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South Sudan: Empowering Jur River County Communities to produce improved seeds and adopt good agronomic practices

FAO South Sudan and Wageningen University (FAO’s partner) visited Jur River County to take stock of the achievements and lessons learned from the FNS-REPRO programme Photo ©FAO/Koen Joosten
Building resilience and quality seed production  in four villages with agricultural inputs and  extension services

Marial Ajit is a typical village located in Jur River County, less than 10 kilometres from Wau, in Western Bahr el Gazal State. The infrastructure in the area is almost non-existent, with limited access to electricity, running water, and a patchy mobile phone network at best. The community relies heavily on a single rainy season for grain production, which mainly focuses on sorghum. During the dry season, the focus shifts to vegetable and livestock production, which are closer to rivers and streams. In July 2023, when the area was visited, green was abundant in the fields, with sorghum standing tall, and groundnuts and sesame growing rapidly. FNS-REPRO began its engagement in Jur River County in 2021, as it has good crop production potential, and there are clear needs for livelihood and agricultural development, with a community eager to engage.

In Marial Ajit, Regina Nyayol Madit shows some of the local vegetable seeds she harvested as a result of support and trainings provided through FNS-REPRO. Photo: ©FAO/Koen Joosten

Through FNS-REPRO, FAO South Sudan implemented activities that increased the resilience of communities and their food security status by addressing the constraints to accessibility, availability, affordability and quality of seeds of adapted varieties through an integrated seed system approach; improving seed quality assurance to build on farmer trust and stimulate demand for quality seed; strengthening formal and informal outlets and local markets for agricultural inputs; developing institutional and organizational capacity to support the establishment of an integrated, sustainable, resilient and robust seed system; and providing opportunities for the conservation of crop biodiversity to enhance the resilience of the seed and crop system.

Strengthening capacities across the agricultural seed value chain is a promising approach to supporting agricultural development, economic growth, and sustainability. The communities in Jur River County have shown great enthusiasm for the program's objectives. FAO's support mainly included one-time provision of start-up seeds and tools, along with a range of training and extension services, such as planting and plant protection, good agronomic practices (GAP), seed cleaning, packaging, and storage, seed business and record-keeping, group dynamics, and cooperative management.

After three years of FNS-REPRO, the impact and benefit to the communities are becoming visible. The availability of improved seeds and the adoption of good cultivation practices have markedly increased crop and seed production. In July 2023, with crops growing in the field, there was still an abundance of seed stored in community stores – something that had not been witnessed before.

Importantly, beneficiaries also indicate that they are now seeing the benefits of producing seeds rather than just crops: seeds fetch higher prices, and local seed varieties are in demand! This is evidenced by the fact that in 2022, a local seed company from Wau was able to buy over 500MT of sorghum, sesame & groundnut seeds from FNS-REPRO beneficiaries.

FAO South Sudan and Wageningen University (FAO’s partner) visited Jur River County to take stock of the achievements and lessons learned from the FNS-REPRO programme Photo ©FAO/Koen Joosten

Beneficiaries in Kangi indicated that FNS-REPRO has increased the production of quality seeds, with a surplus now being sold at the market. This has resulted in two key changes, first, there is now sufficient availability of quality seeds at the local level. The knowledge provided through FNS-REPRO – in particular on seed cleaning – has resulted in increased competition between households to provide higher quality seeds, lower quality is simply not in demand anymore! Second, due to the higher quality and quantity of seed available, crop production has increased with lower food insecurity levels recorded.

Several cooperatives have also been established across the county with FNS-REPRO support. Cooperative members jointly engage in seed production, aggregation and marketing. In Marial Bai, the Rain Power Green Agriculture Cooperative Society (which has 103 members) has gone on to cultivate a total of 510 feddans (approximately 510 acres) with groundnut for seed production. In Kangi, the Thobo Tithi Agriculture Cooperative Society was registered under the 2011 Cooperative Act in 2022.

A member of the Thobo Tithi Agriculture Cooperative Society.
Photo:FAO/Koen Joosten

By identifying and prioritizing crops that address specific nutritional deficiencies within a given population, interventions can be tailored to effectively improve dietary quality and address malnutrition. The seed value chain in South Sudan has potential because of the direct link with nutrition through seeds of nutritious and drought-tolerant crops and seeds for a variety of foods all year round.

When introducing new crops or varieties, it is important to include information on their utilization and nutritional efits in in the nutrition education component. In Jur River County, FNS-REPRO beneficiaries have planted a range of nutrition-dense crops in their kitchen gardens. This has been combined with education sessions and cooking demonstrations to address gaps in knowledge on the selection and preparation of nutritious foods.

Nonetheless, challenges remain. Although the production of seeds is on the rise, the lack of infrastructure and roads, high transport costs, and poor access to markets significantly limit opportunities to increase household incomes. In addition, lack of proper storage and inappropriate post-harvest practices often lead to losses, while lack of improved tools and mechanization limits further expansion

Important lessons can be learned from the FNS-REPRO experience in Jur River County:

  • Community engagement, consultation, sensitization and capacity building are key – without an engaged community and capable implementing partner, FNS-REPRO would not be delivering the results that are becoming visible now.
  • Creating market linkages is key to increasing income through seed production – seed production is happening at a large scale (and growing), but communities still face challenges in accessing the market. This is partly due to high transportation costs – directly linked to the bad state of South Sudan’s roads – but also to the lack of linkages with local seed companies. Having a guaranteed outlet for the seeds produced is essential to the further development of the sector, and to turn it into one that provides decent incomes and opportunities.
  • Local seed varieties are much better adapted to the environment than imported ones and are in high demand. While initially FAO provided imported seeds, FNS-REPRO has shifted to supporting local seed production. This is appreciated by communities and provides a stimulus for the local economy.
  • A further increase in seed (and crop) production is often limited by the availability of labour. Working with targeted communities to introduce mechanization – even if only with simple tools like ox ploughs – has the potential to significantly increase production.