By Jacob K. Lupai
July 17, 2012 (SSNA) -- Self-sufficiency in food production to achieve food security is a dream of any country on planet earth. “For example, the Republic of South Sudan should never depend on imports of food or handouts”, said the President in his address to the First Joint Sitting of the National Legislature and to the Nation. However, for others self-sufficiency in food production is no longer a dream but a reality because there is plenty of food to which people have access. For others, though, there is an experience of poor food production and acute food insecurity when many people go to bed hungry without a proper meal.
People sometimes may confuse food security with physical security. In simple terms food security is food available in the store while physical security is being secure from bodily harm or from criminal damage of property. However, the focus here is on the concept of food security. According to the World Food Summit organized in Rome in 1996, 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. Ever since this has become the standard definition of food security which every country endeavours to achieve.
Agricultural production is part of food security. In South Sudan agricultural production is so low that food security may hardly be achieved. Agricultural production is low partly due to the effect of structural factors that will be highlighted in the text in identification of agricultural development bottleneck and the subsequent analysis made for knowledge of how South Sudan could become self-reliant in agricultural production in achieving household food security.
Agriculture in South Sudan
The government has asserted that agriculture is and will continue to be the life vein of the economy of South Sudan. Indeed South Sudan has an immense agricultural potential. The literature confirms that 80 per cent of the land mass is arable but only 4 per cent of this arable land has been cultivated. The question is, with all the immense agricultural potential, why is South Sudan not self-reliant in food production. One thing, though, is the confusion being made between self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
Self-reliance and self-sufficiency are being used interchangeably as though they mean the same thing. Arguably self-reliance is the first to be achieved before self-sufficiency. How can a poor country which is not even self-reliant in food production talk of self-sufficiency? However, it is not a crime for a poor country to talk aloud about self-sufficiency in food production which may be considered something of a good intention.
One main reason why South Sudan is not self-reliant in food production seems to be the more emphasis on theoretical rather than institutional and practical commitment with tangible results. Constraints for crop cultivation in South Sudan have been regularly and repeatedly mentioned year in year out on official occasions but the situation of food insecurity remains the same. Provision of improved seed, agro-chemicals, labour saving implements and credit to farmers to mention but a few, and provision of agricultural services such as dissemination of improved technology, advice and information to improve production for self-reliance all have always been mentioned in speeches and highlighted in documents.
In contrast, despite the highlight of agriculture as an important economic sector, agricultural production has been in significant decline in yields and according to Food Security Update for Jan-March 2012, food security situation in South Sudan is deteriorating where about 4.7 million people are anticipated to be potentially food insecure. This suggests that out of population of 8,260,490 only 3,560,490, which is about 43 per cent of the population, is food secure. This shows that more than half of the population of South Sudan is potentially food insecure. This is a very depressing picture indeed for a country that has an immense agricultural potential to be not only self-reliant but self-sufficient in food production. This seems to suggest that something somewhere is not right.
Identification of agricultural development bottleneck
It is estimated that more than half of the population of South Sudan is potentially food insecure. This suggests that South Sudan is nowhere closer to being self-reliant in food production leave alone being self-sufficient. To be self-sufficient South Sudan may need to resort to massive food imports. However, the President has already stated clearly that people should not rely on food imports or handouts. So, what should we do? One way is to identify agricultural development bottleneck for self-reliance in food production because a problem identified is a problem half solved.
Farmer awareness programme
Farmers may not be aware that agriculture is an important industry to the nation. They may only be aware that agriculture is important to their immediate needs of their households. To give farmers some confidence, they should be made aware of the vital role they play in the economy of the nation. This should be through radio and television talk shows and field visits by experts to identify and discuss production problems with farmers. This is to open up the world of farmers in South Sudan to the wider public. It is to create awareness in farmers of their importance in feeding the nation so that farming is taken seriously as a business instead of for only subsistence. The use of billboards in creating awareness among farmers is also important.
Most farming activities are carried out in the rural areas where the literacy rate is very low, 76 per cent of people do neither read nor write. It may not therefore be strange when many farmers in South Sudan still use traditional methods and follow the old established pattern of farming. To be efficient and to increase productivity farmers must be trained to learn and use improved farming methods to increase yields for self-reliance in food production. This can be on-farm training where field days are arranged for demonstrations in diffusing improved farming methods.
