By Jacob K. Lupai
April 10, 2012 (SSNA) -- South Sudan is made up of ten States which grew out of the previous three southern provinces of Upper Nile, Equatoria and Bahr el Ghazal. As history shows the people of South Sudan have had a long bloody struggle for independence. Indeed with tremendous fanfare South Sudan attained its independence on 9 July 2011. However, independence would be only in name unless household food security was achieved. The government of South Sudan has therefore targeted agricultural revitalization as its priority area for the achievement of household food security. Nevertheless how this can be done is of great interest. First of all we will have to look at the government agricultural policy in contrast to what is actually taking place on the ground. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Strategic Plan 2007 – 2011, “Agriculture is and will continue to be the life vein of the economy of South Sudan”. The implication here is that agriculture is the backbone of socio-economic development of South Sudan and by extension is the main sector on which to achieve household food security.
Agricultural policy framework
Sustainable agricultural development is the main preoccupation of the government of South Sudan. The agricultural policy framework consists of the striving to make South Sudan fully food security compliant at household level to the extent of producing quality surplus products for local, regional and international markets. In addition improved agricultural and forestry services shall become a driving force for South Sudan national socio-economic development. The agricultural policy framework also includes endeavours to improve the livelihood of rural people without compromising the sustainability of natural resources for future generations. The mission is to transform agriculture from traditional, subsistence system into a modern and, socially and economically sustainable agriculture through science-based, market-oriented competitive and profitable agricultural system. It can be seen clearly that food security is central. However, it is not clear to what extent the agricultural policy is being realized on the ground in achieving household food security in the States.
Food security in the States
In the government agricultural policy framework, South Sudan is to be made fully food security compliant at household level. The focus here is on the extent to which the agricultural policy framework has been translated into tangible outcomes. For convenience food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. According to Annual Needs and Livelihoods Analysis 2011/2012, South Sudan, authored mainly by the World Food Programme and the Food Security Technical Secretariat, the food security situation is uncertain with a little over half of the population being between moderately and severely food insecure. This clearly suggests that the government agricultural policy is yet to be realized when the definition of food security is that there is food security when all people at all times are food secure. For over half of the population to be food insecure is something worrying for an oil producing and an agricultural country with vast arable land such as South Sudan.
Causes of food insecurity
Causes of food security in South Sudan may be classified into two categories, natural and man-made. Natural causes of food insecurity include disease, delayed and erratic rainfall while man-made causes include low agricultural productivity and income, low human capital and insecurity. However, it should be understood that there is no hard dividing line between natural and man-made causes of food insecurity. For example, when people are sick because of diseases, labour availability for farm operations may be drastically reduced, partly resulting to low agricultural productivity. Low agricultural productivity can also be man-made as when poor advice on improved farming methods is given farmers. Delayed and erratic rainfall affects yields in achieving household food security. One solution is for farmers to use drought resistant quick maturing seed varieties. Delayed and erratic rainfall may also be man-made as in climate change when human activities pollute the atmosphere with gases and when forests are deliberately deforested resulting to the emergence of desert conditions. Climate change brings rising temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns that have direct effects on crop yields. Farmers then need to find ways to build more resilient systems able to adapt to changing environment. Low human capital is when there is lack of knowledge and skills in improved farming. This sometimes happens when there is poor or non-existent agricultural extension services to advise farmers. This partly results to low productivity hence low human capital is a cause of household food security.
Agricultural extension services
Agricultural extension services are vital to address low human capital and low agricultural productivity. For convenience agricultural extension involves communication of information and advice to help farmers form sound opinions and make good decisions. For example, some farmers lack adequate knowledge and skills to recognize their problems, to think of a possible solution or to select the most appropriate solution to achieve their goals. Agricultural extension removes the barrier by providing information and advice on the problem. A farmer, for example, may not be aware that decline in their crop yields are caused by a pest they cannot see or identify. Agricultural extension assists by providing appropriate technical information and advice about the pest and by showing the farmer the skills of how to eradicate it. In brief it can be seen that agricultural extension is vital in improving productivity for the achievement of household food security. However, how often have we witnessed that agricultural extension is starved of the badly needed resources to improve production. One area of neglect is in budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector. For example, in government of South Sudan Draft Budget 2011 budgetary allocation to Agriculture and Forestry combined was about a mere 1.2 per cent of the totals budget. In fact on average Agriculture got about 0.6 per cent. In contrast Security got 28.5 per cent of the totals budget even though insecurity is so rampant.
There is nothing much to add because it will be a waste of valuable time. It can be seen clearly how pathetic Agriculture which is supposed to be the backbone of the economy is badly treated in budgetary allocation. This may explain how and why South Sudan will never ever be self-reliant in food production for the foreseeable future. It may be that people are too naïve in agricultural planning because since 2005 there has never been any overall improvement in food security situation. The evidence is we still depend on massive food imports from the neighbouring countries.
Achievement of food security in South Sudan
One way to achieve food security in South Sudan is a higher budgetary allocation to agriculture, say 10 per cent of the total budget. This is, however, too simplistic. More money to agriculture does not necessarily mean increase in production to achieve food security. Corruption is endemic to South Sudan. There is therefore no guarantee that increase in budgetary allocation to agriculture will translate into food security. In an opinion poll the establishment was considered 90 per cent corrupt. As though to confirm the endemic corruption, 6.26 SDG billion has been lost in scandalous food security plan. Also, the South Sudan Audit Chamber financial audit reports for the years ending 31 December 2005 and 31 December 2006 respectively make interesting reading with regard to misappropriation of public funds. Arguably corruption remains one of the biggest challenges in South Sudan. However, people must have confidence to allocate a higher budget to the agriculture sector. Farmers’ training centers need to be established in the counties to impart improved farming methods to farmer’s in order to increas3e production for the achievement of household food security. Agricultural extension services currently are non-existent. It is important that extension workers are deployed to payams and bomas to advise farmers and to distribute improved inputs. Mobility of extension workers is essential to reach farmers with the necessary assistance. Vehicles for transport of extension workers justify the increase of the budget of the agricultural sector. Farm machinery and improved farm tools is also one aspect of expenditure that justifies the increase of the budget to improve production in achieving household food security in South Sudan.
It is important to highlight that more food production does not necessarily mean more food for those who need it. Food production is not the same as food availability and aggregate availability and the ability to acquire food are very different things. People’s access to food depends on the purchasing power of their income and on their right to land for subsistence farming. This means that even if there is an increase in food production, food may not be available in the house because people lack the income to buy food. Increase in income is therefore one way of achieving household food security.
In conclusion, investment in the agricultural sector and creation of employment opportunities for income are essential for the achievement of household food security in South Sudan. There is vast arable land mass which is awaiting development that will make South Sudan to have mountains of food. It is most likely that investment in the agricultural sector will create enormous employment opportunities that will enable people to have income for self-reliance. There is also the value-added advantage with internal processing of agricultural products and the expanded employment opportunities for higher incomes. In all the achievement of household food security in South Sudan is within reach. What is needed, though, is action and commitment without playing politics.