to persist and drive extremely high food and non-food prices, resulting in overall below-average purchasing power. It is anticipated that a higher number of households than is typical will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes through January 2020.

    • The forecasted above-average June to September 2019 main rainy season has begun in some parts in eastern and western Sudan. Shortage of fuel and other inputs are reported in some of the semi-mechanized and irrigated sectors. Although this will impact cultivation somewhat, the overall area planted is expected to be only slightly below average due to the likelihood of some fuel and input assistance from the government and households’ sacrificing other purchases to gain agricultural inputs. These factors coupled with favorable yields are currently expected to lead to average production, though production estimates can be made with greater confidence in the coming months as planting is fully underway.


    Current Situation

    The June to September main rainy season in Sudan has begun in parts of Sennar, southern Gadarif, Blue Nile, and Greater Darfur. Total rainfall as of mid-June is around 10-50 millimeters (mm) according to Climate Hazards Group InfraRed Precipitation with Station data (CHIRPS) and rainfall is broadly sufficient for planting in some areas of the traditional sector of western Sudan. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) estimates indicate that vegetation conditions are above the median across most central areas of the country, though conditions are below the median in southern areas (Figure 1).

    Late preparation for the 2019/2020 agricultural season is ongoing in parts of the semi-mechanized and irrigated areas of Sudan, though it is expected that shortages of cash and fuel and the high price of agricultural inputs are negatively impacting the area under cultivation. Farmers have raised concerns about these shortages and the delayed provision of inputs and finance, which are typically delivered by May.

    The area targeted for cereal cultivation for the ongoing summer season is estimated at about 29,854 hectares, down from the 35,345 million hectares cultivated last year and from the 31,615 million hectares cultivated on average over the past five years. There is the possibility to expand the area under cultivation if the rains perform well, though despite efforts by the government to maximize local wheat production, the persistent fuel and cash shortages and high cost of inputs are negatively affecting the cultivation process.

    Following the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir in April, civil unrest and disputes persist between the Alliance for Freedom and Change (FFC), the main opposition group leading the protests, and the Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC). To date a central government has not yet been established. This has resulted in an environment of uncertainty, including a prevailing hesitancy to engage in formal banking, which has in turn increased activity on the parallel market. The Sudan Central Bureau of Statistics (SCBS) has reported a slight decrease in the national inflation rate to 44.6 percent in April 2019, down from 45.4 in March and 72.9 percent in December 2018, though there is debate that the March and April figures are underestimated.

    The continued shortage of hard currency and the rapid depreciation of the Sudanese Pound (SDG) have significantly reduced the ability of both the private sector and the government to import required essential food and non-food items. While the official exchange rate remains at 45 SDG/USD, the exchange rate for cash and transfers stood between 68 and 78 SDG/USD on the parallel market in May, up from 58 SDG/USD in January. Wheat flour and other imported food items and fuel and cash shortages persist across the country, the latter of which is driving up the cost of transportation to more than double that of last year. Shortages of fuel, wheat, and wheat flour also persist, and this combined with currency depreciation is driving high food prices.

    The retail prices of sorghum and millet, the main staple foods, increased between April and May across most markets in Sudan and remain almost double that of prices from the same time last year and 285-350 percent above average (Figures 2 and 3). The retail price for locally produced wheat started increasing earlier than usual in April/May, driven by increased transportation costs and shortages of wheat imports. Prices increased seasonally or remained stable through June and are currently around 150 percent above 2018 and 210 percent above the five-year average.

    Livestock prices increased by 10-20 percent across most markets from April to May due to the continued demand for both export and local consumption, as well as the general price increases that are the result of the deteriorating macroeconomic situation and high cost of transportation. Livestock prices are currently around 130 percent above the same time last year and 270 percent above the five-year average. However, food prices are increasing at greater rates than livestock price increases. As a result, the livestock-to-cereal terms of trade are lower than last year and the five-year average (Figure 4).

