Farmers in Western Bahr el Ghazal State say the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has lifted them out of poverty through training and the production and preservation of quality seeds.
The chief of Barurud Boma in Jur River County, Western Bahr el Ghazal State, Wojith Kon, 57, says he is among the beneficiaries of the Dutch Food and Nutrition Security Resilience Programme (FNS-REPRO), a four-year project implemented by FAO, which has improved his standard of living.
“I am now self-sufficient and self-reliant and I can now feed my family without relying on others,” he says.
The program which benefits 8,800 farmers in Western Bahr el Ghazal focuses on building the seeds system, encouraging farmers to produce seeds and market them through trade fairs. Kon supervises two cooperatives, Tumotich and Thopotich, in Barurud Boma which comprise 30 members each who grow groundnuts, sorghum, and other crops.
According to the chief, he thought he was too old to farm before being trained by FAO on how to improve seed production and good agricultural practices. “This project has helped us a lot in this village. Before this project, I thought I was too old to farm but the support from FAO motivated and encouraged me to embark on farming and I now own two big gardens,” Kon explains. “I am now competing with strong young people in the field and have produced enough food for my family. Last year, I managed to get three sacks of sorghum and this year I hope I will get five sacks.”
Another beneficiary of the project, Mary Akoul, 35, is a mother of one child and owns a local restaurant in Barurud Boma. She says her restaurant is now one of the biggest and best in the village and patronized by many clients.
“FAO has made us self-reliant and if they decide to leave us today, we will still survive because they have taught us how to farm and how to make our businesses generate money from our produce,” she says. According to 35-year-old vendor Santo Garang Deng, the FAO-implemented project changed his life for the better.
“Since I received seeds from FAO in 2020, my life changed,” he reveals.
Garang was struggling before he was selected as a beneficiary of the life-changing project. He says the two months of training he acquired from FAO helped him to become a wealth creator for his family, the proud owner of a big shop in his hometown, and that he has since bought 35 head of cattle.
“I now own a big shop in Barurud Payam of Jur River County and my shop is doing well and for the last two years, my production has increased. I sold some of the sorghum and bought 35 cows,” he proudly says. “I have 150 sacks of groundnuts in the store and one sack goes for SSP 60,000. I have enough groundnuts, sorghum, and sesame in the store waiting for potential buyers.”
Meanwhile, Ayeu Majak, a member of the Thopotich Cooperative Group who owns two feddans in her village, says she grows cereals for both domestic consumption and for sale.
“I produced a lot of crops last year after getting seeds from FAO and this year I will produce more. As we speak, I have enough cereal in the store. FAO, World Concern, and other NGOs are now buying from me,” the 47-year-old mother of 8 says. “I used the money I got from my produce to send my children to school. I have five children in school, one child is studying in town and four are studying here in Barurud Boma.”
“I have injected a lot of money into the farm this year because I know very well that I will get more money when I produce on a large scale,” she adds.
The FNS-REPRO program started in October 2019 in Somaliland and Sudan, and South Sudan was requested to join on 1 October 2020.
The five-year project covers Western Bahr el Ghazal, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Western Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria, Jonglei, and Upper Nile states.
South Sudan faces unprecedented humanitarian needs with more than 6 million people facing food insecurity and about two million internally displaced. This is coupled with recurrent inter and intra-tribal conflicts resulting in loss of lives and productive assets.
Displacement from agricultural and grazing land is rampant in some locations in South Sudan due to conflicts and women and children are the most affected.
Another beneficiary of the project, Gabriel Udero, 37, the chairperson of vendors in Barurud Boma, says he has gained a lot from FAO in the last two years.
“The UN FAO contracted me to buy goats and cows with my own money, slaughter them, and distribute 1 kg of meat each to women freely. After 7 days, when I give them the vouchers and I get paid, sometimes I can even get SSP 1 million in a day,” he explains. “I have benefited a lot from this project. I can now get money in a day and buy stock the same day. Before this project, I was suffering and could stay for a whole day in the shop waiting for customers.”
The FSN-REPRO aims to reduce the number of the population exposed to food insecurity through the enhancement of food production, and productivity, and the use of conflict mitigation measures.
Although many people in South Sudan rely largely on agriculture for their livelihoods, they practice subsistence farming which does not create the surpluses needed to feed a rapidly growing number of rural and urban consumers.
This sector was selected because of shortages of quality seeds and planting materials necessary to enable farmers to produce sufficient food for their families and a surplus for sale.
The situation of seed shortages and poor access has been exacerbated by the 21-year violent conflict.
Mimi Emilia Wanga, an FAO Seed Extension Assistant, says the project aims to halt the importation of seeds from neighbouring countries like Uganda and Kenya which farmers say at times fail to germinate.
“This project came in to at least stop the issue of bringing seeds from outside and also support the local farmers and motivate them to produce on a large scale,” says Wanga.
She says the project also includes a seed fair which is a temporary market to sell the seeds locally produced by beneficiaries within Western Bahr el Ghazal.
“The UN FAO also provided beneficiaries with seeds such as groundnuts, sorghum, and vegetable seeds such as eggplant, cassava, okra, and juice mallow. What inspired FAO to come out with this project is because previously used to bring seeds from Kenya and Uganda but the farmers used to always complain that the seeds do not germinate,” she reveals. “We thought of at least supporting the farmers locally to produce the seeds within the local community because the seeds which are produced here are adapted to the environment and some of them are also resistant to the diseases and pests around.”
“With this project, we have seen a lot of improvement, even here within Western Bahr el Ghazal, we are even supplying other neighbouring states such as Warrap State,” she adds.
Wanga says the project targets 60 per cent of the women and 35 per cent of the youth.
Between 2008 and 2019, FAO supported community-based seed production and supply activities across the country, including building capacity of more than 3, 000 seed growers, and the construction of Yei Seed Laboratory in 2008 and among other interventions.