One of the most strategic things for a country is the ability to produce and feed its citizens. Or put in another way, it’s the ability of the country to enable its people produce enough food.
This seems true of the new Republic of South Sudan (ROSS) as it braces itself for challenges that lie ahead it.
This is clear from the vision statement of the country’s ministry of Agriculture and Forestry which stands: “Food security for all people of Southern Sudan to enjoy quality of life, environmental and economic prosperity.”
According to the GOSS minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Anne Itto Leonardo, the independent South Sudan has potential to become the food basket in the East African region.
“The government has given priority to agriculture… and we are working towards increased food production through expansion of the production area,” Itto told the media at South Sudan Hotel in Juba on Wednesday.
She observed that the new South Sudan is targeting to produce two million metric tons of food, for both domestic consumption and export, by the year 2013.
Itto, who is also the deputy Secretary General of the ruling Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), guarantees that is agriculture is put as a priority, sustainability of many people in the new Republic of South Sudan becomes easy, since over 80% of the populace depend on it.
“Our priority will change with the independence of the new republic. Agriculture received 1 % of the total public budget (this year) and next year, we will raise the budget,” the minister assured.
The minister is optimistic of the potential to increase food production given the natural endowments in the region which favor s crop growing.
“South Sudan is blessed with natural resources, mostly arable land, water resources and nine months of rainfall in a year. These are the fundamentals for developing viable agriculture,” the minister stated.
The minister is, however outlined climatic changes, insecurity mostly in Western Equatoria and the negative attitude of the people towards agriculture as some of the key challenges that will affect the agriculture sector in South Sudan.
The minister also assured that government will provide seeds, farm equipment and insecticides to boost production.
As for the vagaries of weather characterized by long periods of drought, the minister said that government will invest in irrigation.
Recognizing the uphill task of ensuring high food production for millions of impoverished people who are just coming out of decades of war, the government of South Sudan (GOSS) has teamed up with development partners.
Notable among the development partners are the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the United States Agency for Development (USAID).
The development partners are helping in providing inputs, rehabilitation of agriculture infrastructure, provision of loans and with the aim of ensuring high quality and productivity.
The agriculture minister requested them to help in the rehabilitation of agricultural training institutions in Yambio, Yei, Halima and Palotika, as this will be vital in the provision of the necessary manpower for agricultural extension work and ensuring sustainability.
Rehabilitation of Yambio Institute of Agriculture in Western Equatoria and Korgulu Forest Institute in Central Equatoria will be top on the government’s plan, she added.
“We are working closely with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the agency promised to provide security so that farmers access loans from the banking institutions,” says Itto.
She also called on local and foreign investors in South Sudan to invest in agriculture and not only in hotels.
“The Ministry with the help of the Government of the Peoples’ Republic of China will open a machinery centre in Juba, the southern capital, to modernize agriculture,” she noted.
In its efforts to boost agricultural production, FAO came up with a project code named ‘Seed Fair’ in May this year; targeting about a million people across the ten states of South Sudan.
The main aim of the project is to bring farmers who do not have access to quality seed in contact with those who have and enable them acquire the seeds at a reasonable cost.
Those who needed the seeds were identified from among vulnerable farmers including the internally displaced persons ( IDPs).
FAO has since launched the 2011 planting season mobilization campaign and the seed fair at Awiel East in Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Magwi County in Eastern Equatoria, last month.
“This campaign is aimed at ensuring that people who have a chance to plant do not merely stay in the gardens for long, but that they do so in ways that are effective, ways that will boost the final harvest,” said Dr.George Okech, head of office, Food and Agricultural organization (FAO) in South Sudan recently.
Sworo Yopes, an agriculture expert with FAO Sudan is optimistic that the seed fair project would greatly impact on the livelihood of the seed fair beneficiaries.
He added that, it was not only a seed fair but an “input fair” as it as well included non-seed materials like hoes and other cutlasses and the participants appreciated the efforts by FAO.
In Magwi County, FAO works in collaboration with Magwi Action for Self Reliance Association (MASRA) and they are targeting the returnees who are the most vulnerable.
The director for food security of Eastern Equatoria state, Agole Kawa says of the project: “This has saved money from the Government of South Sudan since seeds are provided to the farmers; and by August this year, we expect a good harvest,” he pointed out.
Kawa said this while representing the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry at the official launch of the seed fair in Iwire Payam of Magwi County last month.
