Monthly Archives: June 2013

Curbing Hunger [PART III] // A Day at the Seed Fair

[Note: This is the final post in a III part series – please take time to read the intro blogPart I, and Part II]

As the dry season, five painfully long months of no rain and extreme heat, comes to a close and the hunger season (the period between cultivation and harvesting) appears without welcome invitation, it is time for the people of South Sudan to plant, plant, plant.

The end of the dry season also means that it is time for a very important event – the World Concern (WC) Seed Fair!

For the past two years, World Concern has partnered with USAID to host a week-long Seed Fair in Warrap State, South Sudan. WC is able to target the most at-risk families in Warrap State communities (meaning those families with the fewest resources, an absent spouse, disabled children, etc.). These families are awarded ‘money’ to purchase farming tools and seeds from designated community members in a set location, i.e. at the Seed Fair.

Seed Fair Dough.

Seed Fair Dough.

Such an event requires major preparation: mobilizing communities, gathering local vendors, organizing an accessible location, and the cutting out of hundreds of Seed Fair dollars (I had the honor of cutting those beautiful ‘5 dollar bills’ to your right – good thing there was sweet reggae music coming out of the radio as we were cutting and stacking late into the evening).

During this week, World Concern staff members travel every day to a new community to operate a bustling, lively, and greatly beneficial distribution fair. 800 hopeful households attended, and benefited from, the week’s festivities. 

View from the WC Compound the night before the Seed Fair.

View from the WC Compound the night before the Seed Fair.

Before I show off some pictures of my day at the Seed Fair, let me clarify, World Concern is did not hand out farming goods – we had the privilege of facilitating the day’s activities. Using the money we give them, it is the locals themselves who sell and purchase goods from one another – benefiting both parties involved. [At the end of the day’s festivities, the vendors exchange their generated Seed Fair income for real South Sudanese dollars.]

My Seed Fair experience occurred in a disadvantaged village called Magai. I spent the day hanging out under a couple of massive trees, talking with vendors, eating fresh groundnuts, making funny faces with children (apparently my faces are the most entertaining – I’ll try to take this as a compliment…), sitting with mothers by the central water pump, counting Seed Fair dollars, and learning more about life for the average family living in Magai.

As the Seed Fair photographer, I was able to both observe and participate (easily my favorite part of this job). Of course, the dichotomy of observed behaviors captivated most of my attention (and mental processing upon returning to the compound that night): I observed as mothers fed their family leaves for lunch and numerous children with uncomfortably distended bellies played with sticks in the shade. Yet, I also observed the fine art of South Sudanese bartering and mommy’s giggling with their children while enjoying the company of their neighbors.

Overall, here’s how I’d summarize the events of the day:
“You’ve got that. I’ve got this. How about I give you this for that?”

In my opinion, the selling and sharing of local resources within a cooperative group of individuals is community defined – and the Seed Fair is community at its finest.

WC staffer, Bonface, doing some Seed Fair preppin'.

WC staffer, Bonface, doing some Seed Fair preppin’.

We love the Seed Fair!

We love the Seed Fair!

Listening while WC staff explains the day's activities.

Listening while WC staff explain the day’s activities.

Mommas.

Bonface getting the day started.

Bonface getting the day started.

Community under trees.

Community under trees.

Hanging out with Seed Fair vendors.

Hanging out with Seed Fair vendors.

Groundnut chompin'.

Groundnut chompin’.

One of my favorites from the day.

One of my favorites from the day.

Malouda shopping.

Malouda shopping.

Fingerprint stamping. Because the large majority of people in South Sudan are illiterate, fingerprints are used as an alternative to signatures.

Fingerprint stamping // Because the large majority of people in South Sudan are illiterate, fingerprints are used as an alternative to signatures.

Agol Dor // This is Agol's second year attending the Seed Fair. A mother and farmer, she is not able to generate enough income for her family to eat more than one meal per day (during the dry/hunger seasons in particular). "The Seed Fair has helped my farm improve." As well as attending the Seed Fair, Agol has received dry season training from World Concern. "I am very happy with the training. I never go to the market for onion or legula...I am very happy with what World Concern is doing here."

Agol Dor // This is Agol’s second year attending the Seed Fair. As a farming mother, she is not always able to generate enough income for her family to eat more than one meal per day (during the dry/hunger seasons in particular). When chatting, she told me, “The Seed Fair has helped my farm improve.” As well as attending the Seed Fair, Agol has received dry season agricultural training from World Concern. “I am very happy with the training. I never go to the market for onion or legula…I am very happy with what World Concern is doing here.”

