Southern Sudan Food Security Update, May 2005


Household food security conditions will deteriorate in the June-August hunger season, especially in northern parts of the Western Flood Plains (northern Bahr El Gazal Region), where fish and wild food access has been below average. Adding to the off-farm production problems, competition for scarce resources has increased following arrival of returnees in northern Bahr El Gazal. Though households in this region have so far been better off than previously expected, due to better than estimated crop production, and increased post-conflict trade options, food deficits will nevertheless increase in the coming months. The food shortfalls are likely to inhibit many returnees and some of the resident households from taking full advantage of the June-November cropping season. Timely food assistance is therefore essential. Meanwhile, WFP’s food aid pipeline may receive a boost with the expected arrival of close to 13,000 MT of food before the end of May.



Household labor for cultivation may be limited due to low food intake, especially in Bahr El Gazal region

Recovery of livestock and pastures depends on timely rains in June.

Increased potential for conflict in Western Equatoria as 40 percent of Bor-bound displaced population returns to Western Equatoria

June rains are likely to slow down the movement of Internally Displaced People (IDP) currently returning to their homes in Raga, making them late for the June-November cultivation season.


Food security conditions will deteriorate in many zones as the June-August hunger season sets in. The worst-off area is likely to be the Northern Bahr El Gazal Region (Western Flood Plains Zone). Though many households are food secure in the southern parts of this same zone, inter ethnic-tensions continue to create problems. Food gaps are also expected for a significant proportion of households in Jonglei and Upper Nile (Eastern Flood Plains Zone) until the next harvest due in September-October. Food security was stable in many parts of Unity, parts of Jonglei & Lakes (Nile-Sobat Zone) during the dry season as households managed to expand their reliance on fish and wild foods. However, available grain stocks are now running out, and poor households far from newly emerged markets may have difficulties during the hunger season. Food security conditions are good in the Western Equatoria (Greenbelt Zone) and Bahr El Jabel (Hills and Mountains Zone), with the exception of a few households in select pockets, who will rely on food aid to cover food shortfalls. Households in Eastern Equatoria and Southern parts of Jonglei (Pastoral -Arid Zone) are soon expected to return to wet season settlements. However, this will largely depend on performance of rain in the next month.


The April-July rainy season has entered its second month. These rains are specific to the southern half of southern Sudan, namely the Greenbelt (Western Equatoria) and the Hills and Mountains Zones (Bahr El Jebel, the eastern parts of Eastern Equatoria and parts of Pibor). The rains were early or on time in the southern belt of the Equatoria regions but delayed for up to three weeks in the northern parts of Torit, Mundri, Maridi, Terekeka and Kapoeta (Figure 1). Despite the delay, crop water requirements (for mainly maize) had been sufficiently met as of the end of May in almost all areas (Figure 2). Farmers have planted sorghum, maize, groundnuts and cassava, most of which will be ready after July. The second season starts in September.

Figure 1: Start of Season Anomalies by 21 May, 2005

Figure 2: Water Requirement Satisfactory Index (WRSI) anomaly as of 31 May, 2005

Source & Graphics: USGS & FEWS NET

When considering the entire January-May dry season, the most significant negative rainfall anomalies occurred in April and were localized in the southeastern parts of southern Sudan. Above average rains in May offset much of the earlier poor rainfall, (Figure 3) but pasture conditions remain below seasonal norms in many areas.

Continued improvements in pasture conditions depend on adequate rainfall in the coming months and, in particular, on a timely onset of the June-November seasonal rains, which are most important in the northern parts of southern Sudan.

Households in these northern areas have started clearing land, but many are still away with cattle in the dry season settlements. Critical to watch is the onset of the June rains because they determine the return of agro-pastoral households to wet season settlements, the recovery of pasture and livestock, and the start to the agricultural season.


As mentioned earlier, overall conditions in most of southern Sudan were better than projected during the January-May dry season.

This is particularly so regarding population returns. Many analysts predicted that around 500,000 people would return to southern Sudan in 2005, and that the bulk of these movements would occur during this dry season. Updates released by the Sustainable Returns Monitoring Team (SRT) in May indicated only 25 percent of this total may have arrived.

