Gussa Jamat village, in Kalimindo locality, is located approximately 100 km from El Fasher, accessible by sand roads only, with approximately 28,000 people and 33 tribes calling it home. People practice agriculture and livestock production here, and harvest gum Arabic in the lean season, relying on one annual rainy season for both their livestock as well as their crops. Following its inception phase and the subsequent selection of Gussa Jamat as one of the FNS-REPRO target villages, an integrated package of interventions and activities was deployed.
In addition to gum Arabic production - the key focus of the programme in Sudan - this approach consists of support to cash crop production and agroforestry, improvement to water infrastructure, and building local capacity on conflict mitigation and resolution through improving youth-women-leader dialogues. Supported by FAO through Forestry National Corporation (FNC) and the State Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, these groups receive a range of training across these areas, including on gum Arabic production and harvesting, natural resource Management, and agroforestry practices - mainly through the Farmer Field School (FFS) approach: the "school without walls" based on people-centred learning. In Gussa Jamat, FFS participants exchanged knowledge and engaged in field exercises using direct observation, discussion and decision-making to encourage learning by doing.
As a result, employing better agronomic practices, together with the Hashab seedlings and improved cash crop seeds (groundnuts and sesame) provided by FNS-REPRO before the start of the rainy season and open fire lines, beneficiaries are now seeing higher yields for their crops as well as improved production of gum Arabic. Sesame production per feddan increased from 1.5 to 2 sacks while groundnut production increased from 8 to 12 sacks per feddan in 2021. In November 2022, trucks fully loaded with sesame were seen leaving the village of Gussa Jamat, heading straight for Omdurman (Khartoum). Sesame, together with groundnut and gum Arabic, are the main economic drivers in villages such as Gussa Gamat, but remain prone to climatic variations such as rainfall, drought and also pests and diseases. Furthermore, relatively poor access to markets lead to low prices for small-scale producers in Gussa Gamat.
Another result of the programme is the increased water availability for human as well as livestock consumption. There is less frequency of waterborne illnesses attributed to clean water from the rehabilitated water well. The newly solarized "water yard" provides reliable access to water throughout the year, for approximately 10,000 cows, 3,000 camels and 40,000 sheep and goats. By early 2023, final improvements to the water yard will be finalized, ensuring that humans and livestock are separated properly. Since users are required to pay a small fee for each head of livestock using the facility, operation and maintenance can be done by the Water Management Committee trained by FNS-REPRO - thereby ensuring the long-term sustainability of the investment. The excess revenue is channelled back to the community through direct support to the need and improving community services.
But of course, even with the support provided through FNS-REPRO and the gains that are being made, life is still tough in Gussa Jamat. As is the case in most of Darfur, water availability is a key constraint. This is true for both human and livestock consumption, and even more so for crop production. The lack of water in the Hashab forests - which are often far from the villages - makes collecting gum very difficult for labourers. And although gum arabic production has increased in the village, prices remain stubbornly low due to the distance to markets, the lack of infrastructure and local processing, and the powerful position of middlemen and traders. These are issues that are difficult to tackle in the current programme but deserve attention in any future investments or interventions in the gum arabic sector in Darfur.
Training on improving knowledge and awareness of the importance of consuming nutritious foods and healthy diets is a key focus area for FNS-REPRO. Beneficiaries, mostly women's groups, receive training and capacity building on how to cook more nutritious foods, how to cook in a hygienic manner and how to use improved cooking stoves. This benefits their households but can also contribute to women's businesses. In the case of Aziza Ibrahim in Gussa Gamat, she has directly utilized the gained skills to improve her restaurant. She indicated that the training she received has contributed to her business by improving her income as she was selling more food. Also, she has been teaching her employees in the restaurant how to adopt nutrition and hygiene practices so these skills further cascade through Gussa Gamat.
Mohammed Abdalla Mohammed Osman is the Natural Resource Management (NRM) committee secretary in Gusa Jamat, established and supported by FNS-REPRO, and keeps track of the Gum Arabic production activities in his community. He explained that FNS-REPRO has supported his community through handing out Hashab seedlings, training on gum Arabic production, tapping and collection, as well as some value-adding processes that include cleaning, sorting and packing. Mohammed explained that as a result of this training and engagement of FNS-REPRO, their gum Arabic production increased from 1 to 1.5 pounds per tapping per tree to 2.5 pounds per tapping per tree. This has led to a doubling of their income derived from gum Arabic production. Mohammed, however, indicates that prices for gum Arabic remain very low and that if prices improved they would be able to generate an even higher income. The increased income is mostly used for paying for education for their children and to purchase (healthy) foods for their households.
In Gusa Jamat, there is a well-organized and strong women's association that is supported by FNS-REPRO. The association have received a range of training that improve skills and awareness of the female members in different areas, including gum Arabic production, nutrition and healthy diets, integrated pest management, good agricultural practices and using of improved cooking stoves. Nada Ahmed, the head of the women's association in Gusa Jamat, explained that as a result of the project interventions the female members became more involved in the production of cash crops, including gum Arabic, and by this had improved their own economic status. Moreover, this also led to improved decision-making power of women in their households. She indicated, however, that the extra income also was mostly spent on education for their children and purchasing healthy foods for their household.