FEWS Southern Sudan Food Security Monthly Report 19 Sep 2003

Situation Report
Originally published


A slight improvement in food security occurred in August as farming households in some of the June-September cropping areas started consuming newly harvested maize, sesame and groundnuts. Harvesting of sorghum starts towards the end of September. Despite this slight improvement, poor households in highly food insecure areas are not likely to meet all their needs until the peak of harvest in October.

Situation reports by various agencies indicate mixed prospects for sorghum performance in southern Sudan. Average harvests are expected in areas where planting was timely and rainfall was constant but below average in areas that faced a dry spell in June. However, overall prospects look favorable for an average harvest especially in Bahr El Gazal and Upper Nile regions. A joint Annual Needs Assessment led by WFP is scheduled to start in mid- September to assess the harvest and other food sources available to households next year. The Assessment will be completed by the beginning of November.

Below-normal rains continued in most of the Upper Nile Region in August. These insufficient rains were detrimental to sorghum at the flowering stage and reduce the likelihood of good yields especially in areas that received less than 60 percent of normal rainfall during June-August.

A nutrition survey conducted by ACF-USA towards the end of July in Bugaya (Upper Nile Region) found malnutrition rates in children below emergency levels but very high mortality rates (twice the emergency level of 4/10,000/day) caused by bloody diarrhea. The survey recommends therapeutic feeding to curb [...]

1. Overview of Current Food Security Status

The traditional hungry season ends in September with the start of the sorghum harvest in the June-September cropping areas, primarily located in Bahr el Gazal and Upper Nile Regions. Food security improved slightly in August as farming households, particularly in Bahr El Gazal, consumed their small maize and sesame harvests. However, areas with a late crop of sorghum will not harvest until October.

The first season (April-July) harvest specific to the Equatoria Region has ended. Initial, reports by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) operating in the Eastern part of the region indicate a fair to good crop performance, suggesting that households in this region are currently food secure until the beginning of next year.

Despite the end of the hungry season, high rates of malnutrition in Aweil East, Aweil South, Gogrial, Bieh and Phou Counties (in Bahr el Gazal and Upper Nile Regions) are unlikely to drop before the completion of harvest in October or November.

2. Agro-climatic Conditions

Most parts of Phou, Sobat, Latjor, Bieh, Bor, Pibor and Pochalla in Upper Nile Region received below-normal rainfall between June and August, resulting in poor crop performance especially in Pochalla and parts of Bieh (Figure 1). Significant pockets in these areas received less than 60 percent of normal rainfall. The rest of southern Sudan received near-normal to slightly above-normal rainfall.

The Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF) forecasts for the September-December season indicate the likelihood of normal to above-normal rainfall in most areas. If this forecast proves true, this could benefit areas with a second cropping season in Equatoria Region (Ezo, Yambio, Maridi, Yei, Magwi, Juba and Mundri Counties), as well as ensure sufficient pasture and water during the January-April dry season for all other areas.

2.1. April-July Cropping and June-September Cropping Seasons

The April-July cropping season

The August maize harvest has concluded the end of the first (April-July) cropping season in Equatoria Region. Currently, CRS is assessing the harvest and hopes to conclude the results by the end of October.

The second season started in July/August with planting of sorghum and other crops in most areas.

The June-September cropping season

Food security agencies operating in Bahr El Gazal report mixed performance of sorghum during the June-September growing season. Though less is known about sorghum conditions in Upper Nile due to insecurity, pockets receiving less than 60 percent of normal rainfall likely experienced poor crop performance.

These mixed reports are consistent with observations made by FEWS NET during a trip to Gogrial County in Bahr el Gazal Region near the end of August. FEWS NET observed:

  • a poor to fair crop of sorghum and a fair crop of groundnuts in the Billing area of Yirol County.

  • indications of recent flooding of lowland farms and a poor crop of sorghum, but a fair to good crop in unaffected areas of Rumbek County.

  • evidence of variable sorghum crop development in Maper area of Wau County as a result of replanting by farmers. The first crop of sorghum was planted at the end of May. A dry spell occurred in the first three weeks of June, necessitating replanting towards the end of June.