    Agricultural labor opportunities and wages have also increased, both seasonally and relative to average. Seasonal increases have occurred with land cultivation in April and May. Labor wages in April are 10-20 percent higher than March 2019, 50-70 percent above last year, and over 200 percent above the recent five-year average. However, given the more significant increase in cereal prices compared to agricultural wages, the labor wage-to-sorghum terms of trade (ToT) are also well below average.

    The civil unrest and disputes between the FFC and the TMC have resulted in an environment of uncertainty, political instability, and continued social unrest. However, no direct confrontations between conflicting groups have been reported in the main conflict-affected areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile states since the 2017 ceasefire. In these areas the situation has remained relatively stable and no major displacements have occurred since the beginning of 2019. In Darfur, the UN Daily Sitreps have indicated an increase in the clashes between the SLA-AW and SAF in Jebel Marra, though no large-scale, new displacements have currently occurred. According to UNHCR an estimated 1,369 South Sudanese refugees have arrived in Sudan in May 2019, bringing the total number of South Sudanese refugees in Sudan to about 849,008, of whom 11,297 arrived in 2019. UNHCR reports there have been some returnees to South Sudan in 2019 but precise figures are unknown.

    In May 2019, WFP provided food assistance to approximately 3.5 million beneficiaries in Sudan, through various modalities including general food distributions (GFD). Among those receiving GFD, it is estimated the average ration is between 50 and 100 percent of the required 2,100 kilocalories. Beneficiaries reached were primarily long-term IDPs in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile, as well as South Sudanese refugees and residents in drought and conflict-affected areas in Kassala, Red Sea, Al Gadarif, North Darfur, and North Kordofan. It is anticipated that this assistance is improving food security among beneficiaries.

    Based on the results of the S3M report of nutrition data collected in November 2018 and likely trend of malnutrition since, the overall national level of global acute malnutrition (GAM) by weight-for-height z-score (WHZ) is anticipated to be ‘Serious’ (GAM(WHZ) 10.0-14.9%), though there is likely wide variation in the severity of wasting by administrative areas. At the state level, ‘Critical’ (GAM(WHZ) ≥15%) levels are likely in areas where past surveys identified this level, including North Darfur, Northern, Red Sea, South Darfur, River Nile States, while ‘Alert’ (GAM(WHZ) 5.0-9.9%) or ‘Serious’ (GAM(WHZ) 10.0-14.9%) levels are likely in the remaining states. Although critical level of acute malnutrition remains possible in some localities of states with ‘Serious’ levels of wasting, such as Central and East Darfur, West Kordofan and Khartoum.

    Overall, food security has deteriorated in June relative to the harvest and post-harvest periods, due to lower household food stocks and increased reliance on markets. This year, however, the political instability and persistent poor macroeconomic conditions are driving worse food security outcomes than are typical of the start of the lean season, and somewhat worse outcomes than the same time last year. This is due to the fact that the shortages of commodities and fuel and high prices are limiting households’ capacity to purchase sufficient food from markets and their capacity to buy a normal level of inputs to engage in cultivation. Additionally, the high cost of non-food needs including transportation and medicine are limiting households’ capacity to maintain their typical livelihoods. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes persist in many areas while Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes exist in conflict-affected areas that also harvested below-average production last season, including: most of North Darfur state; areas hosting IDPs in Jebel Marra; SPLM-N areas of South Kordofan; and, parts of North Kordofan, southern Blue Nile, northern Kassala, and Red Sea states. 


