Earlier this month, I visited Sudan, a nation poised to separate in July into two independent states following a peaceful referendum in January that USAID helped carry out. Since my visit, violence has erupted in Abyei, a disputed area on the north-south border, and threatened the fragile peace in the region.
Resolving the status of Abyei has long presented a difficult challenge. During my visit -- together with UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell and Norway Minister of Environment and International Development Erik Solheim -- we stressed to the Government of Sudan and Government of Southern Sudan our concern about the destabilizing impact of uncertainty over the Abyei area's future.
In response to the violence, we quickly activated our contingency plans. USAID partners are on the ground in areas where thousands of Sudanese have been displaced by fighting. And we are working with UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to provide emergency food aid, medicine, water, shelter, hygiene kits, and other assistance.
As we continue to address the emergency needs of people in and around Abyei -- as well as in areas across the south affected by violence -- we remain focused on helping bring stability and effective development to Sudan over the long term. During my visit, I met with Government of Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit and announced that the United States would host an international engagement conference for southern Sudan after its independence. The conference will enable the new nation to collaborate with other governments and the private sector on development priorities, especially in agriculture.
Nearly 87 percent of southern Sudanese rely on agriculture, livestock, or forestry to make a living. Ninety percent of southern Sudan's land is arable, but less than 10 percent is currently cultivated.
I met men and women farmers, who described to me how they struggle to expand their farms, buy quality seeds and fertilizer, and move their products to market. Because of the challenges they face, the agricultural yield in southern Sudan is only 0.3 metric tons per hectare, despite good conditions and available land. But the average yield worldwide for sorghum, for example, was 1.46 metric tons per hectare in 2009-10, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's easy to see how much potential is being lost.
I'm proud that this is an area in which the United States and our partners can help.
During my visit, I signed a communique with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and the International Fertilizer Development Center to work with the Government of Southern Sudan to develop the commercial agriculture sector. By increasing productivity, supporting agribusinesses, and improving research and technology, we can begin the process of an agricultural transformation in southern Sudan.
We are working in many other areas to help bring basic services and opportunities to the people of Sudan. In Juba, I especially enjoyed visiting a USAID-supported radio station that not only provides news and information, but also offers lessons in English and mathematics that schools use as part of their regular instruction. It was a powerful and effective way to extend the reach of education.
As the independence of southern Sudan approaches, we will continue to help build a peaceful, stable region and a better future for all the people of Sudan.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears on the USAID Impact Blog.