Martin Ezikia “Orange” was given his unusual name in honour of the sweet and delicious oranges grown by his father. This unconventional moniker given to him when he was a child may have been a sign of future farming success. Orange lives near Yambio town in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State. He has no formal education and is the father of 12 children.
He used to grow traditional cassava but barely managed to get by. “It was difficult to buy the basic necessities before. It was pure poverty,” recalls Orange.
Orange says the cassava – which is a staple food in Western Equatoria State – has changed over the years. The leaves, which used to make one of the area’s favourite meals commonly known as gadia, had evolved to become less palatable over time, so people were less interested in buying them in the market.
Around 2015 Orange received cuttings of a new variety of cassava called TME-14 under a USAID-funded initiative called FARM Project.
One feddan (0.4 hectares) of TME-14 cassava produces four to five metric tonnes of cuttings and eight to nine metric tonnes of tubers. The advantage is that instead of the one to three years traditional cassava takes to mature, the new variety takes only six months from planting to harvest.
Many locals were sceptical about the new variety. It was also very rare and expensive, so many farmers did not have the means to purchase cuttings. But Orange decided to take a leap of faith and begin planting TME-14, which quickly resulted in high yields. His large family benefitted from the additional nutritious food, however, there was not yet a demand for it on the market.
Orange’s life turned around in September 2020, when he was identified by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as a potential seller of a new variety of cassava cuttings. Under the FNS-REPRO project, which is funded by the Kingdom of Netherlands, farmers who were already growing the TME-14 variety were engaged to supply cassava cuttings to those who had not yet adopted it.
Orange was an exemplary seller and beneficiary because he produced quality TME-14 cassava cuttings. Because of this, he was designated as a progressive farmer. In 2022 Orange sold 822 US dollars (117 bags) worth of cassava stalks to Star Trust Organization (STO) alone, a local NGO which is working with FAO to implement the project. STO uses the purchased cassava cuttings as inputs to support new and developing farmers in the state, encouraging a local sustainable farming system while propagating the new variety.
This approach not only enhances food security and increases household income for individuals like Orange, but also for people throughout the state. Due to its success, cuttings were even taken to Aweil in Northern Bahr el Ghazal.
The demand for this new cassava is very high now as the leaves and tubers can be harvested twice a year. “Everyone wants it!” says Orange.
Selling to STO, through the FNS-REPRO project, was the first time Orange was able to make a meaningful amount of money. With this income, Orange paid school fees and purchased two bicycles to make it easier for his children to go to school.
“Before selling the new cassava variety, getting school fees for all my kids was very difficult. But now, I have sent all my kids to school on time,” says Orange. He is part of the Saura cooperative group, which received extensive training through the project in early land preparation, Good Agronomic Practices (GAP) such as row planting, timely planting, demarcation, early land preparation, post-harvest procedures, and marketing.
Prior to the training, they would plant by scattering many different types of seed together in a zig-zag, and barely any crop would even germinate. The success stemming from the sale of the new variety of cassava and better techniques for growing other crops has encouraged Orange and other members to become self-reliant. “When I take my produce to the market, everyone admires it! People notice the difference in the quality of my produce right away,” says Orange.
In addition to affording school fees for his kids, Orange has been able to build two proper shelters. Thanks to cassava cuttings, Orange’s family now lives in a good home. “From the training, I was taught to work hard. When I started working hard, I was able to build a house, just from the sale of cassava cuttings,” Orange says. And cassava is not the only crop which Orange is successfully farming. He has also grown maize, ground nuts, cowpeas and some other vegetables, and sold them at seed fairs organized by FAO and STO under FNS-REPRO, earning approximately 600 dollars. With earnings from the seed fairs and other sources, Orange expanded his operation by purchasing about two hectares of additional farmland. His goal is to increase his overall yield and continue to expand his business.
Orange says FAO-supported seed fairs will help him reach that goal, and hopes for more seed fairs in Yambio County in the future. He also says he and the community as a whole would benefit if a grinding mill could be supplied. “Before this project, we used to wait for help, but with this project, we are motivated to learn and build our own businesses,” says Orange. Because of his discipline and hard work, he became the leader of his cooperative and is admired by previously sceptical community members for his success.
Orange may have inherited his name from his father, but now he’s passing on his farming skills to the next generation. His children now join him in the garden and he’s been sharing his knowledge. “My kids farm even better than I do now, from what I taught them,” he says proudly.