How FAO is helping communities build resilience and fight malnutrition in South Sudan
Adut Akuei used to go every evening to the hospital to visit little Akol Akot, her three-year old granddaughter, who was seriously malnourished. Adut and her daughter Angong could often only feed her with asida, a dish made out of ground sorghum. She wasn't getting all the nutrients she needed from her food, and the way the food was washed also left her susceptible to food-borne illnesses that stopped absorption of nutrients and further weakened her body. When I held her in my arms, she was so thin that I thought she could not make it. I always prayed for her to survive, Adut recalls with tears in her eyes.
Adut lives in Marial Ajith community in northwestern South Sudan. This area is very fertile and has plenty of rivers and basins. Agricultural production used to be high and vegetables were exported from the region to the rest of South Sudan. Years of conflict, however, made this area a dangerous place to harvest the land; many people left their homes and lost their livelihoods. Insecurity and violence had turned this place into a deeply food insecure area, reliant on humanitarian aid. Like many other women in South Sudan, Adut and Angong lost their husbands and brothers to the conflict. They never returned to Marial Ajith.
But with FAO's help, Adut and the other women are doing their part to realize the community's potential. In late 2018, FAO, with funding of the Governments of the Netherlands and Norway, started helping mothers enhance and diversify the diets of their children to fight malnutrition.
As part of the project, the women first received vouchers to procure nutritious food items, such as milk, meat, fish and assorted vegetables that they and their children were missing in their diets. They also received trainings on how to properly wash, cook and preserve various types of food. In addition, FAO provided vegetable seeds, agricultural tools (like treadle pumps for irrigation), information and training to grow different types of vegetables and crops for their consumption.
Since the inception of the project, Adut has learned to line and space crops, weed her garden and use irrigation tools. The women started harvesting the plot of land last November with the seeds they received from FAO and in only six months, they not only produced their own food, but they also buy their own seeds and don't rely on FAO's distribution anymore. Adut now manages a plot of land where other 40 women work together to grow their own food.
Before I learnt how to farm, I used to cut grass and fetch firewood, transporting it to the market to sell, she said. Now we grow all what we need and don't need to walk for one hour to the market anymore, she adds. She refers to the tomatoes, local vegetables, such as rijilla, jir jir, and collard greens, onions, eggplants, amaranth, okra and carrots the community is now growing.
The results of the programme have been transformational. Akol Akot, Adut's granddaughter, has completely recovered and is now back in school. To complement their diet over the long term, FAO provided investment vouchers to every family in the community to buy a minimum of three goats and five chickens. With the training they received, they can now get milk from goats and eggs from chickens and sell their surplus.
Women's skills in farming as a business have improved, and so has their income, filling the current local production gap and demand for vegetables, which were mainly imported from neighbouring countries before. Marial Ajith is just one of the communities supported by FAO.
FAO has worked with a total of 2 000 households over a period of three months. From setting up their vegetable gardens, the women have made a total of 53 000 USD in sales, providing them income to buy food, supplement their diets and meet other basic needs.
The effects of poor nutrition have been reversed in a short time. Having immediate access to nutritious food, the majority of women do not have to return to therapeutic feeding centres.
They have changed their practices and have embraced the production of vegetables in their gardens. The communities are hopeful that the signed peace agreement will finally bring tangible peace to the nation. This will allow the progress made to continue and open the doors to upscaling the project to other locations in need. Peace is impossible without food security, and there will be no food security without peace. A #ZeroHunger world starts with a peaceful one.
Source: Food and Agricultural Organizations of the United Nations