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Country Briefs

  South Sudan

Reference Date: 23-April-2020


  1. Dire food security situation, with half of total population (about 6 million people) estimated to be severely food insecure between February and April 2020

  2. Above‑average early season precipitation in southern producing areas benefited planting and germination of 2020 first season crops

  3. Cereal production in 2019 estimated at 818 500 tonnes, 10 percent up from 2018 but still 4 percent below average of previous five years

  4. Food prices surged in March and April due to trade disruptions with Uganda, caused by border screening to contain COVID‑19 outbreak

Widespread floods worsened food insecurity in Northern and Eastern areas

Since early 2020, the seasonal deterioration of the food security situation has been compounded by severe livelihood losses in northern and eastern areas affected by floods in late 2019, the lingering impact of the prolonged conflict and the ongoing economic crisis. According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, half of the total population (about 6 million people) is estimated to face Phase 3: “Crisis” and above or worse levels of acute food insecurity during the February‑April 2020 period. The highest prevalence of food insecurity is reported in Jonglei State, the area worst affected by the floods, where about 70 percent of the population is severely food insecure.

After the signature of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in September 2018, the security situation has improved, with a significant decline of security incidents. In 2019, about 418 000 displaced people returned to their places of origin, including 277 000 from within the country and 141 000 from abroad. Currently, about 1.67 million people remain internally displaced and 2.24 million South Sudanese refugees are still residing in neighbouring countries (Uganda, the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Kenya).

In March and April, the Government introduced a range of restrictive measures to contain the COVID‑19 outbreak and, with the support of the international community, launched a preparedness and response plan (see Box below) to mitigate its impact on health and food security. However, these measures had also negative effects on livelihoods and agriculture, affecting households’ income in the informal sector in urban areas, impairing movements of agricultural workers and slowing down trade flows.

Favourable start of season in southern producing areas due to above‑average early seasonal rains

In the southern bimodal rainfall areas of Greater Equatoria Region, seasonal rains had a timely onset at the beginning of March and were characterized by well above cumulative rainfall amounts that encouraged plantings and benefitted crop germination. The gradual but steady return of displaced farmers to their places of origin, following the general improvement in the security situation, is expected to lead to an increase in planted area, similar to 2018 and 2019.

According to the latest Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF) weather forecast, rainfall amounts are expected to be above average across the country until May, benefiting yields of first season crops in bimodal rainfall areas of Greater Equatoria Region and crop germination and establishment in central and northern unimodal rainfall areas.

Beginning from February 2020, some desert locust swarms entered the southeastern part of the country from Uganda, and have maintained their presence in the area since then. If control measures in neighbouring countries will not curb the spread of more swarms into South Sudan, damage to crops at vegetative stage and to pastures in Greater Equatoria Region are likely to occur in April and May.

Increased cereal production in 2019 despite severe flood‑induced losses

Harvesting of the 2019 main season crops was completed in January 2020. According to the findings of the 2019 FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM), the aggregate cereal production is estimated at 818 500 tonnes. This output is 10 percent up from the record low production obtained in 2018 and 4 percent below the average of the previous five years. As a result, the overall cereal deficit in the January/December 2020 marketing year is estimated at 482 500 tonnes, 7 percent below the deficit estimated for 2019, but still 22 percent above the 2015‑2019 average.

The harvested area is estimated at about 930 000 hectares, over 5 percent up from 2018 but still well below pre‑conflict levels. The increase is mainly due to security improvements that prompted some displaced households to return to their places of origin and engage in agricultural activities. Abundant seasonal precipitation boosted yields, but torrential rains triggered unusually widespread flooding in Greater Upper Nile and Greater Bahr el Ghazal regions, which resulted in significant crop losses. Notably, while cereal production increased by 30‑40 percent from 2018 in Greater Equatoria Region, it declined in the flood‑affected Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile states by 20‑25 percent. In Upper Nile State, yields were further constrained by the losses caused by desert locusts, which entered the State from the Sudan and attacked crops in November and December.

Food prices at exceptionally high levels, also due to recent disruptions to trade with Uganda

In the capital, Juba, prices of maize and sorghum have remained firm between October 2019 and February 2020 as the South Sudanese pound held steady. Prices of wheat have increased between October 2019 and February 2020 by about 10 percent. Subsequently, cereal prices increased in March and April, as the Government of Uganda, the country’s main source for cereals, began implementing screenings at the borders in the framework of measures to contain the spread of COVID‑19, which impaired commodity trade flows. Prices of sorghum and maize increased by 20‑25 percent between February and April, while prices of wheat, totally imported, surged by more than 40 percent over the same period. In April 2020, cereal prices were at exceptionally high levels, 5570 percent higher on a yearly basis and more than 20 times higher than in July 2015, when they started surging as the country’s currency began to rapidly depreciate. The high price level is mainly driven by inadequate domestic supplies, high transport costs due to high fuel prices and informal taxation, the difficult macro‑economic situation and the lingering impact of prolonged conflict. Price spikes due to the disruption of trade flows from Uganda have also been recorded in other markets. For example, in Yei (Central Equatoria State) and Magwi (Eastern Equatoria State) markets, located near the border, prices of maize increased between February and April by 25 and 85 percent, respectively.

COVID-19 and measures adopted by the Government

In March and early April 2020, the Government has introduced a number of precautionary measures in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic, including the establishment of a nationwide curfew, the closure of all education institutions, the suspension of gatherings including sports, religious and political events, weddings and funerals, the closure of all non‑essential businesses, the suspension of all flights, except for cargo planes, relief and emergency flights, the closure of all land border crossing points except for trucks transporting food and fuel and the suspension of all passenger travels to and from Juba and from state to state.

The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the WHO and other partners, launched a nation‑wide preparedness and response plan for COVID‑19, aimed to curb the spread of the outbreak through surveillance, rapid response teams, case investigation and management, laboratory testing, risk communication, community engagement, social mobilization, and infection prevention and control.

Disclaimer: The designations employed and the presentation of material in this information product do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of FAO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The dashed lines represent approximate borderlines for which there may not yet be full agreement. The final boundary between the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan has not yet been determined. The final status of the Abyei area is not yet determined.