From a destroyed field to a bountiful vegetable farm in a few months

From a destroyed field to a bountiful vegetable farm in a few months


“We saw a dark cloud coming towards us, and we were sure that was our end.” 

Desert locusts repeatedly destroyed Mary’s field of maize depriving her family from their main source of livelihood. Mary Ayet, 50 years old, lives in Palotaka, a boma not far from Magwi. 

In May 2020, large numbers of desert locust swarms that had formed in Kenya and Ethiopia moved fast into Eastern Equatoria with Magwi being one of the towns hit hardest, threatening fields, pastures and livelihoods of farming communities in the area. The swarms, that can pack between 40 and 80 million locusts into around one square kilometer and can travel up to 150 km/day, look like a highly-mobile dark cloud perceived by communities as the onset of a catastrophe.

“When they arrived, we tried different ways to expel them but with no success,” recalls Mary. “They ate all our maize, there was nothing left on our farm.” She heads a family of nine, and growing maize in her two feddans (0.82 ha) has always been the only way to avoid hunger. 

Like many others in South Sudan, farming communities in Eastern Equatoria are facing extreme stressors including persisting food insecurity, the effects of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and widespread instability. The unexpected arrival of swarms of desert locust left Mary’s and thousands of other families hopeless, feeling isolated and with a sealed fate.

“We suddenly remained without food and money to buy other seeds, not to mention to pay school fees or for medicine for my grandchildren,” remembers Mary. 

In late 2020, thanks to generous funding from the European Union’s Directorate-General for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, Mary’s and a further 30 000 families in Magwi received a large variety of vegetable seed and essential farming tools from FAO with support from the partner organization Global Aim. Seeds like cabbage, collard, eggplant, green pepper, okra, onion and tomatoes and tools like hoes and malodas allowed the communities to recover their losses quickly and sustain their farming in the long-term. 

In just a few months, Mary’s destroyed field turned into a bountiful vegetable farm.

“I can’t believe this support was so timely. We immediately planted the seeds and we are now producing these beautiful veggies,” says Mary pointing at her vegetables aligned perfectly in straight rows.

Thanks to FAO, the communities are also learning sustainable agricultural practices and control techniques to be more prepared to manage new invasions of swarms.

“I’ll produce more vegetables and expand my business.” Mary is as ambitious and determined as she may sound, but she adds that her goal is to share her success with the entire community, “I want to be a model for other people, pass on my skills and create new opportunities so every member can benefit.”

Through this action, EU Humanitarian Aid is supporting FAO to protect the livelihoods and enhance the food security of 180 000 people like Mary affected by desert locusts in Eastern Equatoria, helping them diversify their production and become more resilient to future shocks.