Receiving Seed Fair dollars.

Receiving Seed Fair dollars.

Vendors add up their shared income at the end of the day.

Vendors add up their shared income at the end of the day.John Majok // 25 yr old Groundnut vendor. Prior to the Seed Fair, he had no money to do his work (farming simsim, dura, groundnuts). The Seed Fair has brought him both an increased income and new relationships - he plans to continue his business in the Magai community.John Majok // 25-yr-old groundnut vendor. Prior to the Seed Fair, John had “no money to do his [my] work”(farming simsim, dura, and groundnuts). The Seed Fair gave John an increased income as well as new relationships – he plans to continue his business in the Magai community.

Vendors collecting their earnings.

Vendors collecting their earnings.

The Seed Fair is over and it's time to play!

The Seed Fair is over and it’s time to play!

Alongside curbing hunger in South Sudan, World Concern is currently working towards expanding our work in the village of Magai through our One Village Transformed (OVT) project. Check out the link and partner with us!

In three days, I leave on a 6AM flight to Chad, where I will spend three or so weeks visiting and documenting World Concern’s projects. I look forward to seeing more OVT locations and traveling to villages where we hope to implement OVT in the near future. Though I am a bit weary of the heat and bumpy roads awaiting me, I am once again humbled to experience life from a new perspective, to walk (even if only for a few weeks) in the shoes of another beautiful people group. Look out for photos, video, and stories to come!

***Read more about our work in Chad here and here. And watch for more recent stories when I return!

 

 

 

Curbing Hunger [PART II] // Ox-Plows (or ‘ploughs’ for those of us who prefer proper English)

[Note: This is Part II in a III part series- please take time to read the intro blog & Part I]

If I were a 25-year-old South Sudanese woman living in Warrap State, South Sudan, chances are that…

–  I have already given birth to 3-5 children (and I’m expecting a few more on the way).

Momma love. // Lietnhom, South Sudan

Momma love. // Lietnhom, South Sudan

– I am married to a man with 2 or more other wives (possibly as many as 8).

– I am built with a beautifully tall 5’10” frame and magnificent bone structure. I have intricately unique facial scars that were given to me during my youth as a sign of bravery, beauty and tribal identity. 

World Concern Farmer, ___, displaying her beautiful beads, smile, and facial scars.

Ayak Long displaying her beautiful beads, smile, and facial scars.

– My tall and slim figure is strong- it can walk for miles to and from the market, gather water, work the land, clean the compound, and feed my children all before sunset.

– My long fingers and hands are calloused from years of physical labor.

Anok Awer // Lietnhom, South Sudan

Anok Awer // Lietnhom, South Sudan

– During seasons of cultivation and harvesting, you will find me in the field before the sun rises – while the air is still cool and fresh. While cultivating, I sit on my knees, using a malouda, to till the beaten and hardened earth, recently moistened by the new rains.

Malouda making // Lietnhom, South Sudan

Malouda making // Lietnhom, South Sudan

– Most days, the field work is up to me and me alone. If my children are too young for school, or I cannot afford to send them, they will occasionally assist. My husband can be found herding cattle, running a local business, or merely milling around the market playing games and talking to friends (sadly this is an all too common scenario).

– Despite waking early to farm, I have to break in order to clean and care for my family, inevitably heading back to farm later on under the scorching sun.

Mary // Lietnhom, South Sudan

Mary // Lietnhom, South Sudan

– I am proud of my land, my labor, my husband, and my children. I am thankful for the hard work because it is equivalent to an independent nation – it means I live free from war.

– I may still be healing from a 20 year war, but I am hopeful and eager to play a role in the rebuilding of my nation. 

In any South Sudanese household, farming is a shared role. Yet, many would argue that women do the large majority of the work (possibly even all of it). Given their busy daily schedule [note: the above does not include random visits from friends/relatives, breastfeeding/caring for an infant, religious activities, etc.], women work to complete household chores and farming as efficiently as possible.

This is especially true during the season of cultivation. Once the first few consistent rains have watered the dehydrated land, it is time to cultivate and plant every seed available  before the heavens open up (some may have been eaten in place of food during the hunger season – a last resort when all other resources have been depleted).

This may seem obvious, but solo-cultivation, using only a malouda, is far from efficient.