  • even greater evidence of a variable sorghum crop and a fair crop of groundnuts in Gogrial County (Lunyaker, Lietnhom and Akon areas). Crops planted earlier performed normally in areas where rainfall was constant (e.g. Lunyaker and Lietnhom). In late-planting areas (such as Akon), sorghum is lagging behind, now entering the flowering stage, with a strong probability of reduced yields where crops are somewhat stunted.

  • larger farms in Aweil East as expected, given the increased use of ox-ploughs, and less evidence of a variable crop of sorghum compared with crop development in Gogrial, Wau and Yirol Counties.

Recent reports from World Relief in Pochalla County (Upper Nile) indicate poor performance of maize, planted by a majority of households, but slightly better performance of sorghum, planted by very few households. However, the main sorghum-growing season starts this month. Sorghum will be ready for harvest between January and February 2004.

Annual Needs Assessment (ANA) conducted each year by WFP and other agencies will assess the June-September seasonal harvest and other needs in all relevant areas. The ANA starts in mid-September and will be completed by November. Results of the Assessment will be released between November and December.

3. Livestock Conditions

Livestock that suffered a stressful dry season between January and May, due to shortages of pasture and water, have recovered following the June-September rainy season. Movement of livestock away from wet to drier grounds near homesteads took place countrywide during August. This is normal for this time of the year. VSF Suisse and FAO cite increased cases of Haemorrhagic Septicaemia (HS) among cattle, often prevalent during the wet season, but these cases are still within normal levels. Veterinary agencies are vaccinating cattle against HS and continuing with de-worming activities for livestock in a number of areas, including the western part of Upper Nile where there was an outbreak of HS between June and July. So far, no significant loss of cattle has occurred.

Following near-normal rains in most of southern Sudan, livestock conditions and availability of pasture are likely to remain normal, including in the Western Upper Nile region (Liech State). However, Sobat, Bieh and parts of Latjor may face drier conditions in the coming January-May dry season because of previously below-normal rainfall, especially if rains subside in September. Currently, the livestock health and pasture availability situation is not alarming but needs close monitoring in the next two months.

3.1. Health and Nutrition Status

A joint rapid assessment conducted by Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) agencies in the Bugaya- Maban area in the northern part of Latjor (Upper Nile) in June observed children with moderate to severe acute malnutrition, especially among households that had been displaced, and recommended a follow-up nutrition assessment.

ACF-USA responded by conducting a nutrition survey towards the end of July. The nutrition survey found a rate of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) of 13.4 percent (considered "serious," according to WHO standards) and Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) of 1.9 percent (considered "life-threatening"). Malnutrition was higher among children aged less than 29 months with rates of 18.0 percent GAM and 2.9 percent SAM. The Crude Mortality Rate (CMR) in children was alarmingly high, twice the emergency cut off point of 4/10,000/day, probably indicating that some children had already died. The presumed cause of death was bloody diarrhea, based on records from local health clinics indicating a high prevalence of bloody and watery diarrhea as well as malaria. This is not surprising, as sanitary conditions, hygiene and access to immunization services do not exist. Previous efforts to promote hygiene by NGOs, such as GOAL, had to be stopped by local security personnel for fear of insecurity. The ACF-USA survey recommends that ACF-USA, GOAL or another NGO, TEAR fund, open a therapeutic feeding center due to the high crude mortality rates and prevalence of diarrhea. ACF-USA stresses the need for continued support with food aid, de-worming of children and maintaining of continuous immunization coverage.

Other areas of high malnutrition in children are in Bahr El Gazal areas of Aweil East, Aweil South, Gogrial, Twic and in Upper Nile areas of Bor, Pibor, Bieh and Phou. Though feeding programs are in place to manage malnutrition, implementation of these programs in Upper Nile has been highly constrained by insecurity, lack of water and other health related infrastructure. In August, there was a significant increase of children admitted to both supplementary and therapeutic feeding programs in Aweil East and Aweil South.

