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Turning soil - and profit - at Farmer Field Schools in South Sudan
South Sudan is a tough place to be a farmer. Traditional farming methods, little improved over decades of protracted war, can bring poor returns in a country also at risk of drought, floods and localized conflicts. The country is characterized by a nearly universal lack of infrastructure.
But for Nyakuot Lul, a young widow with five children in Nasir County, Upper Nile State, participation in FAO’s Farmer Field School (FFS) has brought personal and financial success. This year, Nyakuot and her classmates at the Toria (“Hoe”) Farmer Field School produced enough vegetables not only to feed their families but also to sell surplus production to local residents and businesses.
The Toria FFS turned a tidy profit of SSP 750 (about USD 188). These are fairly typical returns; vegetable production is a key source of income and nutrition, particularly for female-headed households.
Working under the guidance of the field extension agents supported jointly by FAO and the Government of South Sudan, the school participants met weekly. They planted maize and, from the nursery they had also established, the group transplanted cabbage, onions, tomatoes, and okra seedlings to their study plot on the edge of town.
With funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), FAO has established more than 40 schools in Jonglei and Upper Nile States, providing assistance to 1 200 farmers, more than half of whom are women like Nyakuot. After hearing of the group’s success, Nasir County Commissioner Mr. Dak Tab Chol invited the Toria FFS to his offices. He was so impressed with their produce that he, too, purchased some of their goods.
The Toria farmers have re-invested their profits. They bought sugar, tea, salt and oil that they, in turn, sold in Nasir and neighbouring villages. Now, with savings of SSP 1 200 (approximately USD 300), preparations are underway for this year’s agriculture season.
For Nyakuot, the gains will extend beyond this harvest season. “The benefits I got from the training on how to apply modern farming practices in growing vegetables as well as business skills are going to help me a lot in life”, she said.
About Farmer Field Schools
FAO’s Farmer Field Schools play an important role in assisting vulnerable but economically active smallholder farming households. The FFS approach promotes sustainable management practices, improved production technologies and marketing opportunities.
In Farmer Field Schools, farmers are the experts. Knowledge is shared, discussed and analysed by the group. The extension agent engages in the discussions, joint learning and debate as a contributor rather than a leader.
Since 2008, FAO has established more than 500 similar schools around the country, assisting South Sudanese farmers to generate both food and livelihoods through training in modern farming techniques, water conservation, and pest and disease control.