Businesses bloom in Sudan

UNDP is helping Darfur's poorest farmers recover economically from the conflict and return to their fields. Photo: UNDP/Sudan

Picking flowers is not generally considered hazardous, but Alhadi Ibrahim Muhammed is using a gargara for his protection as he plucks blooms from a hibiscus plant. The small, metal tool allows him to avoid painful skin reactions as he picks the colourful crop.


  • Hibiscus is an edible flower and can be made into paper or used to make tea.
  • Blacksmiths were trained by UNDP to make tools for hibiscus production.
  • 750 new farmers were trained in hibiscus production and 1,500 farmers given other help by UNDP, which included tools to harvest hibiscus as well as horses and carts to transport the crop to the market.
  • 12,000 people, including conflict affected men and women have benefited from the project overall.
  • The project is paid for by USAID through an initial fund of more than US$ 183,000 for one year.

Muhammed, a 45-year-old farmer in Waada, northern Darfur, has just begun growing hibiscus after giving up its cultivation over a decade ago. "I had to stop cultivating hibiscus years ago as I could not get the tools I needed. They were too expensive and I could not afford them," he says. "And without hibiscus, it has been difficult for me to provide for my wife and five children."

Ranging in color from bright red to delicate pink, hibiscus flowers are edible, can be made into paper and are a key ingredient in many fruit teas. They have the potential to be an important source of income for thousands of farmers in Sudan. Over the past decade, however, conflict, drought, a lack of basic equipment or  means of transporting the flowers to market, have left abandoned fields and impoverished families in their wake.

But with global demand for hibiscus on the rise--Germany accounts for half of Sudan's hibiscus exports--UNDP is helping Darfur's poorest farmers, like Muhammed, to recover economically from the conflict and return to their fields. Farmers who want to grow hibiscus are receiving horses, carts, seeds, tools and training in new production methods.

To help improve the local economy, a UNDP scheme is also training local blacksmiths to make a range of tools, including the gargara -- a metal pipe that helps farmers pick the hibiscus flowers, spares the bloom from damage and prevents allergic skin reactions. With the new tool, farmers may now increase production along with the market value of their final product.

And the help is starting to pay off. Today, in northern Darfur, close to 1,500 farmers, many of whom had given up producing hibiscus, have returned to tending their fields. The hibiscus yield in 2013 is expected to be double what it was in 2012 and 12,000 individuals affected by local hibiscus production are once again able to make a living from this traditional industry.

"Since we have provided farmers with the tools to start producing hibiscus again, we have seen many changes in the region," says Narve Rotwitt from UNDP. "Farmers now have horses to transport the final product to the market and have tools to make harvesting more effective. We also expect to see a decrease in painful allergies tied to cultivating hibiscus with bare hands. Even in the most remote rural areas, farmers can now transport their crops to the market."

It is a view shared by Muhammed, who like the other farmers, received seeds, insecticides, fungicides, a gargara and an animal plough, which he shares with his neighbours. His village also received a horse and cart to transport the crops to the market.

"Thanks to these new tools, I have sown twice as much hibiscus as last year," he says. "The plough has allowed me to expand production of my other crops and I have high hopes for the future. With the extra money I will earn from the crops I will be able to keep my three youngest children in school."

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