Malnutrition rates are expected to remain high until after the harvest of sorghum is completed and then drop in November in areas unaffected by rainfall and insecurity. This stresses the urgency of conducting nutrition surveys by nutrition agencies in their respective areas between November and December in order to distinguish the causes of malnutrition in different areas to help plan nutrition and health related programs for the coming year.

A multi-agency vaccination campaign continues in Torit and neighboring areas against a yellow fever outbreak that started in April. About 99,000 people have been vaccinated since June out of a target population of 210,000 in Torit and immediate areas.

3.3. Food Aid Programs

Three main food aid agencies, World Food Program (WFP), Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) are responsible for providing food aid in different areas of southern Sudan (Figure 2). Most of the food insecure areas fall under WFP coverage. This year, the biggest constraint to delivery of relief was the destruction of roads during long rains in Kenya in May that seriously hampered delivery of food aid to WFP operational areas. Shortages in WFP’S food pipeline worsened the situation. As a result, only 45-50 percent of required food was delivered to WFP operational areas between April and August.

Food deliveries by NPA and CRS were not affected as they operate mostly through Uganda. The two agencies managed to achieve over 90 and 85 percent, respectively, of planned deliveries between January and June/July before these areas harvested in July/August and food aid needs dropped off.

Most areas under WFP rely on the June-September growing season. Even though many intended food aid beneficiaries have been undersupplied since April, continuation of food deliveries between October and December will be not be necessary during the harvest period. Food aid deliveries would still be helpful only in areas with a poor harvest. The WFP-led Annual Needs Assessment, starting in mid September, will help identify areas requiring immediate support by the end of October.

Special Feature - Food Security in Gogrial County (Bahr el Ghazal)

Over twenty years of conflict between the Sudan Government and various factions in Sudan have negatively affected food security, especially in the southern part of the country. This prolonged conflict has claimed more than two million lives since 1983 and left a significant portion of households chronically food insecure. One of the worst periods of conflict and insecurity occurred between 1994 and 1998, resulting in famine.

Famine developed in Bahr El Gazal, (including Gogrial County) during 1998 due to cumulative effects of four years of insecurity. This insecurity suddenly worsened during 1997/98 when fighting militia looted crops and livestock, causing people to flee the area. A food security assessment conducted in 1998, considered the looting of crops as the most significant cause of famine. 1998 saw the virtual collapse of livestock and grain markets.

According to the 1998 assessment, wild foods were the single most important source of food for poor households during the 1998 famine, providing 40-50 percent of the household’s food needs for the year. The size of food shortfalls faced by the poor depended upon whether they had cultivated in 1997 and whether they had lost their crops to looting. Looted households faced acute hunger between May and July 1998 and most family members lost significant weight.

During this period, the better off households relied more on milk and meat and less on wild foods. However, livestock herds were soon depleted due to high rates of slaughter, coupled with a shortage of water and grazing. Even the otherwise better-off households that did not cultivate or that lost their crops to looting faced food deficits like those of poor households. Households that harvested their crops and that were lucky not to lose them to looting took in many displaced families and relatives. While lives were saved, overall consumption levels declined and most people were malnourished. Due to a delay of food contributions by donors, significant amounts of food aid did not arrive until July. Despite this, food aid played a significant role in recovery of households affected by the famine.

There has been significant recovery among most households in Gogrial County since 1999. For one, crop production has improved despite numerous claims of insufficient seeds. Amid recovery, there are other signs of change, both positive and negative:

  • Poor households are increasingly engaged in wage labor to buy food that contributes 10-15 percent to the food basket. Increased off-farm labor has compromised cultivation of these household’s own farms.

  • Unlike the previous years, the division of labor among men and women from poor households has become less distinct as working off-farm to obtain cash income is now a priority.

  • The shift from barter to cash trade has become more evident.

  • Better -off households are restocking the herds and increasing land under cultivation.

Some households have become destitute. Destitution is defined as a state of extreme poverty where people lose the assets, abilities or opportunities they need to make their own living. Destitute people thus become partially or completely dependent on others for survival.

Recent findings by FEWS NET during a trip to Gogrial in August-September suggest that:

  • An estimated 10-20 percent of households headed by women often referred to as ‘very poor’ could be classified ‘destitute,’ a direct result of the 1998 famine.