Ox-plows, on the other hand, can cultivate significantly more land in the same period of time it would take to do so by hand. But ox-plows require a strong, healthy ox and, naturally, a plow. Both of these can be quite expensive and difficult to come by (particularly the strong ox after an extended period of drought).

Along with dry season farming, World Concern has implemented a successful Rent-to-Own program to curb hunger in South Sudan.

Ox-Plow

Ox-Plow

Beneficiaries who are active members of a World Concern savings group are eligible to apply for an asset (bikes, sewing machines, solar panels, and more) – one of the most popular being the ox-plow. Using a payment plan agreement contracted by World Concern staff and the involved beneficiary, monthly payments are made to rent the plow from World Concern until it has been paid in full.

Without such a program, most families are financially unable to purchase a plow. The process of obtaining one is quite complicated. They have to be ordered from Juba, a 14 hour drive distance, taken to Wau, transported to Kuajok, then distributed to the farmer (who most likely lives a long bumpy ride from Kuajok town center).

Savings Group meeting with WC staff about acquiring an ox-plow // Kuajok, South Sudan

Meeting with WC staff about acquiring an ox-plow // Kuajok, South Sudan

Just after receiving an ox-plow through WC’s Rent-to-Own Program // Kuajok, South Sudan

Due to the difficulties caused by expense and transportation, ox-plows are a hot commodity.

Let the stories of beneficiaries who’ve purchased ox-plows through World Concern speak for themselves (and on behalf of their extended communities who often equally benefit from the same plow):

Achol Ayek // Malual, South Sudan

Achol Ayek // Malual, South Sudan

After gulping down a cup of piping hot tea (on a 95+ degree morning) and throwing on our field boots, Max (WC Rent-to-Own Manager) and I hopped into a vehicle and drove almost two hours from the Kuajok World Concern compound. Stopping along the way to re-register with the local government, kill a snake (take that as you wish – both meanings proved true), and cross a massive dried riverbed, we found Achol Ayek diligently working on her shared compound.

Achol & children // Malual, South Sudan

Achol & children // Malual, South Sudan

Among many other things, Achol is a mother of six children and one of nine wives living on a large compound. Like many in her village, she is a farmer by trade and feeds her family from what she is able to harvest. Neither she nor her husband are employed outside of their land.

In the past, Achol cultivated her land primarily using maloudas. She often found herself so exhausted at the end the day that she could not muster the strength to boil water for her children (I have never been a mother, but I am guessing that reaching the point of disregard for clean water can only come from extreme fatigue.This is in no way to say that Achol is a bad mother, but to emphasize the difficulties of farming and motherhood in rural South Sudan.)

Achol & 2/3 of her children.

Achol & 2/3 of her children.

When I met Achol, it had been exactly one year since she rented, and paid off, an ox-plow through World Concern. She was quick to mention that, “The ox-plow has changed my life so much. It allows me to farm about two acres per day.” 

Achol shares the plow with the eight other women living on the compound, distributing the work and more efficiently preparing the land for the coming rains.

Achol's shared compound.

Achol’s shared compound.

Upon my visit, the rains had yet to water the weary land. Achol seemed a bit apprehensive of what was to come. Last year, massive floods destroyed many of her crops and hard labor, leaving her family with little food to last through the dry season. Though she is worried this could happen again, Achol is determined to continue plowing, trusting in the Lord’s favor, “we know that the Lord brings water from the heavens to cultivate.”

Come this harvest season, Achol looks forward to growing enough dura, maize, sorghum, and simsim to feed her family and sell the remaining in the market.

Similarly to Achol, Mabok Duar purchased an ox-plow through World Concern. This ox-plow has been a great assistance with feeding many beautiful little mouths (as well as numerous other mouths in his community).

Daddy time. Mabok & his many children that he works hard to feed. // Malual, South Sudan

Daddy time. Mabok & his many children that he works hard to feed. // Malual, South Sudan

 

Like Achol, for years, Mabok and his three wives labored by hand, producing few crops each harvest season.

Two harvests ago, he cultivated 5 sacks of groundnuts, 2 sacks of simsim, ½ sack of dura. Last harvest, after using his ox-plow, Mabok produced 50 sacks of groundnuts, 2 sacks of simsim, and 5 sacks of dura!

“I was very poor before this plow but now I have improved my situation. I am able to provide for the family, pay for school fees, help my sick children, and improve the conditions at home.” 

