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South Sudan: How supporting farmers with training has enabled education, movement and freedom

Livia has tarpaulins laid out and drying racks for maize, both for seed and grain. In a tukul, she stores the maize to keep it dry and cool. Photo:FAO/Gasim Togo

Nestled in the depths of thick forest in Yambio County, Western Equatoria State, in Nagbaka village of Ngindo Boma, down a long narrow dirt road, lives Livia Constantino. Livia is married and is a mother to six girls and four boys.

On her plot of land, Livia has tarpaulins laid out and drying racks for maize, both for seed and grain. In a tukul, she stores the maize to keep it dry and cool.

“Keeping the maize while looking for a market is difficult. If we keep them in sacks, they only last three months, and then maize will get spoiled. So we use baskets, covered with mosquito nets, then they last six months,” she says.

Previously, Livia was part of a farmers’ group. Through the South Sudan component of FNS-REPRO, and in partnership with Star Trust Organization (STO), the group became a fully recognized cooperative called Nagbaka – Nambatu Multipurpose Cooperative Society.

Furthermore, in the second season of 2022 (June – December 2022), Livia and other cooperative members were trained on creating a demonstration plot. This included bush clearing, ploughing, planting, and weeding in order to prepare the land for farming. “Being part of a cooperative has helped a lot because people mostly consider buying from cooperatives,” says Livia. Cooperatives are known to offer better quality produce, showcase improved marketing, and tend to be engaged in formal markets such as seed fairs.

The cooperative learned how to farm correctly on the demonstration plot, which was provided by the project. They then applied this knowledge to their communal cooperative farms. The produce, which includes maize, cowpeas, groundnuts and sweet potatoes (OSFP) from the farms of the members are sold, and the earnings are distributed equally among the cooperative members. At the seed fair in July 2022, they made more than 1 000 dollars from the produce sold on their communal farms. The cooperative also produced seeds, which is considered certified seed.

Prior to the support from FNS-REPRO, Livia struggled to provide for her family. She did not have the knowledge or skills to farm efficiently.

“Life was difficult,” says Livia, explaining that she used to practice mixed cropping (planting many types of crops together on one plot - traditional farmers often plant maize, groundnuts and cassava together in a single season). This always resulted in low yield of grain and very little left over for use as seed. Access to markets was also a challenge due to the distance, poor roads, and lack of transportation.

Through the FNS-REPRO project, Livia had been connected to World Food Programme’s (WFP) Smallholder Agricultural Market Support (SAMS) project and was provided with a maize sheller to thresh her maize. FNS-REPRO further provided training to all its farmers to enhance their agricultural practices. One of the main focuses of the training was on post-harvest handling, a practice on how and when to harvest a crop, dry and preserve it without incurring major losses. Livia attended almost all training sessions that were conducted by FAO through STO.

“The training helped me a lot. There was a lot of training for the whole process, from planting to harvesting,” says Livia. Photo: FAO/Gasim Togo

With the maize sheller, Livia is able to speed up the post-harvest process, reducing the time she spends shelling the maize, and allowing her to give her attention to other crops. “It changed my life,” says Livia.

Furthermore, the quality of Livia’s produce is recognized, thanks to her production and post-harvest process which she applied from the training. “They recognized that I have the cleanest seed,” she says. The news spread quickly through word of mouth, and soon after, people come to her from all over to buy her seeds at the seed fairs. Seed fairs were introduced by the project in Yambio County in July 2022, as well as in other locations within the county. Livia’s seed would always sell out very quickly.

Livia became known as the Seed Lady. At the seed fair in July 2022, Livia made 1.2 million SSP (equivalent to approximately USD $1,700).

“It is not easy, you become old very quickly. Farming is hard work. The best thing is that our land is very fertile and provides plenty of food. If you work hard, you can earn money and you can send your kids to a good school,” says Livia.

All the efforts are paying off for Livia and her family. Not only has she sent all ten of her children to school, but most are attending classes in Uganda where the quality of education is better. One of her daughters is studying medicine in Kenya. Another of Livia’s daughters got a scholarship to go to China for two years and then to the United States where she graduated. Now, she has a job in Canada.

“That is the result of the hard work,” says Livia proudly.

Beyond Livia and her family, the FNS-REPRO seed fair has also been very beneficial to the entire community. Since they live far from town, the seed fair, which offered 12 markets in different locations within Yambio County, was brought to a nearby location, therefore eliminating the need for transportation, which is often a key impediment to marketing.

“Selling in an open market does not always fetch better prices, since customers negotiate for low prices which do not always reflect the effort in producing high-quality seed or grain,” says Livia. At seed fairs, the prices are negotiated to a fixed price, ensuring that farmers are paid fairly.

To further engage and support the local seed market, a partnership with PRO-Seed Ltd., a private seed-producing company (initiated through the marketing component under FNS-REPRO and facilitated by STO), has benefited Livia in many ways. PRO-Seed arranges for transport of the seed (picking up directly from the farmers), the sale is at a fair price (compared to the open market price), and evaluation and certification by the Seed Quality Control Board (SQCB). The seed that is certified by the SQCB is then sold to Food Security and Livelihood (FSL) Cluster partners, including FAO and WFP for distribution to new or developing beneficiaries, promoting the state and country’s self-reliance, avoiding the need to import seed from East Africa.

Jerome Wani, Agriculture Extension Officer for PRO-Seed Ltd., commented that Livia’s seed is always quality, and they thoroughly enjoy working with her. “We trust her seed a lot because we have been dealing with it for the past one and a half years. It is always clean and neat, always of quality, we will stick with her. People can learn from her,” he says.

Thanks to Livia’s dedication and hard work, Livia has been able to hire farm labourers during critical stages of farming including weeding, harvesting and seed processing. Unlike many other farmers who, because of a lack of income, pay their labourers in kind for the work, Livia is able to pay her employees in cash. “I hire other women to help me, I am able to hire about six women, and I pay them in cash,” she says. This has allowed Livia to farm, harvest, and sell significantly more productively than when she did the work alone.

Today Livia is in the process of completing the construction of a new house, which she is building with the money she has earned from farming. She was also able to build another structure to keep the seed dry. Thanks to the partnership with PRO-Seed, Livia does not have to worry about excess seed going bad or look for markets to sell at like before.

She continues to be self-driven and is investing in further learning. Livia has inspired other women in her community to do the same. Moreover, as a result of her hard work and dedication, and thanks to the project, Livia purchased a boda boda (motorcycle) allowing her to travel into town more often and much more quicker. She hopes to be able to buy additional vehicles, such as a tricycle, to transport more of her seeds in the future.

A source of transportation has given Livia freedom she never imagined she would have.