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Smallholder Farmer in South Sudan has Big Dreams

  • Mugume Davis Rwakaringi

Every evening as he heads home from his government job in Juba, Sebit Amusa Tongun crosses the Nile River in a small wooden canoe and heads to a five-acre patch of land surrounded by forest to tend to scores of fruit trees and vegetables.

As birds hover overhead, Tongun tends to the papaya, vegetables and fruit trees that compete for sun on the land, around two kilometers outside Juba.

Tongun sells his produce -- all of it organic -- to local merchants like Catherine Joan, a widow who uses the 15-25 South Sudanese Pounds she makes per basin from reselling the fruit to look after her three children and in-laws.

On a good day, Joan said, she can sell three or four silver basins piled high with fruit or vegetables.

Tongun is pleased that the farm helps him to help people like Joan, allows him to give work to around 10 farm laborers every day, and to provide for his family. He says he nets around 500 South Sudanese pounds a day selling his fresh, organic produce to local merchants.

But his dream is to have the fruits and veg from his plot of land gracing market stalls and tables far from the South Sudanese capital, even across the border in neighboring countries like Kenya and Uganda.

Tongun said he would be a big step closer to realizing that dream if the government would give him technical assistance in key areas that are outside his realm of expertise.

He asked a year ago for help installing "modern irrigation... because that is not my profession. The irrigation which I am using now, it is very costly... it is taking a lot of water and fuel.”

If he had modern irrigation equipment, he said, he would be able to grow fruit and vegetables in abundance, year-round.

Helping small farming operations like Tongun's to grow and improve efficiency would not only help people like Tongun to realize their dreams, but would also help South Sudan to match agricultural output with a growing population, the country head of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, Sue Lautze, said.

But that is unlikely to happen until austerity measures that were imposed by the South Sudanese government in February last year, amid a row with Khartoum over oil production, are lifted.

“The problem is nationwide agricultural production is not keeping up with population growth, so we are not having a big enough impact yet - we are not yet at scale," Lautze said.

"And many of the questions of getting up to scale won’t be answered until the austerity measures are lifted by the government.”

According to information on the website of a major agricultural conference held in South Sudan, only five percent of the more than 74 million acres of arable land in the country are currently in use.

Most of South Sudan's land has lain fallow for decades because of the decades-long civil war and doesn't require synthetic fertilizers to improve fertility.

Organic farming systems rely on ecologically based practices such as cultural and biological pest management, exclusion of all synthetic chemicals, antibiotics and hormones in crop and livestock production.
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