South Sudanese youth turn to farming to address food shortage

JUBA, South Sudan

To end food shortage due to years of conflict and climate change effects, several youths in the landlocked Central African country of South Sudan are turning to growing crops rather than seeking a living in oil extraction.

Despite having a substantial amount of proven oil reserves, about 8.3 million people are at risk of hunger in the country. The country imports 80% of food items from Uganda and Kenya, experts said.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Joy Ladu, the managing director of Ubuntu Farms which deals in homegrown vegetables, urged the youth to work hard to reduce the country’s overdependence on food imports.

“When the borders were shut down last year due to a strike by truck drivers who used to bring food items from Kenya, food prices skyrocketed in the country. I realized that many families were struggling to get food. That is what made me set up my farm to produce food here in South Sudan, and that will help our people not suffer or wait for imported food,” she said.

Tiop Paul, the managing director of Green Farms, said his attempts to grow crops have helped the food availability in the oil-rich Upper Nile region.

“In 2019, we were able to produce about 6,000 tons of food, which we supplied to the local community. Our market was disrupted last year because of a political crisis,” he said.

South Sudan’s Trade and Industry Minister Kuol Athian Mawien said restoring peace and security is critical to encouraging food production in the country.

“We have a problem of food insecurity in South Sudan. We have to blame ourselves for the shortage of food in South Sudan while we have many resources. The first thing we have to put in place is security. The second thing is a good road network, but there is no road network in South Sudan to link up the rural areas to marketplaces,” he added.

Ayii Duang Ayii, the head of the South Sudan Business Community, said a focus on agriculture was necessary to foster economic development. He said people had forgotten agriculture and all focus has shifted to the extraction of oil.

Encourage investments in agriculture

He called for removing various restrictions on food products and asked the government to encourage investments in the agriculture sector and extend loans to people growing crops and vegetables.

South Sudan has large tracts endowed with irrigation that can be used for growing crops. But experts say that in 1999, the government in undivided Sudan shifted focus to extracting oil as the agricultural production started falling.

According to the World Bank, the average annual growth rate of the agricultural sector between 2000 and 2008 was only 3.6%, a mere shadow of the 10.8% growth rate in the previous decade.

An extensive land survey conducted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization via satellite showed that just 4.5% of the available land was under cultivation when South Sudan became independent in 2011.

The extensive reliance on imports of food items comes at a high transportation cost which, coupled with inflation, has contributed to a severe food shortage in South Sudan.

With around 98% of government revenues coming from oil, South Sudan is the world’s most oil-dependent nation.

Early this month, South Sudan’s Finance and Planning Minister Agak Achuil Lual said they are struggling to pay civil servants because the country’s oil proceeds have been sold in advance.

“Now if I was to pay salaries, I have to borrow money. And it means the oil is being sold in advance,” he said.

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