Rome — A new programme in the Republic of South Sudan is helping vulnerable farmers to improve their livelihoods by boosting the quality of the seeds used to produce key crops.
With the support of the Government of France, FAO is joining efforts with the South Sudanese Ministry of Agriculture to implement the year-long programme in several states.
The project, valued at more than $612 000 (EUR 500 000), will help to train farmers in the production, storage and marketing of quality seeds and cuttings for staple crops like sorghum, maize, cassava and cowpeas. It will also increase the availability of seeds to South Sudan's most vulnerable farmers.
Decades of conflict and displacement have taken their toll on farmers' access to quality seeds and other planting materials, and eroded their knowledge of seed production techniques. Together, these factors have severely undermined crop productivity and farmers' livelihoods.
"The importance of seeds to the food security and livelihoods of South Sudan's farmers and rural communities is very high" said Sue Lautze, the head of FAO's office in Juba. "Despite widespread food insecurity, the country is committed to ensuring food security for all, as soon as possible. Seeds are a critical component to realizing this important ambition."
The programme aims to help an estimated 30 000 people from more than 5 000 vulnerable farming households, in addition to 400 seed producers. The beneficiaries, half of whom are women, live in the states of Central Equatoria, Western Equatoria, Lakes, Western Bahr el Ghazal and Northern Bahr el Ghazal.
"We know that the formal seed sector in South Sudan is underdeveloped and in desperate need of rehabilitation" said Michael Legge, Minister for Agriculture and Forestry for Central Equatoria State. "South Sudan relies heavily on neighbouring countries for certified seed, which is costly, and farmers rely on the informal seed sector."
More than 90 percent of South Sudanese farmers still depend on the informal seed system, which is based primarily on saved seeds (42 percent), social networks (26 percent), and local markets (22 percent). Typically, farmers repeatedly use saved seeds from one season to the next, which tends to lessen the genetic purity of the seed.
Farming families are 'seed secure' only when they have access to adequate quantities of seed, of acceptable quality, and in time for planting. These three key elements of seed security (availability, access and quality) are of concern in South Sudan.
Improving the country's ability to produce quality seed would help to inject money into the local economy and provide training that would benefit farmers for years to come.
"Through the project, FAO aims to not only reduce the number of households affected by food insecurity through improving the availability and access of locally produced quality seed on the market, but also aims to improve the incomes and capacity of seed producers," said Joseph Okidi, Project Officer with FAO South Sudan.
Technical capacity in quality seed production, especially among youth, and even within the government services, is very limited.
The project will include seed fairs, capacity development for seed enterprises, input distribution and Farmer Field Schools. It will also increase the amount of land dedicated to quality-seed multiplication.
FAO has been supporting the seed sector in South Sudan for several years. In 2011 nearly 5 000 vulnerable households, 513 seed producers and 23 government extension workers benefitted from a similar project funded by the Government of France. This is one of several important seed projects FAO is implementing throughout South Sudan.
"After FAO supported us with the project, our farmers' group was able to come together and save enough money to buy four bulls. We used the two pairs to plough our fields," said Lou Marial, a farmer from Adwel, Rumbek East County in Lakes State, who benefitted from the previous project.
"We have managed to expand our production area and are expecting a significantly bigger harvest this year," Marial added.
"It's a real pleasure to see how our support has been transformed into such a significant seed production," said Laetitia Tremel, Programme Officer at the French Embassy in Juba.
The 2011 project intervention led to the production of more than 350 tonnes of quality seeds and planting materials, and injected some USD 300 000 into the local economy.
Although South Sudan has enormous agricultural potential, it faces multiple challenges to realizing national and household food security. The seed sector is a primary tool for ending hunger and FAO and the Government of France joined efforts to develop this sector in a sustainable manner.