    The June 2019 to January 2020 most likely scenario is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • According to forecasts by NOAA and USGS, the June to September 2019 rainy season is forecast to be above average. The Sudan Meteorological Authority (SMA) and the IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC) also forecast above-average rainfall. This is likely to result in atypically high levels of flooding in flood-prone areas of Sudan, including Northern, River Nile, AL Jazeira, Sennar, and Blue Nile states. This is anticipated to destroy some crops, cause displacement, and increase the prevalence of water-borne diseases during the rainy season.
    • The forecasted above-average rainfall likely to generate above-average pasture conditions and water availability. This will, in turn, support normal livestock body conditions and livestock production.
    • Above-average rainfall is likely to support favorable crop yields in rainfed agricultural areas. The area planted in semi-mechanized and irrigated agricultural areas is likely to be negatively impacted by the current shortage of fuel and cash and high cost of inputs. Households are likely to intensify cultivation in the traditional sector to compensate for declines in semi-mechanized and irrigated production, and households are also expected to sacrifice other purchases to gain sufficient inputs to plant near normal levels. Although planting will be slightly below average, a significant decline in cultivation is not expected due to this and some government intervention with fuel and input assistance. Overall the area planted will be slightly below average and this coupled with favorable yield and interventions will likely support near-average production. However, production estimates can be made with greater confidence in the coming months as planting is fully underway.  
    • Normal to slightly above normal agricultural labor opportunities are expected during the June to July planting period, the August to September weeding period, and the November to December harvesting period. Given the expected fuel shortage, better-off farmers likely to increase dependency on wage labor for the planting and harvesting process.
    • The current political instability and social unrest in Sudan is likely to continue, and this is likely to further exacerbate the already deteriorating macroeconomic situation. Based on FEWS NET’s integrated projection, the SDG/USD exchange rate is expected to continue to depreciate on the parallel market and remain around 60–80 SDG/USD through January 2020 (Figure 5). This is anticipated as a result of the likely persistent shortages of hard currency and high demand for such in order to import wheat flour, medicine, fuel, and agricultural inputs. Fuel shortages are also expected throughout the projection period.
    • Based on FEWS NET’s integrated price projections, the retail prices of sorghum and millet are anticipated to increase 10-20 percent through September, after which prices will seasonally decrease with the beginning of harvest in October. Overall, prices are expected to remain 30-40 percent above last year and over 300 percent above the five-year average. The price of locally produced wheat is similarly expected to remain over 300 percent above average and 75-100 percent higher than last year.
    • Goat and sheep prices are expected to increase between June and July with the increased demand for local consumption and export to the Gulf States during Haj (pilgrimage). Prices are expected to decline slightly during the August-September peak of the lean season when market supply increases as households sell additional livestock to fund food purchases. Overall, goat and sheep prices are expected to remain 70-80 percent above last year and 270-290 percent above the five-year average. Based on the projected cereal and goat prices, goat-to-cereal ToT are anticipated to remain slightly below to that of the same period last year but 50 to 60 percent lower than the five-year average (Figure 6).
    • Agricultural labor wages are expected to increase 10 to 20 percent by July and remain at these levels through end of the outlook period, staying around 100–150 percent above average, as laborers expected to demand higher wages due to local currency devaluation and rising prices of goods and services. Due to the relatively greater increase in staple food prices, though, labor-to-sorghum ToT are expected to remain 150-200 percent below average.
    •  In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, relative calm has persisted; however, the ongoing dispute between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Freedom and Change Force (collation including main political parties, Sudanese Professionals Association, and rebel groups including SPLM-N and some of Darfur’s armed groups) is likely to increase tension and direct confrontations in some areas. Periodical conflict incidents are expected to continue in Darfur, which will likely impact crop production and lead to some livestock loss. Nevertheless, the level of new internal displacement is expected to remain low, while at the same time the level of voluntary returnees is expected to be low. Overall, the number of displaced people in Sudan is expected to remain around 2.0-2.6 million.
    • Arrivals of refugees from South Sudan are expected throughout the outlook period, though the rate of arrivals will be limited by poor road conditions during rainy season, relatively lower conflict in South Sudan, and the political uncertainty in Sudan. Overall, the number of new South Sudanese refugees in Sudan is expected to be low and the overall number of refugees expected to be between 850,000 and 950,000.  
    • Based on WFP’s Operation Plan for humanitarian food assistance from June 2019 to January 2020, it is expected 3.7 million beneficiaries will be reached with over 167,000 MT and 41.7 million USD. The majority of beneficiaries are in Darfur, and the ration is expected to be greater than 50 percent of kilocalorie needs.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    June to September is the typical lean season in Sudan, when access to food and income is at its lowest level: households’ food stock from their own production are exhausted and cereal prices are at their highest levels. Food security typically deteriorates during this time. In 2019, outcomes are expected to be more severe than usual due to the deteriorating macroeconomic conditions, political instability and social unrest, and given the fact that households will continue to face extremely high food prices and non-food prices. Accordingly, more areas within North Darfur, North Kordofan, southern Blue Nile, northern Kassala, Red Sea, and northern South Darfur are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is likely among IDPs in SPLM-N controlled areas of South Kordofan, IDPs and conflict-affected households in Jebel Mara in Darfur. ‘Critical’ levels of acute malnutrition (GAM(WHZ)≥15%) are likely to persist in North Darfur, Northern, Red Sea, South Darfur, River Nile States, as well as in SPLM-N controlled areas of South Kordofan and Jebel Mara of Darfur and northern Red Sea state.