  • About five percent of very poor households mostly, women with young children, are migrating to markets centers to engage in petty trade as their need for cash income increases. Due to insufficient labor for farming, these households are opting to trade other than cultivate. Although they are now perceived to be more food secure than similar households back in the villages, they are still food insecure since their cash earned is insufficient and all used to purchase food as well as other essential items such as medicine, education and clothes.

  • Previously, availability of adequate labor used to be considered by the community as a secondary determinant of wealth but has now become a primary factor in determining food security. Destitute households are largely constrained by a lack of sufficient labor to secure enough food. Overcoming the labor shortage remains a big challenge. Even very poor households with a reasonable amount of labor often lack complementary resources (such as animals) that would enable them to take advantage of other resources (such as seeds and tools) offered by food security agencies.

  • Destitute and poor households perceive the 1998 famine as the cause of reduced kinship support. They argue that those who shared all their resources were the first to die and because of this, fewer households are willing to share resources anymore - a major cultural change.

  • Although WFP has distributed food aid to vulnerable households on a frequent basis, amounts received are far below the intended ration because the food is equally distributed by the community, including households considered ineligible.

Figures 3a, 3b, and 3c illustrate the current level of food access and potential food gaps among some of the poor and destitute households in the absence of food aid. The size of these food gaps is highly correlated with vulnerability. Wild foods were the main option available in 1998, including less desirable famine foods consumed only in desperation. Fishing, usually a major option, was not available due to insecurity (Figure 3a). Even with increased food options, poor households appear to be highly food insecure, including those with a reasonable amount of labor (Figure 3b). Poor households without labor and reliant on petty trade are likely to do somewhat better than poor households with labor, but are at risk of loss of income should disruption of markets occur, which is very likely with ongoing conflict (Figure 3c).

This year, crop performance is considered near normal with few localized pockets of very poor performance. Area cultivated is similar to that of last year. Though there have been constant reports of increased land under cultivation since 1999, recent interviews suggest that this pertains more to better off households with access to labor, manure from livestock and other resources required to boost agricultural production. It is even possible that the better-off have been able to take advantage of food security interventions targeted to poor households since the poor lack other complementary resources that are necessary. For example, Annual Needs Assessment reports for 1998-2002 record only 50-150 kgs of sorghum as the amount of grain threshed by poor households after harvest, regardless of rainfall performance, seed availability and land cultivated. Although this small amount could be due to errors in data collection, it probably indicates that improvements in poor household crop production have remained insignificant, if any, and that this situation is not likely to change next year. This year, FAO has tried to support the improvement of collection of harvest data by training field staff of five food security agencies on yield estimation in early September. The agencies hope to use this training to assess harvests in their respective areas.

Poor households are unlikely to increase area under crop production unless long term and phased interventions are put in place to address problems of the lack of crop diversity, striga weed infestation, the shortage of labor and other perennial problems. Given sufficient rain this year, possibilities of normal performance of wild foods and fish remain high.

Petty trade will remain the main option for some of the poor households without adequate labor, but this is largely constrained by poor market infrastructure, shortage of currency and lack of credit for expansion, and, as shown by Figure 3c, these households still fall short of meeting their food needs.

Generally, the level of vulnerability and food insecurity demonstrated above is chronic in nature and emanates from food production systems that have failed to evolve to compensate for loss of livestock and other resources over time, mostly because of continued conflict. This failure has created food gaps that appear difficult to cover without outside relief. These food gaps may also force poor households to take dangerous and irreversible actions aimed at short-term survival rather than longer-term viability. These actions may push them to the edge of destitution, even with a minor fluctuation of one of their food sources.

Although food aid has played a role in filling food gaps faced by some households, equal distribution of food aid within community has reduced its effectiveness and desired impact. This shortcoming requires an urgent need to review targeting of beneficiaries, as well as the role and impact of food aid in meeting needs of various households.

FEWS NET, Southern Sudan, P. O. Box 66613, Nairobi
Tel 254-2-350523-5, Fax 3750839, email:

WFP TSU, P.O. Box 44482, Nairobi
Tel 254-54 -32086 email: