Farming together reaps multiple benefits for refugees and their South Sudanese hosts
A farming project that ropes in both refugees and their hosts has brought food security and cohesion to the two communities
By UNHCR/Emil Sahakyan & Richard Ruati | 23 November 2017
JUBA, South Sudan - Anna Ogud Okwier scoops a handful of groundnuts from a bag and displays them proudly. The 50-year-old refugee from Ethiopia is excited about her bountiful harvest of groundnuts and maize.
“I have managed to save a good amount of money from the crops I sold from this harvest,” she says happily. Anna managed to harvest over 500 kilograms of groundnuts and over 200 kilograms of maize from the land she has been cultivating in Gorom settlement, 25 kilometres from South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
“I can even send money to my daughter and son in Uganda.”
Over a decade ago, Anna left Ethiopia due to insecurity, carrying nothing. She did not believe that she would become this self-reliant again. Leaving her job as a midwife in a clinic in Gambella, she walked for three days to South Sudan.
“I ran empty handed as I could not take anything with me,” she says. When she reached South Sudan, she could not find a job as a midwife. “I could not sit idle, I had to do something.”
Thankfully, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) started a livelihoods project in 2015 that would help refugees like Anna get back on their feet. The idea was to not only give refugees assistance to survive, but to thrive.
Refugees were selected across eight refugee camps in Maban, Jamjang, Pochalla and Yambio to receive land donated by the Government of South Sudan to cultivate. UNHCR and FAO provided agricultural tools and seeds. Since then, over 200,000 refugees and close to 65,000 host community members have benefitted from the project.
“Our partnership with FAO and the World Food Programme has helped all these beneficiaries to start agricultural activities,” says Vincent Parker, UNHCR’s Deputy Representative in South Sudan. “This has not only ensured food security at the family level but has also become a stable source of income for many families.”
The livelihoods program was designed to not only assist refugees but their hosts as well. As the current economic situation in South Sudan puts almost 6 million people at risk of famine, host populations face equally tough conditions. As such, the program’s impact is two-fold; by roping in the host community, it enables both refugees and their hosts to stock enough food supplies to provide for their families while enhancing peaceful co-existence between the two communities.
For Lilian Zeinab, a South Sudanese from Gorom and mother of seven, the programme has helped her feed her family and diversify their diet through crop exchange with refugees. It is also helping her save towards a very important event – Christmas.
“Selling some of the crops helps me save money for Christmas,” she says, explaining that this is an important time for her and her big family. “The money will help me cook some special food and give a proper reception for many relatives who will be visiting us on that day.”
Some beneficiaries like Othow Nyigwo see the programme as an opportunity to invest in the education of their children. Othow, 45, is one of 260 refugee farmers from Gorom settlement who received seeds between 2016 and this year. He made enough money last year – about US $1,000 – from his crops to send some to his children to university in Ethiopia.
“By growing and selling maize, okra, onions and other vegetables, I am able to ensure my children continue with their studies back home,” he says proudly. “Even my wife can afford to buy things like meat and extra clothes for our children.” He has sold about US$ 400 worth of crops this year and hopes to sell over 10 more bags of maize.
Capacity building and knowledge sharing is an integral part of the UNHCR livelihoods program. From the onset, all participating members are enrolled in intensive trainings where they are taught subjects ranging from planting methods to pest control.
“Learning land cultivation, planting, irrigation and crop harvesting techniques is important in a country like South Sudan where crop yield is highly dependent on the amount of rainfall,” explains UNHCR’s Livelihoods Officer in Juba, Mohammad Lebbie.
Through a partnership with a local NGO, the Association of Christian Resource Organization Serving Sudan (ACROSS), and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, UNHCR has conducted specialized training for 164 refugees and host community farmers this year.
Despite all these efforts, the farmers still face challenges related to access to markets as most refugee camps are far from main markets and commuting on a daily basis is difficult. In addition, insufficient water for irrigation especially during the dry season means that farmers have to find alternative ways to save their crops.
UNHCR is helping the farmers find solutions to these problems. Through ACROSS, the number of commutes between Gorom and Juba have been increased from once to twice weekly so that farmers can sell their crops more frequently.
“We are also looking at innovative ways of irrigation by installing solar powered boreholes that can supply water to cultivated fields during the dry season,” adds UNHCR’s Lebbie.
Involving refugees and the host community in the farming project has a lot of added value. “It helps refugees to regain a sense of normalcy in life and overcome the trauma of displacement,” says UNHCR’s Parker. “By obtaining new skills and knowledge, refugees are training for the day when they will go back home and become change agents in their communities.”