With the increase in last season’s harvest, Mabok paid for three of his children to attend school, had enough food to last his family through the dry season, and has had the capacity to assist his community, “I help people free of charge. For example, I plow the fields for a woman who has no husband.”

Mabok and his ox-plow // Malual, South Sudan

Mabok and his ox-plow // Malual, South Sudan

Despite last year’s flooding, Mabok is hopeful for a bountiful harvest season. I can’t wait to visit his gorgeous family again when the land is lush and bellies are full.

Grand in seasons, culture, and size, South Sudan is not lacking in space or open land. Without ox-plows, many families are only able cultivate the land located nearest to their compound. With ox-plows, and permission from the local government, the open land is a family’s for the farming. An increase in cultivated land means an increase in crop yields, which means a decrease in the impact of the hunger season and the further curbing of hunger in South Sudan.

Curbing Hunger [PART I] // Dry Season Farming

[Note: Please read my previous blog post in order to more fully understand the following series]

February to May in South Sudan = not a drop of rain = limited access to water, far too much dust, dried up farms, malnourished cows (& more importantly, people) and extremely uncomfortably hot temperatures.

The dry season in South Sudan may be extreme, but the country is rich in resources. In fact, South Sudan has more natural river sources than Kenya (a land still suffering hunger seasons of its own). According to the World Bank, “South Sudan has vast and largely untapped natural resources and opportunities abound for visible improvements in the quality of peoples’ lives.”

With so much water available for cultivation, even in the most water-depraved seasons –

Why are so many people going hungry?

As far back as history reveals, the South Sudanese people have been agro-pastoral. This means they are both farmers and keepers of livestock (whereas some communities, for example those WC works with in parts of Kenya, are primarily pastoralists). Although farming has always been more successful in certain areas of the country than others (mainly due to climatic reasons), the majority of the population has always supplemented a significant portion of their income from their crop yields.

Farm in Akon, S. Sudan

Farm in Akon, S. Sudan

Prior to a horrendous civil war that rocked, and ultimately split, Sudan for over 20 years, the hunger season was less of an identified issue. The Sudanese people had naturally adapted their methods of farming to survive the heat and lack of rain. Because life was generally peaceful, committing to farming one’s land was easily sustainable.

The war in Sudan killed roughly 2 million people and displaced more than 4 million. It depleted the country of a shared nationhood and any sort of infrastructure.

South Sudan remains greatly impoverished, with over half of the population living below the poverty line.

Two years post-independence, returnees continue to arrive in South Sudan every day. The war robbed an innocent people of their lives, homes, land, and physical and mental capacity to see beyond surviving until the next day.Mary headed home

Amid the chaos of the war, the Sudanese ability to successfully farm year round was tragically lost.

Hiding in the bush, fleeing outside of the country, and living in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, the war left the people of southern Sudan no opportunity to practice long-term cultivation. Rather than relying on natural self-sufficiency, most were forced into a life of dependency.

During, and post, the war, food and water were provided in the form of handouts and aid. Survival was determined by the work and assistance of someone else. Over time relying on relief, as it was often the only option, transformed into a pattern of life. Most tragically, it became deeply engraved in the Sudanese cultural mentality.

For 25 years babies were born and people, of a variety of ages, died never knowing how to provide for themselves.

You can see where this is going, right?

When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, people slowly began to return to their native lands and re-establish their families and livelihoods. Having gone years without practicing large-scale farming, most of the younger generation never having farmed at all, life did not exactly pick up where it had left off.

Life was beginning from scratch.crops, south sudan

Majority illiterate (according to World Bank, 73%), dependent, and completely traumatized, the people of the soon-to-be South Sudan courageously began to steady their wavering feet. Given the length of the conflict, most had to re-learn what it looked like to navigate through life without war.

25 years sans passing down agricultural techniques, the following dry seasons brought large populations of people to their knees. Countless vulnerable families were not able to yield enough crops during harvest to last them through the droughts.

Those whose harvest proved successful often found themselves selling critical portions of their crops to pay for unexpected finances: a sick child, a school fee, a wedding, a diseased cow. Oftentimes, proper crop storage was not established and a family’s entire harvest was discovered to be eaten by critters or entirely ruined by the ever-intense weather.

World Concern dry season farm // Akon, South Sudan

World Concern dry season farm // Akon, South Sudan

If you take the elements of an extreme environment and add it to the thousands of families beginning life anew, unsuccessful farming and storage can prove detrimental.

