FAO emergencies and resilience

5 things you should know about how conflict in Sudan is devastating agriculture and people's food security

One year on from the start of the most recent hostilities in Sudan, here are five things to know about conflict’s devastating impact on agriculture and food security.

In Tobin village, Red Sea State, a farmer closely watches his millet crops grow, eagerly awaiting a successful harvest.

©FAO/Mahmoud Shamrouk

In April 2023, armed conflict erupted between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. The conflict spiraled into a catastrophic humanitarian crisis touching almost every corner of the nation. This left nearly 25 million people – one in every two people, including over 13 million children, in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Today, Sudan is the world’s largest displacement crisis. An estimated 8.3 million people have fled harrowing scenes to safer parts of the country and across borders.

As the conflict extends its reach across the southeast, it’s increasingly undermining agricultural production and jeopardizing people’s livelihoods. Agriculture is a pillar of life in Sudan. Up to 60–80 percent of the entire population is engaged or reliant on agriculture for income. But farming and pastoral activities have been scarred by war.

One year on from the start of the most recent hostilities in Sudan, here are five things to know about the conflict’s devastating impact on agriculture and food security

A mother and her children take shade to pick hibiscus leaves in North Darfur. ©FAO/Eilaf Abdelbasit.

1. Risk of famine on the doorstep

Conflict raged through Sudan’s typical harvest season (December to January), contributing to an alarming rise in hunger levels. As of February 2024, nearly 18 million people face acute levels of hunger, with nearly 5 million people just a step away from a risk of famine if the conflict continues and humanitarian assistance is not provided. Children haven’t been spared. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 3.5 million children suffer from acute to severe malnutrition and some face the risk of death.  

But access to food has been severely hampered. Widespread looting destroyed markets and food stocks. Disrupted trade routes made supplies like seeds, fertilizer, insecticides and fuel bare, while market prices continue to skyrocket. Against the backdrop of dwindling income to buy food and supplies, farmers and pastoralists face the perfect storm of obstacles.

As the conflict spreads, recovering food access and agriculture-based incomes stand as a mere glimmer of hope on the horizon. Cereal production (sorghum, millet and wheat) in 2023 was 46 percent less than the year prior and the outlook for food production in 2024 is bleak. As the main planting season nears, farmers' difficulties to access critical agricultural inputs could mean many of them won’t plant this year.

The livestock sector, has also taken major blows. Livestock owners are facing a severe shortage of vaccines and medications which directly stems from the destruction of the country's vaccine manufacturing capacity as well as the significant damage inflicted upon the veterinary drug supply chain. Failure to address these issues could result in deteriorating livestock conditions, leading to heightened mortality rates and reduced income for livestock owners.

If support to restore the nation’s production isn’t urgently undertaken, a wave of deprivation threatens to leave people without anything to eat and no way to recover.

Dar Alsalam is a returnee in Sennar State who relies on agriculture to support her family of 11 members. ©FAO/Khalid Ali.

2. Production hotspots are under attack

In Sudan, farming is a cherished way of life for millions of people, with many parts of the country ripe for cultivation. Al Jazira State, in particular, is one of the most productive areas in the nation and heralded as Sudan’s breadbasket. Of the total national production, about 50 percent of wheat and 10 percent of sorghum are grown there. Al Jazira also hosts the Gezira Scheme – the most important irrigation project to Sudan and one of the largest in the world. Boasting a 4 300 km of network of canals and ditches, water reaches an expanse of fields for crop production.


But in December 2023, conflict struck Al Jazira’s capital, Wad Medani. This not only forced farmers to flee lands into which multiple generations have invested their lives. It also risks paralyzing this year’s crop production and food needs. Moreover, if critical irrigation infrastructure is destroyed, recovering the agriculture sector will be an even more tumultuous plight.


External conflict isn’t the only challenge. Before the outbreak of conflict, FAO employed Crop and Livestock Protection Committees to address frequently recurring disputes between farmers and herders. The committees immediately help them resolve issues around livestock routes and crop protection. However, in the Darfur region, conflict interrupted regular monitoring, leading to an expected escalation of conflict between farmers and herders. This could lead to more crop damage, blocked routes, and ultimately exacerbate tribal tensions.


Everything is at stake for farmers and herders, as they face significant protection risks, barriers to accessing and farming their lands, and explosive remnants of war. These risks not only affect them, but at the whole Sudan. Without their contributions to agricultural production, the nation will continue to confront a dangerous rise in hunger.


Pastoralists gather their herds for an FAO vaccination campaign. ©FAO/Eilaf Abdelbasit.

 3. Livestock health services and plant pests and diseases require swift intervention

In Sudan, agriculture exists in an interdependent ecosystem between people, animals and the environment. That means keeping animals healthy and crops free from pests and diseases are vital to food production and people’s food security and income. For example, meat and milk are important sources of nutrition, with milk being essential for children’s health. Moreover, selling livestock is a critical source of income for families, and often acts as a safety net when crop yields are low or fail.

But conflict’s fierce injury to the agriculture sector gave rise to alarming ecological threats, with both livestock and crop health now in peril. These foretell devastating consequences to food access.

Plant pests and diseases have been reported, including a desert locust outbreak in northern Sudan that FAO is monitoring. Meanwhile, conflict wreaked extensive damage on national veterinary infrastructure, bringing veterinary services to a near halt and leaving vaccines in severe shortage. Animals left untreated and diseases uncontained could spell a gruesome future for animal health, and potentially people’s, too, if diseases effectively spread.

Women stock supplies for their families in West Darfur. ©FAO/Eilaf Abdelbasit.

4. Humanitarian access must improve

Millions of people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. However, insecurity and shifting frontlines make reaching vulnerable communities extremely difficult, especially in hard-to-reach areas.

FAO and its partners – the backbone of our operations in country – have so far remained operational. However, unimpeded humanitarian access must be granted to better reach and protect people and prevent the erosion of the agriculture sector. 

Fatima, a widowed farmer and mother, hopes she can stay on her land to harvest her sorghum and support her family. ©FAO/Khaled Ali.

5. The conflict risks becoming forgotten

The scale of conflict in Sudan is staggering. Food insecurity is 70 percent higher than pre-conflict levels reported in 2023, with nearly 18 million people acutely food insecure. Each unique person represented in these figures is – every single day – walking a thin line for survival.

Yet, even as people report harrowing events, this conflict risks becoming forgotten while other conflicts vie for our attention. This picture is complicated by funding that does not match extraordinary needs that continue to rise. For example, in 2023 only 20 percent of the requested funding was received.

With the risk of famine on the horizon, more must be done to ensure the world doesn’t look away and leave millions of people to walk that line alone.

Emergency agricultural assistance is a decisive tool to restore food access and livelihoods. And not just for one family. The impact of agriculture-based assistance has transformational potential to reap outcomes for the nation.  

In 2024, FAO plans to reach 9 million people with time-critical assistance across all states in Sudan. The Organization urgently seeks USD 104 million to bolster food production, protect livestock and help the agriculture sector recover before conflict destroys the gains sown by generations.