Even with the fertile waters of the White Nile and its tributaries, life-long fisher Deng Abdulai’s catch always fell short of providing a sufficient income for his family. Waking at 2:00 a.m. to paddle his heavy dugout canoe, Deng would typically reach his fishing grounds in as many as four hours. Paddling against heavy currents and often spending nights in his canoe in sometimes harsh weather conditions requires resilience, endurance and determination. Despite his efforts, a lack of supplies and perennial threat of spoilage because of the long voyage back to the community meant Deng struggled to feed and care for his wife, two children and extended family.
With over 1.7 million people dependent on fishing as a source of livelihood, many of South Sudan’s fishing communities still lack the capacity to preserve their catch and adequately use available fisheries resources for their economic benefit.
Deng lives in the village of Pariyak in Kolynyang Payam of Bor South County, an area in Jonglei State devastated by floods in 2020 and among the ten counties in South Sudan where food insecurity is extremely dire. While the already vulnerable population saw the destruction of their homes and livelihoods as a result of the heavy rains, the Nile and its tributaries presented the only means of generating income for many.
The son of a long line of fisherfolk, Deng had learned the essential skills of net-braiding and fishing as a boy when he and his father would use their dugout canoe to go fishing and set nets. In the past, due to constraints and limited knowledge, fisherfolk in this community would land few fish, mostly only enough for family consumption.
In 2017, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) began activities to enhance the production, resilience and sustainability of the agriculture, fisheries and livestock sectors by addressing vulnerabilities that lead to food insecurity and malnutrition. Through the Sustainable Agriculture for Economic Resiliency (SAFER) project funded by the Government of the United States of America through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), FAO and partners quickly identified communities such as Pariyak to revitalize the fisheries sector and sensitize people on the importance of responsible fishing for increased and sustainable production.
Since activities began, fisherfolk from three states in South Sudan – Jonglei, Lakes and Western Equatoria – received 80 fiberglass canoes, fishing kits, bags and tarpaulins. With the onset of heavy rains culminating in devastating floods, the project expanded its fisheries focus and by June 2021 had provided over 5 700 fishing twines and 2 750 fishing hooks to 570 fisherfolk belonging to 18 fishing groups.
Encouraged by FAO staff, Deng and his community of fishers organized themselves into the 30-member Pariyak Fishing Group. Although the group had been fishing together prior to the intervention, the project formalized it as a way to establish a network of support, promote savings, disseminate knowledge through trainings and provide fishing inputs.
Overall, the trainings have had great impact on the group’s success and the lives of its members, whether through newfound marketing knowledge or skills that are more technical. For instance, while many in the group had pre existing knowledge on net making, FAO offered additional techniques including adjusting the size of the nets to increase a catch.
Deng describes how his group constructed a fish smoking oven and applies the techniques they learned to safeguard their stock. “The trainings have drastically improved our catch. Now that we know how to preserve our fish through smoking and drying, we’re able to maintain the quality and more easily sell to traders.”
The Pariyak Fishing Group is one of many in Jonglei that have taken advantage of the high waters to increase their catches and incomes, utilizing the three fiberglass canoes and fishing kits supplied by FAO. Importantly, the group maintained their profits and increased catch after direct support slowed. On average, the fishing groups in Bor catch about 100-150 fish per day, earning them up to SSP 150 000 – the equivalent of around USD 150 – each day. Now the members are able to buy sorghum, the staple crop of the area, for home consumption, medicine, to pay for school fees and to cover other basic expenses.
With the slow increase in water levels around the tributaries and plains making fish more available, the delivery of inputs from FAO allowed fisherfolk to catch more. “Now, with our increase in earnings we are hoping to buy a motorboat, which will allow us to cover even more area and stay out later without having to paddle against the strong current,” said Deng.
Through their determination and ability to absorb and bounce back from severe shocks, fishing groups like Deng’s in Pariyak demonstrate the resilience achieved by many vulnerable people assisted thanks to support from USAID.