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South Sudan agriculture booms as crisis subsides

Rural Aggregation Centers addressed critical gap in farmers’ lives, says World Food Program says

Benjamin Takpiny   | 18.03.2020
South Sudan agriculture booms as crisis subsides

WESTERN EQUATORIA, South Sudan

South Sudan is on a path to peace that is leading to an increase in agriculture production.

But the economic crisis caused by six years of war has eroded purchasing power and farmers are stuck with tons of surplus of produce.

While the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) helped feed millions of South Sudanese in the war years, it is now turning to purchase of surplus grain to give farmers a lifeline to their livelihood.

The agency is “stepping in for the private sector because farmers were complaining of not being able to sell supplies,” Sandra Akim, a Program Policy Officer at WFP, told Anadolu Agency.

The program includes setting up buying centers, called Rural Aggregation Centers, in the rural areas where farmers can easily reach with produce. Twenty centers are fixed while another 26 are mobile, rotating deep in the villages of Western Equatoria.

That brought relief for Jacob Ginaba, a 51-year-old farmer in Yambio, the capital of Western Equatoria State.

Market access had been a nightmare for Ginaba during the crisis.

“I am a farmer for a long time and WFP has helped me a lot because I used to produce surplus,” he said.

“I just came with 50 bags of maize and they bought them all at one go. Before it was hard for me to sell I spent almost two weeks to sell five bags of maize grains but even if 100 bags, use to be bought in a day.”

The Rural Aggregation Centers is billed to purchase 360,000 metric tons (396,832 tons) of maize yearly which would be surpluses, Tomson Phiri, WFP communication specialist told Anadolu Agency.

There are also employment opportunities for youths, including cleaners, packers and guards, said Phiri.

Joyce Victor Kitabu’s livelihood was shattered when she fled twice in the six years of crisis, first escaping fighting in her village of Rangu to Nzara, then fleeing hunger, to Bakpara. Now the farmer at least can reside comfortably as her maize produce is doing economic magic in her life.

“My work is simply to plant weed and harvest and the market finds me where I am,” said the 45-year-old mother of eight.

Before Kitabu fled Rangu in 2017, she would often be stuck with surpluses because selling on the open market never guaranteed all would be bought.

The crisis which began in 2013 cut off roads, chased people into displacements and stalled businesses. Accessing markets became impossible for buyers because there was too much fear on the roads.

Now with a peace plan working, farmers are slowly and steadily returning to their trade.

At a WFP initiated Rural Aggregation Center in Bakpara, Kitabu quicly sold 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of maize.

“This market is very good,” she said. “We are happy because we bring maize and take the money at once.”

Thousands of farmers in Western Equatoria can now have easy access to the market for their surplus produce as a result of the WFP’s Rural Aggregation Centers’ plan.

According to WFP, it has enabled farmers to reduce transport cost, paying taxes on the road and getting stuck due to bad road conditions.

It is also “tailored on the farmers’ needs, helping to address their fears on what to do with surplus,” said Akim, the Program Policy Officer at WFP. “This project has addressed one of the most critical gaps in the lives of people in this region,” Akim said.

With addressing that gap, it has also opened a very critical avenue for Stella Pascal.

The 33-year-old mother of three fled her home in Masia in 2017 when fighting spread to Yambio.

Pascal fled to the Congo border with her children and there, life became a daily ordeal.

“It became very difficult because I have children and their education and feeding was very difficult,” she told Anadolu Agency from the Yambio capital of Western Equatoria state.

“I am thanking WFP for bringing this program to us because now we can sell our maize easily,” Pascal said.

“Before this, market fees affected our income but here, things are easy, you bring and after seven days, you get your cash.”

Daniel Mbokobori Gabriel is as enthusiastic about the ready market for his maize produce.

“My challenge came when conflict broke out in the country in 2013, all food used to be in the store because there is no way for me to access market but when WFP decided to buy maize from us, we became happy,” said the 56-year-old father of 12.

"With money I got from my produce I sold to WFP, I managed to send my eight children to school and bought myself a motorbike and also extended my farm to 15 fedan (15.5 acres)."

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