In-depth: Sudan’s Referendum
SUDAN: Food the key to resettlement in South
A bus taking returnees from the outskirts of Khartoum to the south. Twenty such buses leave Khartoum daily, according to sources
The influence of Northern Sudan on Aweil in Bahr el-Gazal state of Southern Sudan is everywhere – from food deliveries to the truck-loads of returnees.
“You see the lorries – full of people, returnees,” says Omwenga Kinanga, project manager for Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team, a local NGO. “Traders do not bring much cargo these days.”
Southern officials estimate that 80,000 households averaging five to six people will return before the January referendum. Last week, a transport official in Khartoum said about 20 buses were carrying returnees to the South daily.
The arrival of large numbers of people has raised fears of possible food shortages, especially because northern traders who supply Bahr el-Gazal have been staying away, fearing possible referendum-related violence. Now, aid workers are concerned the state will not outgrow dependency on food aid. While returnees have made better farmers owing to skills gained in Northern Sudan, they cannot meet all the needs.
“These are terrible months,” says Ayii Bol, the state’s agriculture minister. “If these IDPs [internally displaced persons] cannot get food in January, February and March, what about April when there is supposed to be no food?”
Northern traders say they fear chaos. “I cannot bring anything now,” Mubarak Idris, who used to bring a lorry-full of food every month, told IRIN. “I want to be sure first.”
The situation is already dire. Floods hit Aweil in mid-2010. The river overflowed and Aweil Rice Scheme, run by German agency GTZ, and projects supported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), were flooded. At the height of flooding, 99 percent of the scheme was under water.
The scaling-down of food supplies by traders comes at a time when numbers of hungry people in Southern Sudan are still high. According to FAO, an estimated 4.7 million people lack food in the region – 1.6 million severely food-deficient and 3.1 million moderately.
The situation is compounded by low production. In 2009, for instance, only 660,000MT of food was produced, leaving a 225,000MT gap. As a result, FAO is seeking funding for a project to mitigate the effects of recurrent crises, improve preparedness and make short-term food responses more effective.
“We have been intervening in livelihood support to vulnerable populations,” said Michael Oyat, FAO deputy emergency coordinator. “We cannot just give up now when more lives depend on us.”
Locals say the returnees, bringing worries, also bring hope. “Their farms were good,” says Bol. “They come committed. They are better than those here.” But food warehouses in every county are empty and the state wants the government of Southern Sudan to fill them.
Photo: Badru Mulumba/IRIN
|Participants at a Farmer Field School in Aweil, Bahr el Gazal in Southern Sudan
The returnees are enrolled in farmer field schools and farm cooperatives. Already, some have become successful. “What led us back is because in the North we were only working as labourers on others’ farms,” said Chol Luka Wol Wol, who is part of a returnee farmer field school near the border that produced 80 100kg bags of cereals this past season. “Now we work our own farms.”
Wol, his wife and six children fled the South in 1988. They walked for five days to Meiram and then took a bus for two days, eventually arriving in Gedaraf. There he worked 6am to 6pm, earning $15 for every 0.6 hectares he dug.
Last December, Wol organized 24 other families and walked for 15 days to Aweil. “We [thought if] Southern Sudan would break [away] we would not get a place to stay in the North,” he said.
At farm schools, members are taught under trees by an extension worker. Sometimes there is even a blackboard. They work on demo plots and on individual plots near their homes.
“These people didn’t have anywhere to start,” Susan Kilobia, rural specialist of the EC-funded Sudan Productive Capacity Recovery Programme, says. “There were no pilot systems.”
At one school, a groundnut demo plot produced about 100 pods per plant, unlike the 32 pods per plant produced under alternative systems. Another field school produced 350 100kg bags of nuts on its first try.
However, the lack of roads and market information, and a pastoralist culture are a challenge to the returnees. “Animals are sacred,” Kinanga says. “Some say, ‘I don’t want to see my animals plough: that’s punishment’.”
Often pastoralists and farmers are at loggerheads. Parts of the state have now given a directive that cattle found eating crops would be sold to compensate for the crops.
Ali Said, chief technical officer for Sudan Institutional Capacity Programme: Food Security for Action, says a market information system is in the works. “But it has to be sustainable,” he says. “That means empowering the Southern Sudanese to do it.”
Nobody seems certain how much food aid is necessary so as to not distort the market. The numbers, aid workers say, will be known after a joint assessment that is about to be concluded.