It’s now been over two years since South Sudan was declared an independent nation, two years since general peace has overcome the land. The impact of the hunger season is slowly lessening, but it still permeates life in a big way.

Currently, one of World Concern’s most prominent projects in South Sudan entails training, equipping, and empowering families for dry season farming. To promote building and learning in community, the training is initially done in groups on a shared plot of land, Apart from these organized groups, very few South Sudanese practice dry season farming.

World Concern trained farming group // Akon, South Sudan

World Concern trained farming group // Akon, South Sudan

Working the treadle pump to irrigate the dry season farm.

Working the treadle pump to irrigate the dry season farm.

World Concern farmer, _____. Try NOT to smile looking at this beautiful lady.

Try NOT to smile while looking at this beautiful lady.

I met Mary on a Tuesday at noon – the most wonderful time of day in South Sudan [read ‘not so wonderful and ridiculously hot’]. Towering over my mere 5’4″ frame, the 6’+ woman gracefully sauntered over to shake my hand, barely a bead of sweat to be found on her beautiful and intricately scarred face. Smiling all the while, Mary, a mother of eight, told me about her life as a farmer in Lietnhom.

Gorgeous Mary. World Concern farmer.

Gorgeous Mary. World Concern farmer.

Despite being a fairly experienced farmer herself, she has often been unable to harvest enough crops to feed all eight of her children. As soon as Mary heard about the opportunity to learn how to farm during the dry season, she couldn’t imagine passing up the opportunity. She was one of the first to commit to joining the WC gardening group in her community and is now one of the group leaders.Mary in the garden

Mary works with other local farmers to make sure that the shared garden is watered twice a day and the crops are properly cared for. From what she has learned from WC staff, Mary now teaches those in her community about cleaning crops and making healthy manure.

The Lietnhom garden is one of the only successful dry season gardens in the surrounding area. The farmers involved have even harvested enough crops to take some home and sell those that remain in the local market!

Showin' off the harvest.

Showin’ off the harvest.

Still smiling, Mary told me, “I have learned many things from World Concern. I am very happy with you. I think my children will be very well now that I work here.”  

While in the field, it was apparent that World Concern staff is committed to mobilizing vulnerable communities to generate widespread awareness about dry season farming and its significant benefits:

1. Year round food.

2. A year round source of income.

[And let me tell you, the communities are excited. South Sudanese people are anxious to be a part of rebuilding the new nation and re-establishing their livelihoods. The energy of the people is tangible and contagious.]

This is Atak. He is a father, husband, business man, and successfully trained World Concern farmer.

This is Atak. He is a father, husband, business man, and successfully trained World Concern farmer.

49-year-old Atak is clearly excited about dry season farming, “First of all, I need to give appreciation to World Concern and for all of the work they have done.”

A husband to three wives and father to fourteen children, Atak works hard to care for his family. Previously a merchant, selling clothes in the Akon market, he was barely scraping by. After training with World Concern staff, and being provided with starter tools and seeds, Atak left his shop and committed full-time to life as a farmer.

Posting up on his thriving dry season farm.

Posting up on his thriving dry season farm.

South Sudan_Ranck_Farming, Savings_2013_May_Kuajok-37

Atak and the generator he purchased through his successful dry season farm.

South Sudan_Ranck_Farming, Savings_2013_May_Kuajok-27South Sudan_Ranck_Farming, Savings_2013_May_Kuajok-16 - CopyThree years later, Atak oversees a year-round garden where he employs and trains over ten community members,

“This work is better than the old work. The onion, no one will leave the onion, but people will go without buying the clothes for ten days to a month. But if my pumpkin or okra are ready, someone will come and buy them.”

Three of Atak's children. After school in the morning, they come help out at the farm - often stopping to swim in the waterhole behind them.

Three of Atak’s children. After school in the morning, they come help out at the farm – often stopping to swim in the waterhole behind them.

Atak now has enough money to feed his family and enough crops to last them through the year, “My children are healthy because this work is good…they cannot go hungry.” In fact, he has made enough money to purchase his own generator to more efficiently pump water to all of his crops.

Self-sufficient and empowered, Atak proudly tells me, “I don’t need to ask World Concern to bring me seeds ever again.”

Implementing dry season farming is a significant step towards reducing a future of malnutrition and curbing hunger in South Sudan.

“Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the field produces no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.” -Habakkuk 3:17