Peace bolsters food security in the south

Kandororo used to be a hiding place for civilians caught up in fighting between various armed groups until a peace agreement was signed that ended more than two decades of conflict in southern Sudan.

Today, the island which sits on the River Nile near the southern capital of Juba, consists of farmland on which vegetables and fruits are grown.

"The security is now better; we want to start sending our food farther," said Jackson Lado who has a mango farm on the island. "Trade is easier since the peace [agreement]."

Lado, like many other residents on the island, cultivates along the river using simple hand techniques. "This year, the rain is little [so] the mangos are very small and few," he explained. "Although the situation is encouraging, actual production on the island will not increase until we find a way to modernise farming."

By using simple farming methods, Lado added, farmers in Kandororo are able to produce sorghum, bananas, mangoes, lemons and vegetables; however, they are unable to compete in the market with agricultural products being ferried in from Uganda.

One sign that there is a rise in locally-produced goods is the increasingly common sight of women carrying basins piled high with vegetables and fruits from the island travelling to the markets in Juba.

"We have seen a four percent increase in food production in the south from the previous years," said Justin Bagirishya, head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) office in south Sudan. "Returnees have engaged in farming and those already in the villages have been able to expand into a larger stable area."


Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
A woman prepares food in southern Sudan. With peace, local farmers have increased production and market their produce in Juba, capital of southern Sudan

Following assessments that indicated lessening needs, the WFP has planned for a 19 percent drop in food aid for south Sudan in 2007, he explained. The assessments found that the opening of markets and trade routes, along with an increase in cultivated area, had generally improved the food situation.

Relative peace

Ever since the peace agreement was signed in January 2005, ending 21 years of war between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Khartoum government, southern Sudan has witnessed relative peace. This has prompted hundreds of thousands of people who had been displaced to return home.

The returns have led to a rapid growth of food markets in towns like Juba, although most of the stock comes from neighbouring Uganda. More recently, with the returnees settling down onto land, local farmers have emerged.

"The ensuing stability has led to greater food security," said Bagirishya. "Last we distributed 133,000 tonnes. This year we are planning on distributing only 108,000."

Together with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, WFP has been conducting annual needs assessments in the region. This year, the assessment examined the way people cope with food insecurity in particular areas and tried to determine pockets of food insecurity.

It was conducted parallel to a crop assessment which estimated that 33,000 more tonnes of cereals were produced in 2006, compared to 2005.

According to Bagirishya, however, some returnees will continue to receive food assistance as the agency moves from humanitarian aid to a recovery phase. "The major change is not so much in terms of tonnage but a change in activity emphasis," he added.

Contingency stocks will, however, be retained in case projections turn out to be overly optimistic or the region experiences increased instability.

"Generalised food distribution will drop by almost 40 percent," the WFP official explained, adding that the agency has been moving in this direction for some time.

Remaining beneficiaries

Some of the food to be distributed this year will be used to feed 450,000 children under a school feeding programme, and demobilised soldiers who will each receive a three-month food supply.

Recently, some 4,450 demobilised soldiers received food in Juba, while the semi-autonomous government of southern Sudan has requested the WFP provide for up to 95,000 demobilised soldiers from both the southern and northern armies residing in the south.

''We have seen a four percent increase in food production in the south from the previous years''

"In the past food was given for nothing," said Bagirishya. "This year, WFP will use a new 'food-for-recovery' plan which will be more flexible than the food-for-work strategy."

"Food-for-work projects need specific and strict work norms and require technical expertise to be provided," he explained. "Food for recovery includes activities that communities can undertake themselves."

To achieve this, the agency will continue working through field offices and its partner NGOs and community-based organisations. It is, however, envisaged that people will be able to get food in return for fencing farmlands, keeping their village clean, digging pit latrines or even just agreeing to farm a number of acres.

"We can see that humanitarian action is slowly proceeding towards achieving its ultimate aim, which is to eventually eliminate the need for humanitarian aid," Maurizio Giuliano, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in southern Sudan said.

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