In addition, the 2004 crop season was not as bad as originally estimated in many areas, and signing of the January peace agreement presented exchange opportunities that helped some food insecure households cope better. Nevertheless, the coming hunger season will not be good for many households, especially in the Western Flood Plains and parts of the Eastern Flood Plains. Details are provided below.


Western Flood Plains Zone

Northern areas of the Western Flood Plains Zone (northern Bahr el Gazal)

As mentioned earlier, food security conditions in the northern parts of the Western Flood Plains are set to worsen for poor households and returnees as the hunger season sets in. During the dry season, households increased reliance on wild fruits, labor and petty trade supplemented by relief food. As some of these options dwindle, poor households and returnees will have to increase reliance on wild roots (locally referred to as ngana, dhama, and modo) especially in the Aweil Counties. Labor and petty trade will continue being utilized but their contribution will diminish.

Food insecure households are expecting to rely more on the traditional kinship and court systems which ensure that better-off kin share food stocks with their poorer kin. These may include: debt and uncompleted dowry repayment claims; kinship support claims; or loans. However, it is unlikely that these will sufficiently cover all the needs of affected households. Currently, better-off households are relying on sorghum, simsim and groundnut stocks carried over from last year’s October harvest. Exchange and income earning opportunities that were available during the dry season (April-May) are expected to decline following the onset of rains in June. Though demand for cultivation labor may increase, it is less lucrative than opportunities available during the dry season. Currently, multiple taxation of people moving to trade or exchange between areas controlled by the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army1 and the Government of Sudan (GoS) is resulting in increased prices and the discouragement of trading activities.

Land clearing has started, particularly in the lowland areas, and is expected to peak with the onset of rains in June. Scattered early rains occurred in Aweil, Wau and Gogrial areas in May, prompting some households to plant simsim. The rains ceased soon after and simsim planting stopped. Meanwhile, households are searching for and preparing seeds. Relief agencies are distributing seeds to supplement those saved from last year’s poor sorghum harvest. There are also increased movements in search of pasture and water.

Southern areas of the Western Flood Plains Zone (Lakes)

Households in Rumbek, Tonj and Yirol counties continue to ration available sorghum and increase reliance on wild fruits (shea butter, palm and lalop seeds) in order to save sufficient seed for the June-November cropping season. Palm and lalop stocks are now dwindling, but the new crop of shea butter will help take their place. This year, palm production has been good, and lalop production was normal.

As reported last month, the majority of livestock continues to graze in the traditional grazing areas, where pastures are available but of poor quality due to last year’s below normal flooding levels. With the recent May rains, cattle owners are now seeking out veterinary care, hoping to get their cattle vaccinated against diseases such as Black Quarter and Haemorrhagic Septicaemia in anticipation of improving pasture conditions. The volume of trade in livestock and corresponding prices remained higher than normal in Rumbek and Cueibet Towns due to the opening up of trade links with Wau Town. Cattle continue to be exported to northern Uganda. The price of plough oxen has also increased due to high demand for animal traction in land preparation.

In Yirol, inter-clan tensions have continued on and off since last year, but diminished recently. Those displaced due to the insecurity are still suffering carry-over effects. Some are now returning home in order to prepare land before onset of rains in June, but others have remained in areas where they can access wild foods (water lily) and fish. Despite the tensions, households are coping by consuming crops harvested last year, fish, wild foods and animal products, according to the latest updates from Concern Worldwide. Shea butter nuts, high in calories, are being harvested now, and may cover a significant proportion of the anticipated food gaps during the June-August hunger season. Affected households have been relying on relief food distributed by WFP, but insecurity has often disrupted interventions.

In Rumbek and Cueibet counties May rains triggered planting of groundnuts, okra and pumpkins. However, planting of other crops is not expected until June when the main rains set in. Most households are expected to use their own seeds saved from last year’s harvest. However, a few better off farmers who plan to cultivate larger fields are buying additional seeds.


The presence of returnees continues to exert pressure on available food and other resources. According to the latest population return estimates released by the Sustainable Returns Team (SRT), approximately 87,000 people have returned to their original homes in Bahr El Gazal between January and March. Most of these have returned to the Aweil counties. This figure is much lower and more realistic than those previously reported by various sources. The rate of return is expected to decline significantly following the start of rains in June and potentially increase after November when the dry season starts.

