26 April 2014 - To avoid a “terrible crisis” from becoming a “catastrophic crisis”, war-torn South Sudan must keep up agricultural production and continue with development programmes where possible. That was the key message when Sue Lautze, head of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the country, today visited Morobo County in Central Equatoria State.
Morobo County is where FAO buys seeds for distribution to people in other parts of the country.
“We call these seeds of hope, we call them seeds of peace because it is about bringing people together,” said Dr. Lautze. “You have people in one part of the country working and having the fruits of their labour benefit other parts of the country.”
“The seeds will be given to populations in need of humanitarian assistance, as well as to those who are in areas where they are able to plant,” said Dr. Lautze. “Even within the conflict areas, we are still looking for opportunities to work with populations that can still farm,” she said.
She called on farmers, including those who were displaced, not to abandon farming and said FAO would continue to provide knowledge and technological assistance.
“Even if the future isn’t so certain, do what you can to produce for yourself,” said Dr. Lautze. “This is what the South Sudanese people did during the last war. They definitely know how to cope and it’s our job to try to be relevant and helpful to them in those efforts.”
Dr. Lautze noted that although fighting had disrupted FAO’s work in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, development projects are continuing in other states.
One such project consists of supporting groups like Agriculture Advisory Services (AAS). AAS is an agricultural organization in Morobo County which runs a demonstration farm where farmers can learn the best ways to grow improved crop varieties, rear poultry and breed fish. The farm also produces seedlings, chicks and fish for farmers to start their own projects.
“The economic future of South Sudan is in the hands of the South Sudanese farmers,” said Dr. Lautze. “The country needs to have a wide range of income sources that benefit the whole country, and agriculture is central to that.”
She commented that it is unfortunate that the crisis has set back the country in many areas, including food production and food security. When the conflict started in December 2013, South Sudan’s food security outlook was the best it had been in five years, as the country produced 900,000 metric tons of food, falling short of the 1.3 million metric tons by 400,000 metric tons of food.
“That was under the best of circumstances,” she said. “Today we have the worst of circumstances. The only thing we have going for us right now is that the rains look good, but we absolutely have to keep production going or else, we have a terrible crisis today that could become a catastrophic crisis if places like this (Morobo) don’t produce food.”
According to a recent joint release from FAO and World Food Programme, the number of people in “crisis” and “emergency” food security conditions is estimated to have more than tripled since the outbreak of the crisis.
“More than one million people are now estimated to be in an “emergency” food security phase as opposed to none prior to the conflict,” said the statement. “(Owing to) the ongoing crisis, an additional two million people or more are likely to experience significant food scarcity in 2014.”