I have spent a lot of time in many countries in Africa, usually countries suffering from some type of man-made or natural disaster. While no agriculture expert, my eyes are trained enough to seek out and identify problems and solutions that touch on food insecurity. I usually find a somewhat despairing situation.
Recently, after travelling on the bumpy to non-existent "roads" of South Sudan, I came away impressed -- impressed with the hopeful vision of a country that has enormous potential to move quickly into a state of relative food self sufficiency, perhaps within less than a generation.
And the women of South Sudan are playing a big part in the country's drive towards recovery. According to Ofeni Ngota Amitai, the minister of agriculture for Morobo county, women are critical to helping the country move away from humanitarian interventions towards a more balanced foundation of recovery. While on my field visit to the Eastern and Central Equatoria states, I witnessed the collective efforts of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), both of whom receive valuable financial support from USAID, to support the Republic of South Sudan's endeavors to tackle food insecurity through a wide range of recovery activities.
South Sudan remains a major recipient of food aid, much of it supplied by the U.S. government through the World Food Programme. The food security outlook for 2012 is worrisome for the 1.2 million people of South Sudan, a new country comprised of 10 states, with a wide range of agro-climatic conditions and a population that includes traditional farmers and agro-pastoralists (farmers who also raise livestock).
Livestock is key to the livelihoods of millions of South Sudanese, so keeping animals healthy to ensure availability of meat and milk products but also cash from the sale of cattle is a major concern of local officials with whom I spoke. Unfortunately, disease outbreaks are common and with very limited government capacity to handle such cases, treatment has been hard to come by.
With support from FAO, however, South Sudanese agro-pastoralists are being given initial supplies of vaccines and are being trained to vaccinate livestock. People will pay to have their animals vaccinated, so cost recovery is introduced to ensure vaccinators can replenish their supplies. I watched a group of semi-nomadic agro-pastoralists, including women herders in one cattle camp I visited in Torit, successfully vaccinate over 100 long-horn cattle in just one hour. And as one woman vaccinator walked me through her village, she explained how she was putting her three children through the local school "in town" with the increased income she had from selling healthy cattle.
Elsewhere, in Yei and Morobo in Central Equatoria, women were hand threshing just-harvested sorghum and pearl millet grown from seeds they had received as participants in an FAO-sponsored community-based Seed Production and Supply activity. This activity is implemented by the Kogbo Multipurpose Farmer Group and Equatoria Farmer Extension Advisory Association in collaboration with the Morobo Agriculture Department. Since Yei and Morobo are part of South Sudan's "green belt," improved availability and access to quality seeds is key to helping increase local production, thereby reducing dependence on imports from northern Uganda.
Everywhere I went I heard the same refrain from South Sudanese...we want to reduce our reliance on humanitarian assistance as we have the land and ability to produce enough ourselves. Farmers want to move away from subsistence to commercial farming and need assistance in getting increased production to the markets of South Sudan. With support from their partners at FAO and WFP and commitment from their government, the South Sudanese are on a good path, despite the many obstacles, towards their goal of becoming food self-sufficient.