Even the bananas come from Uganda
One of the first things I noticed upon arriving in Juba was that a sidewalk vendor was asking $1 for four small bananas. Knowing that most people in Southern Sudan earn less than $1 per day, I asked why the prices were so high. I found out that even the bananas, which would thrive in this tropical climate, came from Uganda.
Southern Sudan imports almost all its food from neighbouring countries. However, poor roads mean that the food is often flown in. Transport costs, taxes and high demand inflate prices tremendously. Indeed, the price of wheat is 60% higher in Juba than in nearby Uganda.
To make things worse, following recent spikes in global food prices, many countries have placed high tariffs on or even temporarily banned exports of key staples. These policies make countries which rely on imports, such as Southern Sudan, extremely vulnerable.
So why is most of the food imported?
Fear of Farming?
Millions of people fled during the war which lasted over twenty years and officially ended with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Refugees left not only their land but also their knowledge of farming techniques. Although they are now returning, they are reluctant to farm the heavily mined land. Furthermore, repeated outbursts of violence make farmers fear they will have to escape before the crop has matured.
Most farmers barely grow enough to feed their own families because plot sizes are small and the conditions are harsh. They often lack access to better seeds, tools and machinery, and credit. The few farmers who manage to reap a surplus cannot easily take harvests to markets because roads are few and dangerous. Even those who finally reach markets have a difficult time competing with subsidized food aid. Few incentives for farming remain.
As if all this was not enough, changing climate patterns have had severe effects on agriculture in many areas.
Thus, agricultural production remains extremely low in an area which potentially could be the breadbasket for the region.
How FAO is helping
Improving agricultural productivity is the key to long term food security in Southern Sudan.
Recognizing this, the Government of Southern Sudan has been working with FAO to revive agriculture and formulate better policies to tackle hunger and food insecurity. However, they face huge challenges including a lack of resources, capacity, and poor infrastructure. The FAO has thus been involved in many crucial activities including:
- providing seeds and tools to farmers;
- rebuilding infrastructure and supplying equipment;
- training staff in ministries and extension workers;
- providing agricultural policy support; and
- much more.
Early Warning of Crises and Building News Institutions
For example, the FAO-SIFSIA programme has been working hand in hand with the government of Southern Sudan to set up a food security information system that can provide adequate warning of brewing crises. It has also helped the government set up a new “Food Security Council” – chaired by the country’s president - which has the political power to take coordinated action.
Southern Sudan’s Huge Potential
Southern Sudan is blessed with ample land, a good water supply, and a generally favourable climate for agriculture. With adequate investment and lasting peace it hast a huge potential to produce enough food for the whole region.
The Sudan Institutional Capacity Programme: Food Security Information for Action (SIFSIA) is a Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) programme funded by the European Commission (EC) and implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO).