South Sudan: survive siege conditions thanks to urban farming
Today, Swiss Solidarity is re-launching the emergency “Famine in Africa” to tackle food insecurity, a major issue for many African countries. In South Sudan, 6 million people – half the country’s population – are affected, and the health and lives of children are in danger. Terre des hommes (Tdh) is helping families in Yei, a city cut off by armed forces, by sharing urban farming techniques.
The Yei region is green and fertile, contrasting with the images of drought and desolation usually associated with famines. Indeed, food shortages in South Sudan have not been caused by dry weather or poor harvests, but by the on-going civil war which started in 2013. This resulted in a severe food crisis.
Yei, a region in the south where much of the country’s grain is produced, has not been spared. More than 200,000 people, 15% of whom are children, are acutely malnourished. “Government forces cut off the city late last year, announcing that any person found in a circle of 2.5 km outside the city limits would be considered as supporting the rebels,” says Cynthia Winkelmann, our Humanitarian Aid Programme Officer who has recently returned from South Sudan. “Farmers had to leave their lands outside the city and live in the city of Yei in houses that are abandoned by people who had fled to other countries.”
The situation is critical. To feed the population, the city with a population of 60,000 people must make do with a fast-dwindling supply of reserves, rare convoys of food aid, and land located in urban areas. “Urban farming helps people survive siege conditions. Ten grams of seeds, for example, can produce thousands of tomato plants,” explains Cynthia. “Since spring this year, we’ve distributed seeds and farming tools to 2000 vulnerable families, as for example single mothers and internally displaced persons. They’ve also been given gardening and storage training.” This project was launched in coordination with another Swiss NGO, EPER, which had been working in the region for years, and with local organisations.
Harvesting the first crops
Those who received training were harvesting their first tomatoes some weeks ago. Margaret, who lives in an area that is home to nine families, is one of these people. “I give any extra to my neighbours, like Hamin and his mother, who sought refuge here after fleeing their home,” she says. Tomatoes were chosen for bringing a diversity of food to the population in that region. However, aubergines, cabbage, okra and onions have also been planted. Simultaneously, a nutritional programme in schools ensures that 3000 children eat at least one meal per day.
Strengthening children's immune system
As underlined by Martin Morand, Tdh’s Operations Manager in South Sudan, it is not enough for children to receive sufficient food – they must also have varied diets. “This is especially true for mothers and children during the first 1000 days of life. Nutritional deficiencies can weaken a child’s immune system and delay development.” Indeed, hunger rarely kills – the real threat comes from diseases that take advantage of the body’s weaknesses. In South Sudan, cholera is taking a huge toll. “As part of our strategy, we run nutritional programmes alongside projects to improve hygiene and provide safe drinking water. You can’t have one without the other.”
Photo credit: ©Tdh