In Search of Food and Peace in South Sudan

Clearing land for farming in project supported by UNMISS Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Unit in Pariak, Jonglei State. (UNMISS/Martine Perret)

Clearing land for farming in project supported by UNMISS Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Unit in Pariak, Jonglei State. (UNMISS/Martine Perret)

When Gabriel Gai, a state minister for South Sudan, visited Uror county he was on a mission for peace. There were violence and cattle raiding in the area, things that have been ongoing throughout South Sudan’s Jonglei state for years.

He asked the people to put down their weapons and not to fight. What did the community ask of him? They asked for food.

Hunger has resulted from years of conflict in South Sudan, starting with the war with its northern neighbor Sudan. More recently it has come from the internal conflict that has killed and displaced thousands of people.

The Lou Nuer and Murle tribes have fought vicious battles, each one leading to another conflict. As Confucius once said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Such is the story of war in South Sudan.

There is a cycle of hunger, poverty and violence that holds South Sudan back, particularly in Jonglei, the largest state.

Each week reports come in of more violence and suffering among the population. The UN said last week, “The security situation remained tense in Jonglei during the week. Several incidents of armed hostilities between the South Sudan armed forces and non-state armed actors were reported in and around Pibor town.” Thousands of people have been displaced by fighting there this year.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is on a mission to end hunger and build peace in South Sudan. As an aid agency they know that this puzzle must ultimately be solved by the citizens themselves. That answer lies in producing food, unleashing the potential of the farmlands of South Sudan.

With funding from the U.S. government, CRS started the Jonglei Food Security program. The idea is to develop the power of small farmers and take them through “the process of moving from subsistence farming to harvesting for market.”

The plan is to make South Sudan less dependent on international food aid. This means education and training in agriculture.

Sara Fajardo of CRS listened to what the people had to say. They want to farm. They just need a little help to recover from the ruins of war to get started.

Adhuom Achiek Buol, a farmer, says, “Farming will stop hunger. We, the people of Jonglei, were created to farm. It is in our culture. It is what we were born to do.”

Buoi Machiek, a livestock health worker, stated, “We need peace. People are afraid to walk to town because they might be shot. When we go to the bush to hunt, we get attacked. Insecurity causes hunger. Once we have peace, we can cultivate. This will prevent hunger.”

Mary Ngok, a farmer, says, “Peace among the communities will stop hunger in Jonglei. When other tribes stop raiding our cattle, we will have milk production and cattle to sell.”

Gabriel Kuereng, a CRS field coordinator, explains, “The war left us in bad shape. We still think that this community did this or this community did that. We need the government to intervene and help us forgive each other. We need to build an identity of nationhood where we all say we are South Sudanese -not ‘I am a Dinka or I am Nuer.’ When we reconcile, cattle raiding will stop, because we will not blame others.”

Uror County is one area benefiting from the CRS food security program. Getting people to put down their guns and focus on farming is the key to peace. The United Nations Mission has disarmament programs that also focus on farming to help reintegrate former soldiers and their families back into society. You can’t build a society on guns, but you can with farming and food.

The children are the ones who can then get the basic rights they deserve. The UN heard from 15-year-old Peter Puok Majuc, who said, “It is my right to education. It is my right to be taken care of by my parents…with food and clothes.”

The UN World Food Programme is helping South Sudan build a nationwide school lunch program. What could be better than having South Sudan’s own farms provide the food for these school meals?

The road to peace in South Sudan means people coming together to farm and not to fight. Fajardo writes what one farming group leader, Zakariah, said: “Working together, we’ve realized we produce more as a group. We can produce something that can be taught to many people. We have a saying in Dinka: ‘If you have one stick, it is easy to break. But if you have a bundle of sticks, it is hard to break.’ That means when you bring a group of people together, you become very strong. It is hard to break a group.”

Read more from the voices of South Sudan talking about ending hunger.

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