    October 2019 to January 2020 covers the pre-harvest and harvest period in Sudan. Overall food security outcomes are expected to improve gradually in line with progression of the harvesting process. Most poor households will have access to food from their own harvests and in-kind payments from agricultural labor; wages from agricultural labor and the sale of goats will support food access from markets during a time in which staple food prices seasonally decrease. However, food security outcomes among poor households in many areas are expected to remain more severe than is typical for this time period due to continued poor macroeconomic conditions and broader political instability, which will lead to well above-average prices despite seasonal declines, and lower production in some areas. Poor households will still face difficulty purchasing many essential non-food needs and, as a result, many areas will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) between October 2019 and January 2020. Much of North Darfur, parts of Jebel Marra and South Kordofan, southern Blue Nile, parts of North Kordofan and West Kordofan, northern Kassala, and much of northern Red Sea states will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to their high dependency on market purchase and their remoteness from areas of high production which coupled with high transportation costs will lead to some of the highest food prices in the country.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario.

    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    National levelAn increase in political instability and social unrest that drives further conflict and deterioration in the macroeconomic situation A significant delay in the formation of the national government risks continued instability and the ability to import essential food and non-food items. The broad instability will also threaten trust in the Sudanese Pound and risk further depreciation. This could drive even higher food prices, ultimately resulting in a higher number of people facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes. 


    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.

    Figures Sudan seasonal calendar for a typical year illustrating the begging and end of seasons.

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    NDVI map of Sudan illustrating vegetation conditions that are above the median across most central areas of the country, thou

    Figure 2

    Figure 1.

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Graph illustrating retail prices of sorghum in Al Gadarif. Prices increased between April and May and remain almost double th

    Figure 3

    Figure 2.

    Source: FAMIS/FMoA data

    Graph illustrating the retail price of sorghum in Port Sudan. Prices increased between April and May and remain almost double

    Figure 4

    Figure 3.

    Source: FAMIS/FMoA data

    Graph illustrating goat-to-sorghum terms of trade (ToT) versus retail price of sorghum in key markets. The livestock-to-cerea

    Figure 5

    Figure 4.

    Source: FAMIS/FMoA data

    Graph illustrating FEWS NET integrated projection of SDG/USD exchange rate on the parallel market from January 2019 to Januar

    Figure 6

    Figure 5.

    Source: FEWS NET projection based on El Neelain data

    Graph illustrating the bbserved and projected goat-to-sorghum terms of trade in El Gadarif from January to December 2019, the

    Figure 7

    Figure 6.

    Source: FEWS NET projection based on FAMIS data

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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