In the midst of the challenges posed by conflict, climatic hardships, and scarcity, FNS-REPRO has been actively pursuing to improve the food and nutrition security status and production capacities of agro-pastoral households in Western Bahr El Ghazal State (WBGS) in South Sudan.
The Initial Struggle
Since the echoes of the 2016 conflict subsided, the people of WBGS have been grappling with the persistent adversities that have cast long shadows over their food and nutrition security status. Displacement and the struggle for balanced meals have become an everyday reality, particularly for those dwelling within the Protection of Civilian sites (POCs). The ever-changing climate has condensed their agricultural efforts into a single, rain-dependent farming season, making the cultivation of vegetables and crops a challenging task. In this already challenging environment, rural areas face the added burden of scarce water resources, making vegetable production during dry spells a near-impossible feat.
Slow Progress and Early Hurdles
In the initial phases, the residents of WBGS leaned heavily on a handful of locally grown vegetables, unaware of the untapped nutritional potential that existed in other varieties. The lack of knowledge extended to the cultivation of these nutrient-rich plants and their integration into daily diets. The limited availability of diverse seeds hampered progress, steering farmers towards cereal crops and leaving vegetables by the wayside. Even when these vegetables were accessible, the unfamiliarity with their preparation and consumption hindered their incorporation into everyday meals of agro-pastoral households.
A Journey of Change
Over time, FNS-REPRO contributed to a transformation, raising awareness about the crucial role of nutrition within these communities. Through radio broadcasts, community engagement, and a baseline survey, a newfound knowledge began to spread. The distribution of vegetable seeds and training in related Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) contributed to improved production of healthy vegetable crops, diversifying local food availability. The connections forged with markets further stimulated a renewed enthusiasm for diversifying production, triggering a glimmer of economic growth.
Current Reality and Looming Challenges
In the present landscape, a shift has occurred. Thanks to FNS-REPRO, communities are now gaining access to nutrient-dense vegetables. Through the revival of indigenous landraces and interactive cooking demonstrations, families have embraced a wider array of nutritious foods. This shift has translated into better health and overall well-being. However, this success is not without its obstacles.
The pursuit of nutrient-rich crops still faces significant barriers. The emphasis on vegetables has cast a shadow on the importance of fruits and animal products as essential sources of nutrients. The extended dry seasons, inadequate roads hindering market access, and the ever-looming threat of flooding continue to pose daunting challenges. Moreover, while change is palpable, there remains a degree of reluctance among some farmers to adopt these novel nutritious vegetables.
Lessons Gained and a Path to Sustain Hope
Through this journey, valuable lessons have emerged. FNS-REPRO’s drive for nourishing healthy diets has managed to reshape community perceptions. Interactive cooking demonstrations have bridged the divide between unfamiliar vegetables and palatable dishes. The resurgence of the Fall Armyworm (FAW) crisis has underscored the urgency of agricultural diversification, shining a brighter light on the role of vegetables within an unpredictable climate.
As the journey unfolds, the commitment to sustainability remains paramount. Continuous education on the importance of diversified and healthy diets, the revival of indigenous landraces, the building of community seed banks for the preservation of locally adapted seeds and improving the production of healthy food products are all essential components of building a more resilient food system in South Sudan.