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South Sudan: Vegetable farming turns women into breadwinners

28-year-old mother of 8 children, Nyanut Athian on her vegetable farm in Marial Ajith. Photo- Awan Achiek

“I will not stop farming as long as I live on this earth, this work will only stop when I die. I have benefited a lot from this vegetable farm,” said Nyanut Athian, a 28-year-old mother of eight.

Nyanut is a member of the Cow Co-operative Group in Marial Ajith village who benefited from the Food and Nutrition Security Resilience Programme (FNS-REPRO) funded by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and  implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The four-year project, which benefits 300 vegetable women in Western Bahr el Ghazal, focuses on building the seeds system, encouraging farmers to produce seeds and market them through trader fairs. The project made many widows like Nyanut the breadwinners of their families.

Nyanut whose husband, Chan Tong was killed during Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) war says the project has changed her life. Through vegetable farming, I am able to pay the school fees for my two children. One child is in primary school and the elder one in the University and I also cater for their medication,” she says.

The group, Cow Co-operative, which is composed of 30 members was trained by FAO on how to grow vegetables and provided with seeds in order to improve agricultural skills. Nyanut says after joining the project in 2021, she has been growing vegetables on her home farmland, especially during the dry season, and earning a profit by selling them.

“FAO has changed my life,” says Nyanut, a widow who has been feeding her children through the support of the FNS-REPRO project. “I am working hard to make more money so that I can build a better house for my children and buy more goats. If I failed to produce enough during this rainy season, I will sell the goat I bought with money from this project, and inject it into the farm so that I can buy another goat. Through the profit, I was able to buy a cow. During last year’s dry season, I was able to get SSP 9 000 from the sales,” she says.

Empowering women farmers in Marial Ajith village has made a significant difference in the livelihoods of their families.

Women on a vegetable farms Photo- Awan Achiek

“In the past, we did not know how to plant vegetables,” said Teresa Nyanut Wuo, 39, widow and mother of seven in Marial Ajith.

Teresa lost her husband, Manyuot Akok during the liberation struggle.  After receiving support from FAO through this Dutch-funded project, she has been the breadwinner for her seven children.  Thanks to the training she acquired from FAO, she has been able to afford food and pay school fees for the seven children. Teresa is a member of the Long Life Co-operative Group.

“I managed to buy a goat with the money I got from this project,” says Teresa. She grows amaranthus, eggplants, tomatoes, kale, okra and green pepper. “These clothes that I am wearing, I bought them with the money I got from selling vegetables,” she says, adding: “We no longer make mats and collect firewood.”

Another beneficiary of the FNS project, Anoon Mabior, a 24-year-old mother of four says this farm has provided her with food and income. Anoon, whose husband Akec Kongoro is a teacher at Marial Ajith Primary School, owns 12 feddans of tomatoes and nine feddans of kale. She is among a group of women in Marial Ajith village who have been growing vegetables to make ends meet and also to supplement their family diet.

She also enrolled in adult education at Alel Chok Primary School. She is paying her school fees and that of her children with the money she makes from a vegetable farm. “I made a lot of money during dry season last year. I saved more than SSP 70 000 in ‘Saving Group’ and I have used others to treat my children and inject the rest into the farm,” she says.

The Dutch-funded FNS-REPRO programme started in October 2019 in Somaliland and Sudan, and South Sudan was requested to join on October 1st, 2020. The five-year project which started in 2020 in South Sudan covered 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 six million people facing food insecurity crisis, and about two million internally displaced or worse in situations of armed conflict. This is coupled with recurrent inter and intra-tribal conflicts, resulting in the 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 worst affected.

A thriving tomato plant Photo- Awan Achiek

“We used to make mats and cut grass to make a living,” says Maria Adut Anei, 28, mother of three children whose husband, Joseph Anyang a driver, is a member of the Rou Cooperative Group in Marial Ajith.

“Before FAO came with this project, we were suffering but since FAO trained us on vegetables, our lives have changed, we are able to feed our children from the produce,” she says.  Maria says the project has relieved her from hunger. “Now my children don’t go hungry again.”

Moses Akec Akot, World Concern FNS Field Assistant says the project, which started in 2021, helped the farmers to be self-reliant in Jur River County. “What we want to achieve is seeing them progressing and to be food secure so that they can feed their families and meet their needs,” says Akech, who works for World Concern, an implementing partner of the FNS-Repro project.

“We also give them skills so that they benefit from this project and have something to eat and support themselves like paying school fees for their children and medication.” He says the project liberated widows and made them breadwinners.  “Most of them are widows who are heading the households; we want them to be breadwinners of their families and this is why we are supporting them.”  He says the farmers are now making use of the knowledge and skills imparted to them to grow tomatoes, eggplant, kale, and amaranthus which they sell and used the money to meet basic needs.

“Before this project was introduced, farmers used to buy seeds from the market but now the beneficiaries are producing enough and they no longer buy from the market like it used to be in the past,” he says.