In a recent Seed Security System Assessment (SSSA) released for South Sudan, it was found that farmers were able to expand cultivated land by relying on functioning local seed channels.
The report showed that farmers, including the internally displaced persons (IDPs) planned to increase amounts of seed sowed by over 60% across crops.
But labour constraints, lack of disposable income and health related problems were the three major factors cited as hindering farmers’ production potential.
The assessment found seed security good overall, except in Upper Nile and Northern Bahr El Ghazal states.
This assessment was the first of its kind in South Sudan and was commissioned by FAO, the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department and USAID.
This year’s planting season mobilization campaign has targeted about 1,000,000 vulnerable communities, which is more than a tenth of South Sudan population, making it the most extensive campaign ever undertaken in the region.
Another programme aimed at boosting food production and food security is the USAID food Agribusiness and Rural Markets (FARM) programme in South Sudan.
This is a five year joint initiative with the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) now Republic of south Sudan (ROSS) and the state governments to improve food security through increased agricultural production and trade.
The programme has identified the greenbelt of Western Equatoria State (WES) as the most promising area for agricultural development and is therefore focusing its efforts in the region.
Recently, the USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah announced at an agricultural launch at Rajaf Farm in Central Equatoria State that the US government is “ready” to invest 'hundreds of millions of dollars' in South Sudan's agriculture sector if all money is used accountably.
Apart from the national government and the development partners, the state governments are also keenly involved in ensuring better agricultural practices.
For instance, in Central Equatoria State (CES) the farmers with the state ministry of agriculture and FARM/USAID held a conference aimed at accelerating and consolidating the process of transformation of agricultural sector.
It was also aimed at creating awareness and better understanding of the agricultural processes.
“CES governor made important trips to Nyarkenyi Dura scheme in Northern Bari Payam in Juba County and Gemeza Payam in Terekeka County to encourage investment and demonstrate the seriousness of the government in the sector,” said Michael Roberto, the minister of Agriculture and Forestry in Central Equatoria State.
FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) have jointly been monitoring and evaluating project activities as partners in support of agriculture and forestry programme.
Roberto advised farmers to get organized, mobilized and motivated to ensure household food security in all the Payams of the six counties of CES.
He added that CES government will offer full support to the farmers in their efforts to feed their families and produce surplus for sale.
The farmers themselves are involved in group efforts to enhance food production.
In Kajo Keji, about 75 miles South of Juba, a project called the Savanna Farmers Cooperative has put in place a massive food production plan.
Muki Batali, the Commisioner of Kajo Keji County and a board member of the company, told the The New Nation that the company is poised to increase production from current 150 Hectars of land to 200.
“We are struggling to increase our productivity from 150 hectares of land to 200 over the next season,” Muki said. The land belongs to the people and it is 20square miles.
Muki expressed hapiness that they had already succeeded in this year’s harvest; because most secondary schools in the county were able to buy locally produced food instead of importing from Uganda. This enabled them save on the food budgets.
“Some of our boarding schools in Kajo Keji now do not have to import from neigbouring countries,” he said.
Muki however lamented that the poor state of the roads makes it difficult for them to transport their produce; especially to the capital city, Juba.
However, the minister of roads and transport, Anthony Lino Makana seems to give assurance, when he told the press in Juba recently that his ministry is working on about two thousand kilometres of road network in the country.
“We are going to build 2000kms of feeder roads. These are roads that are going to be used for moving produce from what production areas to market,” Makana said.
Among them will be the Kajo Keji-Juba road which has not been graded since the CPA came into force about five years ago.
Makana added that even if Khartoum threatens to close its borders, South Sudan has a potential to export its food materials to the East African community.
Agriculture minister Itto also assures that South Sudan can be the bread basket of the entire Africa and that joining East Africa Community (EAC), Common Market for East and Central Africa (COMESA), World Trade Organization (WTO) will offer huge market potential.
With the uncertainty of continued supply of the traditional food station from Khartoum, the need to increase agricultural production in south Sudan is not an issue to debate about.
Through concerted efforts, coupled with proper accountability, transparency and commitment, the new nation of South Sudan can surely be on the right course on its agriculture ministry mission “To transform Agriculture from traditional subsistence system to achieve food security through scientific, market oriented, competitive and profitable agricultural system without compromising sustainability of natural resources for future generations.”
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