Returning hope to Southern Sudan
Exiles make the journey home, need help to farm
7 October 2005, Rumbek, Southern Sudan - Nura Sawa and 22 fellow displaced southerners left Khartoum by bus, riding to the end of the line on the first leg of their long journey home. When public transit gave out, they started to walk, selling their clothing along the way for money to buy food. Two and a half months later the returnees reached this small town, symbol of southern resistance in the just-finished civil war.
Ms Sawa is one of thousands of returning southerners - some estimates suggest half a million will return this year alone - who are in need of land, a livelihood, clean water, health care and schooling for their children.
"When we first arrived the Government settled us on this land, six kilometres from Rumbek, with 150 other families," says Ms Sawa, a widow with five children here and four still in Khartoum. "We started to earn a living by making charcoal and survived by eating wild greens. Now, with [World Food Programme] food aid, we cook okra and onions, and that's our meal for the day."
"FAO has given us tools and vegetable and sorghum seeds. In fact, the land is good quality, but the soil is heavy and we really need an ox plough to work it," she says.
Michael Roberto Kenyi has the job of ensuring that returnees like Ms Sawa can prosper through farming and raising livestock. Director of Agricultural Planning and Interagency Coordination in the new Government, Mr Kenyi and his staff occupy a small stone office building next to the FAO compound, an office without furniture, telephones or computers.
Mr Kenyi is open for business.
"It is very clear in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement [that ended the war] that Southern Sudan can enter into agreements with donors, obtain credit and grants and any technical support we need," he says.
What kind of assistance will work best and fastest?
FAO has a track record in the Sudan, proven approaches that are popular with people and provide value for donors' generosity. But first Mr Kenyi makes it clear that longer-term development of agriculture will have to work hand in hand with emergency relief for some time to come.
"We're still in an emergency situation. Returnees are coming every day and we're in no position to withstand this shock," he says. "Seeds, tools and fishing equipment are really very, very useful."
FAO is appealing for money to make offices like Mr Kenyi's operational - with vehicles, furniture and computers, veterinary capacity for the south's vast herds, even diagnostic laboratories and advanced training.
Medium-term development could include southern capacity to produce its own quality seed and tools.
Under an FAO seed project near the southern capital of Juba, participating farmers have produced 48 tonnes of the 117 tonnes of sorghum and groundnut seeds that FAO distributed to farmers across three southern states this year. The remainder had to be bought from large commercial seed suppliers.
"Thirty women in our group have been trained to multiply sorghum seeds and grow vegetables to sell for income and to cook for our families," says Mary Akwajo proudly as she stands in a field of high, uniform sorghum, a sign of a well-tended seed field. "We are really happy with this activity as it helps the women to generate money. In fact, 20 of the women have bought plots of land in town with their proceeds."
FAO would like to see community seed production adopted across Sudan. The approach ensures timely supplies of quality seeds suitable for local conditions and tastes - and gives poor families a chance to make some money.
The Organization also has a long history of assistance to southern animal health and production. In 2001-2002, using community animal health workers to access herds in remote areas, FAO led a mass vaccination programme that is believed to have cleared out the last vestiges in Sudan of the fatal cattle disease rinderpest, an amazing achievement in war time.
And a current pilot project in Sudan's Nuba Mountains trains oxen in just 15 days to pull a plough. Expanded into the south, such a programme could help people like Ms Sawa and her neighbours get off food aid and become self-reliant in short order.
FAO hosts a round table on food security and agriculture in Southern Sudan in Juba starting on 6 October. A donors' meeting on assistance to Southern Sudan starts on the same day in Khartoum.
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