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FAO to help conflict-scattered families in South Sudan

Vaccines, fishing, planting supplies needed before rains

©UN photo/UNMISS/Isaac Billy
Conflict has scattered people and livestock in South Sudan.

17 February 2012, Rome - The UN Food and Agriculture Organization is helping the people of the conflict-affected, South Sudanese state of Jonglei feed themselves and rebuild their lives through a series of emergency and long-term actions.

Working with the local community, FAO is supporting the distribution of livestock vaccines, fishing gear, vegetable seeds and tools, in a move towards long-term development and capacity building in the world’s newest nation.

The Organization aims to deliver as much assistance as possible in the next two to three months before the rainy season starts and the roads become impassable. Future initiatives will also focus on rainwater harvesting and other measures to boost long-term resilience.

In Jonglei and throughout South Sudan, poor harvests, increased demand, rapidly rising prices, conflict, and displacements are blamed for the situation, with the shortfall in cereal production weighing heavily on already distressed communities.

Cereal production in the world’s newest nation was about 19 percent below the previous year and 25 percent lower than the average for the last five years. The cereal deficit for 2012 is estimated at more than 470 000 tonnes – almost half of the country’s total consumption requirements for the year.

The latest figures come from the recent FAO-WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to South Sudan.

Livestock protection crucial

In an emergency measure to protect the area’s number one source of food and livelihoods, FAO will provide vaccines and antibiotics to prevent the spread of animal disease and to treat up to 100 000 animals over the course of roughly one month.

The supplies will be administered by networks of veterinarians and other collaborators called Community Animal Health Workers, a system that makes sure health care reaches herds even in the most remote villages.

“These people are pastoralists, or herders,” FAO Livestock Officer, Nimaya Mogga says. “These cattle are their livelihood. Without them, they have nothing.”

South Sudan is the sixth largest cattle economy in Africa.

“Cattle are seen as wealth in South Sudan,” Nimaya Mogga says. “During lean periods, they’re sold or exchanged for food. The sale of one cow alone can buy a family three months' worth of grain.”

This is especially true in Jonglei, where the economy and culture are based primarily on cattle ownership.

These people grow some crops but only a very small quantity. They’re usually in little plots around their ‘tukuls’ or huts,” Mogga continues. “The loss of cattle has devastated many of them.” He also warns that large cattle raids typically mix many different herds and increase the risk of the spread of livestock disease in South Sudan.

Fishing for opportunities

Many of those fleeing from conflict took refuge in the town of Boma. Local officials say residents here took in many of the displaced, but their stocks of staples like sorghum and maize are running low, and they will need assistance.

The dry season has set in and there are no crops in the field, but the presence of a river running by the town has sparked some hope.

"The River Chelimon is about two hours walk away from Boma. It’s believed the displaced people could access it to fish,” Michael Oyat, FAO’s Deputy Emergency Coordinator in South Sudan, says. “They’re hampered only by the lack of fishing gear.”

FAO is providing 20 thousand pieces of fishing gear to Boma and two other towns affected in December’s conflict, Pibor and Likuangole. The UN has set up Pibor as a hub for assistance.

FAO is also assisting local communities in the planting of vegetable gardens along river banks.

FAO is coordinating with local non-governmental organizations, Upper Nile Youth for Mobilization and Development (UNYMAM) and South Sudan Partner International (SSPI) to provide this assistance.

“It’s essential we move quickly in Jonglei,’ FAO’s Senior Planning and Programming Officer in South Sudan, Etienne Peterschmitt, says. “The sooner we move to support this vulnerable population, the sooner they can help themselves.”

Looking to the future

FAO‘s work is aimed at providing immediate assistance to the affected families while  it contributes to building their resilience. At the Government of South Sudan’s request, FAO is also preparing a cash-for-work programme similar to the one implemented in Somalia, through which families have money to buy food locally,  while helping to rehabilitate local rural infrastructure.

Longer-term recovery actions are also in place. Through a project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), FAO is supporting implementation of long-term interventions aimed at addressing the root causes of food insecurity and resource-based conflicts in Jonglei’s two counties, Uror and Nyirol.

The project includes development of water-harvesting structures for livestock and human use and boosting agricultural service delivery through innovative and participatory extension approaches, including Farmer/Pastoralist Field Schools.

“Provision of water for livestock in the two counties would mitigate cyclical conflicts over water and grazing resources while the intervention would contribute to increased food production and productivity, thus improving the long-term food security of the population in Jonglei,” the project’s Chief Technical Adviser Ali Said explains.

Also, senior officer Peterschmitt says the informal nature of the Farmer Field Schools approach also provides an excellent entry point to address social issues of conflict.

In order to tackle food insecurity in Jonglei at a scale the situations demand, FAO is calling on donors to commit funding in response to the United Nations Consolidated Appeal Process, which points out particularly vulnerable populations in need of support from various UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and other partners.