12 July 2013

South Sudan: In Search of Food and Peace in South Sudan


Donor support for programmes targeting food security and community farms aims to end hunger and conflict in South Sudan.

When Gabriel Gai, a South Sudanese minister, visited Uror County this March, he was there to appeal for peace. There had been numerous incidents of violence and cattle raiding in the region recently, problems that have been ongoing in Jonglei state for many years. But when Gai asked the people to put down their weapons and live peacefully, the community responded by asking him for food.

Amidst the sustained conflicts in South Sudan - those with Sudan as well internal battles between competing tribes - hunger has ravaged local communities. This cycle of hunger, poverty and violence holds South Sudan back, particularly Jonglei, its largest - and perhaps its most unstable - state.

Each week, reports circulate of more violence and suffering amongst the population. The security situation is dire and several thousands have been displaced by fighting this year. In such uncertain circumstances, food security is difficult to maintain and food is often scarce.

Peace and bread

Food aid may help alleviate this problem in the short-term, but the long-term answer lies in producing food locally, unleashing the potential of the country's farmlands, and finding ways in which local citizens can ensure food security themselves.

As Adhuom Achiek Buol, a local farmer, says, "Farming will stop hunger. We, the people of Jonglei, were created to farm. It is in our culture. It is what we were born to do."

Buoi Machiek, a livestock health worker, echoes these sentiments, but insists peace must come first. "We need peace", he says. "People are afraid to walk to town because they might be shot. When we go to the bush to hunt, we get attacked. Insecurity causes hunger. Once we have peace, we can cultivate. This will prevent hunger."

Another farmer, Mary Ngok, says, "Peace among the communities will stop hunger in Jonglei. When other tribes stop raiding our cattle, we will have milk production and cattle to sell."

One group hoping to facilitate a move towards self-sustained food security in Jonglei is Catholic Relief Services (CRS) which, with the help of US government funding, is attempting to help small farmers through "the process of moving from subsistence farming to harvesting for market".

The plan is to enhance education and training in agriculture, but as Gabriel Kuereng, a CRS field coordinator, explains, reconciliation is key to agricultural and development efforts. "The war left us in bad shape", he says.

"We still think that this community did this or that community did that. We need the government to intervene and help us forgive each other. We need to build an identity of nationhood where we all say we are South Sudanese - not 'I am a Dinka' or 'I am Nuer'. When we reconcile, cattle-raiding will stop, because we will not blame others."

A society built on farming and food

Uror County is one area currently benefiting from the CRS food security programme. Getting people to put down their guns and focus on farming is the first step to peace.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has disarmament programmes that focus on farming to help reintegrate former soldiers and their families back into society. It is not possible to build a society with guns, but it is with farming and food.

The road to peace in South Sudan means people coming together to farm and not to fight. As Zakariah, a leader of one of CRS' farming groups, put it: "Working together, we've realised we produce more... We can produce something that can be taught to many people. We have a saying in Dinka: 'If you have one stick, it is easy to break. But if you have a bundle of sticks, it is hard to break.' That means when you bring a group of people together, you become very strong. It is hard to break a group."

William Lambers is the author of Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. His other books include The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, The Road to Peace and The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger.

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