Eastern Flood Plains

Many households in this zone continue to stay in the dry season settlements, but are likely to return in early June to cultivate. Households in this zone are concentrated along the Sobat and Pibor Rivers, with a few in the inland wetlands of Latjor and Phou areas.

Wild foods (mainly tubers, leaves and seeds) fish and milk are the main food sources for most households at this time, along with relief food. Households that recently returned from northern Sudan and Ethiopia are also relying on kinship support, or loans, and sale of personal belongings such as clothes and shoes to purchase sorghum. Terms of trade (grain to livestock) have generally been stable over the last four months with a first grade

As highlighted last month, new markets have emerged following the January peace agreement. Trade activities between the GoS-controlled and SPLA-controlled areas have increased. Currently, the main trading areas are Malakal, dry season camps along the Sobat River, Panyagor (Bor), Ayod (Phou), and the eastern parts of Bieh.

As in the Western Flood Plains, rainfall occurred in several parts of this zone in May leading to improvements in the availability of surface water. The rains encouraged some household members to return to the wet season settlements to start land clearing, slightly alleviating fears of a delayed return.

According to the latest updates from Save the Children-UK, physical security is much improved compared to last year, which has in turn facilitated the emergence of new income opportunities generated by access to previously restricted fishing, wild foods, and grazing areas.

The Nile River Zone

Food security conditions in this zone have remained stable during the dry season (January-April), but are expected to deteriorate in the hunger season (June-August), as they normally do. For the majority of households, grain stocks were expected to last until the end of May.

As in the Eastern and Western Flood Plains Zones, access to trade and exchange opportunities has improved, particularly in some of the northern and western parts of the zone. Households are now trading in the previously inaccessible towns of Malakal, Phom, Rubkona and Bentiu. Some of the ‘newly’ accessible areas were traditional livestock, fish and grain market centers for both rural and urban populations until 1998-1999, when political insecurity limited access to these areas. Terms of trade have generally been stable, although significant price differences are being reported within Bor. Sorghum is reportedly cheaper by 50 percent in North Bor compared to South Bor. The food security situation in Bor may be slightly complicated by other factors such as:

- A recent movement of neighboring Nuer to northern Bor in search for pasture, which may begin to put an upward pressure on grain prices as these people buy more of the local staple;

- New returnees arriving from Western Equatoria will require resettlement assistance, as they have been gone for over ten years;

- Some households are reported to have fled to Bor due to conflict in Yirol, meaning that they will rely on support from the Bor community should they choose to stay.

The return of Bor people from Western Equatoria to their original homes in Bor County has lost momentum because 40 percent of the 15,000 people have reversed their movements and are now headed back with their cattle towards their departure points in Maridi and Mundri Counties. The reversed movement bull typically bringing in four 90 kg sacks of sorghum. is not surprising given the history of events since July last year when the return started. Since then, the returnees have disrupted the movement several times complaining of lack of non-food items, insecurity and potential cattle thefts in transit areas. Meetings have taken place during each of these occasions. The last meeting was held in Tali in mid-March to discuss the stalled movement. The Bor community indicated that they were unable to move because of clan fighting in Yirol and fear of cattle raiding and heavy taxation by armed groups at some crossing points of the Nile River into Bor. Army commanders present in the meeting pledged to ensure safe passage of the Bor returnees and their cattle. They also pledged to ensure that no taxes would be levied on their cattle. The returnees agreed to resume movement towards Bor in May-June but now, some are reportedly going back. They are believed to be searching for pasture for their cattle.

Reversal of movements by a segment of the returnee population poses additional difficulties should they resume their movement towards Bor. This is because funds for facilitating this movement through PACT run out in June. If the returnees continue moving towards Western Equatoria, on the other hand, this will certainly rekindle tensions with Western Equatoria host communities because; 1) the hosts’ perception is that the returnees have been refusing to go back to their homes in Bor; 2) the returnees are politically favored or protected; and 3) the returnees are better armed.

