By Marwa Awad and Akech Ngang
Many of us do not realize how hard it can be for people living in areas of conflict and humanitarian disasters to lift themselves out of poverty. In some of the most food-insecure places in South Sudan, chronic hurdles of climate change, intercommunal violence, and a lack of basic services have often stood in the way of many South Sudanese pursuing self-reliance.
Aluel Ring Deng, lives in a small village in Twic County in Warrap State. She is a smallholder farmer who has struggled to create a stable life for her family.
Despite her best efforts, the 50-year-old has resorted to gathering wild fruit and leaves to feed her seven children and has relied on World Food Programme (WFP) rations to survive.
Torrential rains and floods, ongoing conflict, and the lack of quality seeds have stifled her efforts to grow and maintain her land.
“Hunger was my constant companion,” says Aluel, who until two years ago was barely surviving despite her efforts to grow food for herself and her family.
In 2019, Aluel’s life changed. She joined BRACE II, a WFP project which supports South Sudanese farmers by training them in agricultural best practices and helping them build their resilience to climactic shocks. It also improves their food security thereby reducing intercommunal conflict over natural resources.
In the area of Titchok Boma, Aluel and other food-for-assets (FFA) programme participants received vegetable seeds, cereal crops and farming tools. They were able to tap into a wealth of agricultural knowledge such as training on the reduction of post-harvest losses through effective storage solutions, and how to earn an income by selling surplus crops in local markets — all while encouraging one another to persevere.
Knowledge is power
WFP’s partner, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), trained Aluel and others in nutrition and agronomy as well as business skills. The training has helped the members increase crop production and diversify their livelihoods.
Using their newly acquired skills, Aluel and other group members expanded their farming activities by taking on larger plots of land known as “block farms” to plant their crops which now include various types of vegetables to help diversify diets. Each “block farm” is located outside Wunrok town and consists of two hectares per farmer.
“My teammates and I established a very good vegetable garden at Nokriem, near Wunrok market, and we are very happy because we grow vegetables to feed our families and then sell a good part of our produce in local markets,” says Aluel, who makes 5,000 South Sudanese Pounds (US$ 10) per day. With the profit, Aluel can buy clothes for her children, feed them more nutritious meals, and expand the family’s garden at home.
Aluel and her teammates established an impressive 80,000 sq metres of vegetable gardens at Nokriem village, Wunrok Payam. These new cultivated farmlands supply Wunrok market with green vegetables throughout the year.
The Village Bank
With their newfound success, the team of smallholder farmers introduced a savings and loans scheme. In such a remote location with no easy access to formal financial services, the farmers’ initiative is key to providing simple savings and loan facilities to help its members invest in their land and increase their productivity. It all began with a simple savings box, to which each team member contributed 1,000 South Sudanese Pounds (US$ 2) every week. Within six months, Aluel and her team saved 480,000 South Sudanese Pounds (US$ 800).
Aluel is proud and pleased with her new economic independence: “Now I can dream big,” she says. “I can find more ways to generate my own income and buy anything I need from the market. I no longer worry about putting food on the table or going to bed hungry.”
Her purchasing power does not stop at food. Aluel and all the other participants are now able to buy medicine from local pharmacies and pay for their children’s school fees and uniforms. They have achieved what many people around the world living in humanitarian disasters dream of: self-reliance through growing their own food.