Village extension worker training and deployment
For an understanding a village extension worker is the link between farmers and a research programme. The village extension worker disseminates innovations, which are improved technologies, from the research programme to farmers with the aim of increasing yields for self-reliance. On the other hand the village extension worker communicates production problems from the farmers to the research programme for solutions. The importance of the village extension worker to agricultural development cannot be overstated. For effectiveness and efficiency in agricultural production for self-reliance the village extension worker must be trained in extension methods and communication, and also in subject matter.
In-service training or refresher courses are essential because quite often the village extension workers when deployed to the rural areas are nearly forgotten. Village extension workers should be deployed to payams and bomas but not to county headquarters. This is because the village extension workers have to be closer to the farmers to advise on improved farming practices for self-reliance in food production. A ratio of one village extension worker to about 500 to 800 farm families will generally be adequate. However, more often village extension workers are left without facilities and so become ineffective partly due to budgetary constraints.
As highlighted above extension is the link between farmers and research. Extension disseminates improved technology from research to farmers and carries farmers’ problems to research for solutions. Extension therefore cannot function for long unless there is an effective research programme of generating improved technology for dissemination to farmers. In South Sudan agricultural research is yet to take off.
In the era of the Southern Regional government of the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 there was the Project Development Unit (PDU) of the Regional Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The PDU had established a research programme in Yei with land and facilities, and with research or demonstration stations in the Region. However, when the Government of Southern Sudan of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 was established there seemed to have been a neglect of the research land and the left over facilities in Yei.
The previous research land in Yei has become partly a residential area. It is not clear what steps are now being taken for an effective agricultural research programme to generate improved technology to increase yields for self-reliance in South Sudan. Without an effective research programme extension will have nothing new to disseminate to farmers. The implication is that the farmers will rely on old antiquated technology that will hardly increase yields with resultant low production and food insecurity. There is therefore an urgent need for the establishment of an effective research programme for diffusion of improved technology for self-reliance in food production.
Farmer cooperative societies
Basically farmer cooperative societies are the empowerment of farmers to get a better deal for their productivity. In extension dealing with a farmer cooperative society saves time and possibly resources instead of dealing with individual farmers. A farmer cooperative society can mange storage facilities and transport of farm produce to markets where an individual farmer may find it difficult to do so. A farmer cooperative society also acts as a collateral to an individual farmer in production. This encourages farmers to adopt improved farming practices to increase yields for self-reliance.
The formation of a farmer cooperative society addresses production problem that an individual farmer may find it difficult to address on their own. This encourages agricultural development without which self-reliance in food production may not be realized. The absence of a farmer cooperative society is an agricultural development bottleneck.
Credit to farmers
Credit provision to farmers can be considered a key instrument for breaking the vicious circle of low incomes, low savings and low productivity. Small farmers and the rural poor should be the chief target of credit interventions. This is because of the potential efficiency of small farmers, their output potential with improved technology, their lack of cash at critical periods in the crop season and their lack of collateral for loans.
A credit scheme should be to assist small farmers to overcome their inability to borrow from commercial banks due to lack of collateral and lack of information. Credit provision is to accelerate the adoption of improved technology by small farmers for the seasonal purchase of inputs. It can be seen that credit to small farmers can be used to increase production. A credit scheme is therefore important to address the problem of small farmers who have limited access to commercial credit sources.
Budgetary allocation to agriculture
Although agriculture is vividly seen as the life vein of the economy of South Sudan, budgetary allocation to the sector is disgraceful. For agricultural development to take off for self-reliance in food production the budget should be at least between 10 and 25 per cent of the total budget. However, in South Sudan the budget of the agricultural sector is less than 1 per cent of the total budget according to the Draft Budget, 2011. This seems to confirm that indeed commitment to the development of the agricultural sector has been nothing but theoretical instead of being an institutional and practical commitment with the expected tangible results.
Self-reliance in food production
The talk about self-sufficiency in food production is not realistic because South Sudan is nowhere closer to being even self-reliant in food production. This may seem a pessimistic conclusion but this is the reality given that people only pretend to know how South Sudan can become self-reliant in food production. The reality is that people are not practically oriented and committed. With immense agricultural potential and with 96 per cent of the arable land uncultivated, more than half of the population should not have been classified as potentially food insecure. The trend of agricultural development in South Sudan is indeed worrying as institutional weakness and budgetary allocation seem to show.
In conclusion, people need not panic because of some expressed pessimism. We only need the will power to make things happen and to drive commitment to make the difference. The world is not only built on theories but on the practical application of the theories. People had theories on how to land on the moon but if practical action was not taken no one would have ever landed on the moon. In our case agricultural policies and expressed good intentions should be translated into tangible outcomes. We wouldn’t like to be identified only as a nation of consumers, and rampant corruption and insecurity.