April is the start of the lean season in the north of South Sudan, and communities are relying on coping strategies to pull through until the next harvest. Last month, FAO and partners visited Unity state – a state hard hit by conflict, population displacement, and low food availability – to conduct a food security and nutrition assessment. What they found is that a large percentage of the population are internally displaced people (IDPs) and many have very limited food access.
In Mayom county, FAO spoke to one family that is relying on water lilies to survive. The plants have very little nutritional value, and the process to make them edible is time-consuming and difficult. The family must remove the many tiny seeds, dry them, soak them, grind them into flour, and then boil them. The paste-like final substance gives adults the appearance of being malnourished.
“The communities only use water lilies as a last resort coping strategy. Once they start eating this, it means something is very wrong,” said Francis Muana, FAO’s Food Security and Livelihoods Cluster coordinator for Unity state.
A few weeks ago, FAO and partners also visited Upper Nile state, another northern area hard hit by conflict and other challenges. In the counties bordering Ethiopia, most households have resorted to taking only two meals per day. FAO even found some adults who go an entire day without eating so that the children can eat. The main markets have few commodities, and the food and other items that are available are very expensive. This is because trade routes are disrupted and the costs of transport are high.
“The few households that planted during the last season have no cereal stocks, such as maize and sorghum, left over from the last harvest. This also means they don’t have the seeds they need to plant during the oncoming planting season in May,” said Nicholas Kerandi, FAO coordinator for Upper Nile state.
FAO has been supporting the people of South Sudan since the 1970s. The Organization assists famers, fishermen, and pastoralists to produce more food so that they can better feed themselves, their families, and their communities in the future.
Cereal stocks are essential for food security and nutrition. Displacement and conflict have left many farmers in South Sudan expecting a limited harvest. For that reason, FAO is targeting to assist 2.8 million people across all 10 states during 2015 with livelihood kits, livestock vaccinations and treatment and fuel-efficient stoves.
When it comes to livelihood kits, FAO places emphasis on rapid maturing field crops and nutritious vegetables for home consumption. During this planting season, FAO is targeting to distribute 193,268 field crop kits, 192,172 vegetable kits, and 190,501 fishing kits.
The crop and vegetable kit composition varies according to the agro-ecological zone targeted. Targeted households will receive at least three types of crop seeds (cereals, pulses, and oil) with up to five types of crops in each kit. The vegetable kit is composed of nine nutritious and rapid-maturing vegetable species. These will be distributed mainly accordingly to farmer preferences and agro-ecological zones.
The kits, if used in an optimal way, have the potential to provide the cereal equivalent needs of one household for 12 months. In addition, FAO will provide “no harm” farm tools according to different community preferences, soil types, and general farming practices. Where possible, FAO will provide training on the optimal use of livelihood kits, as well as practical nutrition education including food preparation.
The total amount of the inputs translates to about 4 300 tonnes of crop seeds, 42 tonnes of vegetable seeds, 1.8 million agricultural tools, and more than 190 000 fishing kits (composed of boxes of hooks, monofilament, twines, gillnets, and more) that will be distributed to the target beneficiaries. FAO has procured more than 30 percent of the seeds destined for distribution from local seed producers in order to support the South Sudanese seed production system.
During these final weeks of April 2015, FAO has already started distributions, and is busy moving the remainder of the crop and livelihood kits to partners in the field. FAO has selected partners operating at community level for its intervention in the agricultural sector. These partners are both national and international NGOs, which are registered with FAO and have been trained on agriculture and horticulture, among other important topics, such as gender and accountability to affected population. FAO has received its livelihood inputs, and has started handing over to the selected partners for further distribution.
Distribution in the Equatoria States has already started and is due to be completed soon. Distributions in Greater Upper Nile, consisting of the states of Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei, and in Greater Bahr el Ghazal are expected to be completed in May 2015. “FAO is a long-term supporter of the people of South Sudan, working hard to ensure food security for all. The agency will continue to be there for the people of South Sudan for a long time to come,” said Abdoul Karim Bah, Emergency Response Manager with FAO South Sudan.
Access is the main requirement for a successful harvest in 2015 – seeds must reach beneficiaries and be planted in time and without conflict interfering. In this regard, FAO has strengthened its logistical capacities and has also established its own air operation in order to support the distribution campaign in areas that are accessible only by air in the Greater Upper Nile.
FAO is able to assist the farmers of South Sudan with generous funding from the African Solidarity Trust Fund, the Common Humanitarian Fund, the governments of Canada, Denmark, UK, Germany, Norway, USA, Switzerland, Belgium, and internal funds from FAO. The European Union and the Australian government have funded food security and nutrition assessments in South Sudan through the project Agriculture and Food Information Systems for Decision Support (AFIS).