The returnees fled Bor County during inter-factional fighting in 1991 that resulted in the displacement and death of thousands of people and cattle. Many fled to the Greenbelt Zone (Western Equatoria State), taking their cattle with them. Over time, hostilities between the Bor people and the agricultural host community in Western Equatoria increased due to the repeated destruction of host community crops by displaced Bor cattle. Last year, the host community demanded that the Bor displaced population return home. The movement started in July and was scheduled to end between January and March 2005.

Those that are continuing their trek towards Bor could potentially reach their destinations before the peak of the rainy season. About five percent crossed River Nile in February, while 55 percent are near the Nile crossing point. Upon reaching home, they are likely to receive a range of humanitarian interventions to facilitate quick resettlement. Agencies such as CARE and CRS have set aside resources for this.

Hills and Mountains Zone

Many households in Kajokeji, Juba, Terekeka and parts of Mundri continue to be food secure as the first (April-July) season progresses. Cassava is the main food being consumed at this time, supplemented by wild foods, labor exchange, milk and support from kin. Meanwhile, the movement of people between rural and town areas of Juba, Tali and Lainya triggered by the January peace has continued. Before the peace agreement, access to these towns was restricted. People are moving for various reasons such as reunification and exchange. Traders are reportedly moving grain and cassava to sell in the main towns.

According to the latest updates from Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), most people planted in April. Many had sufficient seed stocks. The rains this year started slightly later than they did last year. Generally, light rains began just after mid-March, with rains improving in April, accelerating land clearing and planting of maize, sorghum, groundnuts and cassava. These crops are currently in the early vegetative stages. As of the end of May, growth conditions for the main first season crop of maize were satisfactory in most areas.

Meanwhile, attacks by the Ugandan Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebels continue to undermine the stability in this zone. The latest attacks occurred in mid-April in Magwi County but were countered by the SPLA forces. Previous LRA attacks took place in March in the Pageri area in the same county. As in the past, the potential for LRA attacks during the cultivation season remains high as they attacked villages in neighbouring northern Uganda early this month, and reportedly displaced an unknown number of people into this zone. Potential LRA attacks in this zone between now and July could interrupt crop cultivation. Meanwhile, the return of the Sudanese population residing as refugees in northern Uganda is scheduled to start in October. However, few people have been reported as returning from Uganda and Juba. Their numbers are unverified.

Ironstone Plateau

Rains in the northern parts of Mundri County started almost a month late this year. Reports from Oxfam indicate that rains fell during the second week of May in the northern parts of the county. This is consistent with images presented earlier in this report. Additional reports indicate that rainfall amounts were below average, and that only 25% of the land normally planted during this period was seeded. Households in this part of Mundri are currently relying on food stocks they had preserved for this year’s hunger season which include cassava, sorghum and simsim. Sales to livestock traders en-route from Bahr el Gazal to Uganda are also generating income that allows households to purchase a significant amount of their food at the moment.

Greenbelt Zone

An estimated 5,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) previously living in Mabia camp in Tambura County are in the process of returning to Raga (over 365 kilometers away). They have covered only a third of the journey after walking for over a month, and concern is mounting that they will not reach their intended destinations before rains peak in June. The return was triggered by a planned handover of Raga town to the Government of Southern Sudan in July. A survey conducted recently by International Office of Migration (IOM) found that the general health situation of the IDP’S was relatively stable but recommended additional drugs and equipment to maintain the IDPs during their onward movement. A joint rapid assessment conducted in May by IOM, World Vision International (WVI) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) found that there was an urgent need for transportation of the IDPs before the rains set in. In addition, the assessment team recommended that assistance with food and non-food items be maintained, the continued presence of IOM and WVI among the IDPs, coordination with northern Sudan agencies operating in the IDP destination areas in Raga, and an assessment in Wau in June. Based on these recommendations, MSF Spain, IOM, WVI and WFP are preparing to respond with various interventions, especially drugs, transport, non-food items, and food.

Populations that returned to Tambura and Ezo in February from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR) are receiving food aid. It is not clear whether they have started cultivating following the start of the first season rains. Continued assistance to this group should be limited given that the area is of high agricultural potential.


1 Note: these areas are now referred to as being controlled by GoSS-Government of Southern Sudan