It’s 5 o’clock in the afternoon as the smouldering heat of the day begins to ease, and a determined, active woman named Abung Koch is bustling back and forth in the community garden in the centre of Aweil. There is no time to waste, as this is the perfect time of day to get things done in the garden – first watering, followed by some weeding and finally the preparation of a new garden bed.
“I first planted cabbage over there,”Abung Koch says, pointing. “Before, I used to just put the seed in the ground, but now I’ve learned how to make a raised bed, which protects the seeds from the rain. I got a lot of knowledge from my facilitator, and when they gave me the tools and seeds, I planted tomato in the same way there. I now have three places, and this will be my fourth. “Having the water close to this garden is good – before there was no water here and we had to rely on rain,” she adds “We eat most of the vegetables at home, but I also sell my tomatoes in the market.”
When asked about her future plans, she says, “My husband is old and cannot work, so in this way I can get some money and feed my six children. The people gave me some money to work here before, but now I am doing it myself. Before I did not know how to do this but after we got some help, I started. I would like to learn more – especially about pests, since some animals are attacking my things.”
“I hope we can continue this project so that we plant all this land,” she says, gesturing toward the open space behind her. “But first we need to build a fence, since the animals are coming in and eating our vegetables.”
Giving farmers opportunities
Koch’s story is not uncommon. Many people struggle to meet their food needs, but then, when given the opportunity, quickly learn the skills and see the benefits of having their own garden.
With funding from the United Kingdom, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are implementing a joint programme which has supported 77,820 farmers in the Bahr el-Gazal region of South Sudan by providing them financial compensation for their work in building and rehabilitating community-level productive assets, such as the well Koch worked on and the fence she is hoping to get. Offering people compensation for their work on common assets provides positive incentives and adds to the sustainability of the activities, as the community has a sense of ownership over the things they create.
This programme emphasizes the synergy of creating high-quality, relevant assets and the importance of the farmer field school approach, through which farmers who have received seed and tools participate in a series of hands-on training sessions that encourage the use of modern farming techniques. Farmers learn through demonstration plots and weekly supervision of their progress by technical experts, enhancing their opportunities to produce more food.
Building production capacity is critical
The Bahr el-Gazal area has been facing a long-term severe food crisis, as a structural deficit in production has resulted in many households relying on markets to meet their food needs. According to experts, the main drivers of this food crisis are mono-cropping of sorghum and poor agricultural practices, especially those linked to the ever increasing climate variability and extremes.
In addition, food prices have been rising astronomically, pushing food purchases out of reach for the poor and raising new vulnerabilities. This increase is due to the escalation of the national economic crisis, continued insecurity along the prominent trade routes, halted trade due to the border closure with Sudan, and fighting in certain areas of the state.
To help mitigate the impact of the food crisis in this area, it will be vital to increase farmers’ ability to cultivate a wider variety of crops, expand land size through communal farming and increase farmers’ knowledge of pests and diseases. “We are working here together, and by helping each other we get stronger and better,” Koch concludes. “This year we are learning and want to keep learning so that we can produce more, because it is good for us and our families.”