South Sudan is on the verge of one of the biggest food crises in recent history and – with the local currency becoming increasingly useless – local food production is the only solution to the population’s suffering. Caritas International and the Swiss Agency for Development & Corporation subscribed to the need for increased local food production and supported the dioceses in their attempts to support commercial farming in the extremely fertile payams of Otogo, Lasu, Tore, Kotobi, Mambe, Maridi, Manikakara and Nabbanga.
Rainfall in 2016 was one of the best of the last decade and as imported foodstuffs became too expensive for most South Sudanese, local farmers rapidly picked up interest in increasing their food production for marketing purposes. During the first harvest of 2016 farmers had produced double of what they had produced in 2015 and hopes to finally see commercial farming emerging in South Sudan were high. Unfortunately the fighting of July has been a big setback. In Otogo and Lasu, farmers left their crops as they fled to Uganda. The other payams remained peaceful, but the roads to the main urban markets got cut off.
During 6 months of relative peace (January to June 2016), the project had managed to provide a serious boost to farmers by among others: 1. constructing 7 warehouses and 10 wells; 2. distributing 4 MT of certified seeds, 1200 tools and 10 treadle pumps; and 3. training 400 farmers in oxen ploughing, warehouse management and seed multiplication. The fragile peace finally collapsed in July – in the midst of the first harvest. The effects were particularly devastating in Otogo and Lasu, where many people left their crops behind and fled to Uganda. In the six other payams movement came to a halt, but in the course of August, trucks started moving again – albeit not towards the main market in the capital Juba.
Since then extension work has started again and 5 MT of certified seeds were distributed in the first 2 weeks of September. However, the morale of the farmers has been very much affected by the events in Yei. Since the 1970s Yei was a lively commercial hub referred to as “small London”. Seeing the country’s most dynamic farmers loose everything has left its marks throughout the Western part of Equatoria and much of the enthusiasm of early 2016 has already faded. The coming months will be determinant for farmers in the Equatorias. If markets live up and farmers start to make money, the upward evolution towards commercial farming will persist; but if farmers end up getting stuck with their crops, fatalism will take over and another opportunity will be missed. In many of the intervention payams, Caritas is the only remaining support for the farmers. This presence is not only important for the material and agronomic support the project provides, but also because it provides a sense of normality which is necessary for farmers to continue believing that better days will come. Their production is the only remaining local answer against the looming treath of famine – giving up on them, is giving up on South Sudan.
A day in the life of Caritas in South Sudan
After the peace process in South Sudan collapsed, the ever peaceful city of Yei suddenly became a battleground. Since mid-July all the roads around Yei have been closed because of insecurity and access to food became a problem. On 15 September Caritas Belgium and Caritas South Sudan flew 2 MT of beans to Yei for the people who are sheltering in Yei’s main Catholic Church. These 2 MT were part of 10 MT of food aid funded by Salvatorian Aid (Salvatoriaanse Hulpactie) – of which 8 MT were distributed in Juba in response to the displacement caused by July’s fighting. The plane that carried the food items continued thereafter to Maridi to deliver 1.5 MT of certified seeds from Caritas Belgium’s rural development project. The seeds were transiting on their way to the neighbouring diocese of Tombura-Yambio when fighting broke out in Yei in July. Fortunately Mission Aviation Fellowship was able to provide a cheap cargo flight to ensure that the Maridi-farmers still got their seeds in time.