Life is slowly becoming more secure nutritionally and financially for Debit Taban and other small farmers in strife-torn South Sudan, thanks to good advice on food production, storage and sale.
Text: Norwegian People’s Aid/Kavli Trust
Photos: Norwegian People’s Aid
He is chair of Logu Dapa, a self-organised group of around 30 farmers which receives professional guidance from the provincial agricultural authorities.
It also gets small loans and donations for purchasing tools and seeds from Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), the humanitarian organisation for Norway’s labour movement.
An agricultural school run by the NPA at Yei in South Sudan is providing an ever growing number of farmers with an education they can take back to their cooperatives.
The Kavli Trust is also helping to ensure than more such farm groups can get access to the necessary knowledge through a joint project with the NPA. This aims to ensure that local small farmers in the African nation secure the resources and expertise they need to produce food for themselves and their local communities. By learning more about producing and storing food and about access to markets, they can increase the productivity of each acre they cultivate.
Harvesting and packing maize at the Nyobulo Teso cooperative for sale in the market. That lies some distance away, so protecting the crop from damage during transport is important.
South Sudan gained independence on 9 July 2011 after more than 20 years of civil war against the north, which had left two million people dead and four million as refugees in their own country. The work of building a new state from scratch had been under way since peace was signed in 2005, and optimism was great when the country finally became independent.
So disappointment was all the greater for both the South Sudanese and everyone who had worked to help them stand on their own feet when internal conflict broke out in December 2013. What began as a fight over power and privileges in the capital has developed into armed struggles across virtually the whole country. These clashes vary from place to place, but their common denominator is that the price has been paid by the civilian population.
So far, over 100 000 people are thought to have lost their lives. More than two million have fled their homes, and well over four million will need emergency aid in 2015.
South Sudan has the world’s highest level of infant mortality, two-thirds of the population is illiterate, and 90 per cent of them live on less than a dollar a day.
In such conditions, a project like the NPA’s is vital. And its effects are already measureable today, a little more than two years since it was launched in February 2013. The farmers involved in the farm groups are applying the lessons they have learnt, and their production has increased substantially.
Lily Leoba from the Nyobulo Teso farm group puts cassava to soak. That is an important stage in processing this root crop to make it edible. It will ultimately be ground into flour.
When the Nyobulo Teso farm group was founded outside Yei in the south of the country, two goals were set by the members – enough food for them and their families, and a surplus which could earn them sufficient to send the children to school.
All six of the groups in the project were provided with a cassava mill in 2015. That represents a big step forward and an invaluable aid, particularly for the women who would otherwise have to walk long distance to get this crop ground to flour.
All school-age children are now in education. And the health of this small community, particularly among the young, has improved radically as a result of having enough nutritious food.
The cooperative now farms about 80 hectares and grows 10 different kinds of vegetables, fruit and grain, as well as keeping more than 30 cows, 90 goats and 35 ducks. It sold agricultural produce worth NOK 110 000 in 2013 and NOK 117 000 the year after.
“Everyone helps everyone else, and we hold general meetings to decide the day’s work” says Jean Dudu Cyprus, one of the women in the group.
“If anyone has problems with their work, their personal life or their family, we reach agreement on how to assist them. Where we come from, which tribe we belong to, doesn’t matter.”
She and Isaac Amule explain that they both came from nothing, each with a large family of seven children. They are very grateful for the chance, and call it “the gift of life”.
But things are by no means easy, says Amule: “We’d hoped that production would increase more rapidly. The war has created problems because it affects all part of society even if we’re not directly affected. “Much remains to be done, but we’ve taken a firm grip on this and have great faith in the future in spite of everything.”
Altogether, the members of the six farm collectives in the project supported by the Kavli Trust are cultivating almost 300 hectares of land. Their harvests are largely maize, sorghum, cassava, beans and peanuts. They can now afford to build better houses and to invest in more equipment and tools, which in turn can improve operations and increase food production.
Established by the NPA in 1999, this institution has since trained 1 500 women and men. Part of the Kavli Trust’s funding helps to meet its running costs.
Umi’s ambition is to start cultivating vegetables on a sufficiently large scale so that she can at least maintain a stall in the local market.
The curriculum is varied. In addition to traditional agriculture, it covers chicken farming, keeping goats and bees, fish ponds, tree planting, and producing fruit and flowers.
Umi is particularly pleased that part of the course covers sales techniques and the pricing of produce.
Another student, Batali John, was a soldier in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and suffers from the delayed mental and physical effects of war wounds. “With what I’ve learnt, it’s as if life is starting again,” he says. He now wants to feed his family by starting vegetable farming in his home village of Korobo close to the Congo border.
“Imagine if I could earn enough money for my family and me to live a life without worrying about where the food was coming from,” John says.
- The amount of land cultivated by the groups has increased.
- Harvest are larger.
- Members of all the groups have been able to contribute more to their families, such as paying school fees for the children, buying medicines and obtaining other forms of health care.
- Everyone in the groups has enough food for themselves and their family.
- A number of the members can afford to buy livestock such as cattle and goats.
- The women in some of the groups, such as Nyobulo Teso, have established savings and loan groups to increase incomes.
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