"The yield of the [sorghum] crop was generally poorer in some locations in 2009 than in 2008," John Chuol, a member of a government team that conducted an assessment of the food situation in five states, said.
More than 80 percent of cereal production in the region is grown via traditional methods, and farmers rely heavily on the weather. Sorghum, according to Chuol, is the most widely cultivated cereal.
According to the assessment, organized by the Southern Sudanese Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the states of Unity, Northern Bahr Ghazal, Jonglei, Upper Nile, Eastern Equatoria and Warrap are food-insecure.
The assessment was carried out in the first and second half of 2009. However, in some places of Central Equatoria, the second rains were more generous.
Southern Sudanese farming is particularly susceptible to the vagaries of weather. According to the assessment, 90 percent of agricultural production is rain-fed.
"It is the failure of the rains," Betty Angwero Achan, state Minister of Agriculture in Eastern Equatoria told IRIN on 6 January. "In case you haven't noticed, I have for months now issued appeal after appeal for food aid."
In Western Equatoria, where Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels have disrupted livelihoods, the maize yield was 10 to 15 bags of 50kg per feddan (roughly 0.42ha) in central counties. In the drought-affected eastern and western areas, it fell to 1-10 bags of 50kg per feddan.
The yield of maize in a normal year is 20 to 25 bags of 50kg each per feddan, according to local officials.
In some states, people did not plant for fear of flooding, particularly in Northern Bahr El Ghazal. According to the assessment, a general reduction in planting was experienced in the lowlands, which are potential flood zones during the wet season.
Even where the rains came, the patterns were different, making it difficult for the farmers to plan. In Unity State, there was an unfavourable onset of rainfall. The early rains, coupled with an outbreak of pests and diseases, reduced the crop yield.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net), in a report covering October-December 2009, said preliminary findings from the year's Crop Food Supply Assessment Mission indicated that the harvest was below average.
Food security improvements that were noted in some of the 10 states were temporary. FEWS Net attributed the reduced crop production to a prolonged dry spell in May-July, and the displacement of many people following unusually high levels of conflict.
"The persistence and increasing incidences of conflict remain of great concern," it stated. "Past conflicts were typically over grazing and water resources during the dry season, but are now a mix of inter-ethnic/tribal tensions, historical hostilities, revenge attacks, and cattle raiding practices."
Aid agencies estimate that a surge in ethnic violence last year left at least 2,500 people dead and forced 350,000 to flee their homes. Most of the clashes were blamed on cattle rustling.
On 6 January 2010, the commissioner of Tonj North County, Deng Ayieny Aleu, told Radio Miraya that more than 40 people had been killed in clashes between the Dinka Luc of Tonj East and armed groups from Unity State.
And on 7 January, Lise Grande, UN Deputy Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Southern Sudan, said at least 140 people had been killed and 90 wounded during an attack on the Wunchai region of Warrap state at the beginning of the year.
In the long run, the state Minister of Agriculture in Jonglei, Isaac Ochan, told IRIN, the state planned to distribute tractors to farmers as part of a strategy to increase production, provide land to private investors to cover the food gap, and improve security so that people could resume work.
In the short term, other state officials said, emergency deliveries of food were needed. According to an MP from the area, Gatkuoth Duop Kuich, Jonglei faces drought. He urged civil society organizations to help.
"The three counties of Uror, Nyirol and Akobo have no water, no food, and people are suffering because of the drought," the MP added.