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).
– 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.
– 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.
– 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.
– 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.
– 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.
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).
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):
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.
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.)
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.
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).
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!
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.”
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.