People in Need has helped more than 36 000 people in South Sudan to fight malnutrition – with gardens, fishnets, or hygiene training
Northern Bahr el Ghazal (February 17th, 2016) – South Sudan has been suffering from a humanitarian crisis caused by an ongoing ethnic conflict and the financial crisis. Over the course of the last two years, 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes. More than 3.9 million – almost one third of the population – is currently suffering from a serious lack of food. And more than 686 000 children under the age of 5 are currently malnourished. Children under 5 are the most vulnerable group since malnutrition slows down their physical growth and cognitive development. People in Need is one of the organizations fighting malnutrition in the world’s youngest country. Thanks to European Union funding, People in need has been able to teach locals how to prevent malnutrition by creating community gardens where they can learn how to grow and store sufficient amounts of nutritious and varied produce. Our team has already helped more than 6 000 households – that’s more than 36 000 people in total.
People in need has been working with people in the state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal in the north of South Soudan with historically the largest number of chronic malnutrition in the country. According to the national statistical data, 76% of the population live below the poverty line. However, bad nutrition is not just caused by lack of food, but also by unsatisfactory hygiene standards, lack of food variety, or insufficient breastfeeding – especially in children under 6 months old. Local farmers also use inefficient farming methods, which leads to low agricultural productivity. Decades of war have completely disrupted any continuity, and local inhabitants, who often spent a major part of their lives in refugee camps, have lost their ancestors’ knowledge.
Community gardens, training for farmers, better hygiene
Convincing people who have previously been dependant on humanitarian food assistance to start growing more produce is not a simple task. They may know the traditional local plants – sorghum and maize – yet growing vegetables is not common. And nutritious produce can improve health tremendously. That’s why one thousand people from the poorest households participated in training dedicated to farming and livestock. They learned how to create and manage community gardens in areas where water can easily be drawn from rivers.
“Every garden is managed by around 25 people. They mainly grow spinach, okra, pumpkin, amaranth, peppers, chilli peppers, cabbage, onion, and carrot. To help them in the beginning they received seeds and tools such as hoes, rakes, or hand water pumps for irrigation,” explains Jakub Smutný, People in Need programme coordinator for South Sudan
Relationships among neighbours within the local community worked so well that many people followed the example set by farmers trained by People in Need and started setting up their own gardens. “I used to grow sesame, peanuts, and corn but when I learnt how important eating vegetables is I switched to them. I can even sell part of the produce at the market and earn some money for tuition fees,” says Rebecca Achai Gar (30), mother of ten.
Selected women also participated in a cooking class where they learnt how to turn local produce into nutritious meals. “We teach them, for instance, that when they use oil, there’s no need for adding sesame paste. They can keep the fat for another day,” adds People in Need’s Lual Wek Santino, the head of the courses in the villages.
Community meetings of women with small children are just as important. They learn how to wash their hands and store food in hygienic conditions. Filth and bacteria cause diarrhoea – the leading killer of small children. Diarrhoea makes it impossible for the body to retain nutrients and causes it become malnourished. “We taught mothers how to make a simple rehydrating solution by mixing clean water, salt, and sugar. Some of them thought that not drinking is what actually helps against diarrhoea. Our work includes fighting harmful superstitions as well,” explains People in Need’s Regina Achak. She travels to villages where she leads training programmes on malnutrition along with other colleagues. “We explain the importance of breastfeeding and that newborn babies shouldn’t be consuming anything else for the first six months of their lives. We help women care for their youngest children,” adds Regina.
Ploughing and livestock care
The Dinka, inhabitants of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, are originally herders so for them, livestock represents very valuable property, a family investment, and an important source of income. However, very few families know how to use livestock for work. “I learned to use a plough. It has made my life a lot easier. I can do my work faster so I have time to earn extra money as a labourer,” says Daniel Mason Deng when describing what he learned at the People in Need training. Thanks to the European project, 128 more people from the nearby villages can now use donkeys, oxen, and other livestock for farming.
Lack of knowledge and insufficient local services frequently causes disease and death in livestock. Another part of the People in Need programme includes not only new milking techniques or proper milk storage but also preventing and curing disease in livestock. More than 4327 households participated in a campaign focused on vaccinating livestock. Over 5000 animals underwent deparasitation. Forty community health workers were trained in veterinary medicine and then received bicycles and motorbikes from People in Need to make commuting to remote villages easier for them.
Many farmers don’t know where to purchase medication for their animals or farming tools. Connecting customers with merchants is another important part of the project that eventually leads to improving local economy.
Fishing as another source of livelihood
Keeping livestock is connected to preserving meat – proper processing and storage are crucial. “We used to smoke meat using our traditional methods but it never smelled right and often went bad. Many farmers didn’t know smoke curing at all, they just used salt and dried the meat, which isn’t hygienic, as we learnt. Now we have community smoke houses,” explains Marko Anyuth Lueth, owner of a herd of 20 cows. Smoke curing is also used by local fishermen. People in Need has been working with 300 poor households that survive on fishing. “Besides smoke curing, we also learned how to repair fishing nets, which is very important. We cannot buy new ones too often,” says Simon Dut Ker (30), a fisherman working at the Nyamlell river. Thanks to the project, selected fishermen also received fishing tools – nets, ropes, and hooks.
Situation in South Sudan
The region of today’s South Sudan has been in war since 1955 with the exception of several short breaks. The world’s youngest country has not seen peace even after announcing its independence in 2011. The UN reports that there are currently 1.66 million internally displaced people who had to flee their homes. Another 645 000 people have migrated to other countries. The country has been suffering from an economic crisis and hyperinflation. It has also been paralysed by increased prices of fuel – one litre of petrol currently costs the equivalent of 70 Czech crowns. In 2015, South Sudan has topped the Fragile States Index chart for the second year in succession.
Five factors decide
The programme for better nutrition in South Sudan is one of the most complex People in Need projects dedicated to fighting malnutrition. It focuses on a wide range of causes of malnutrition and aims for long-term solutions. As the 5 Factors Decide campaign shows, it’s not only important to enhance people’s diets but also to improve their farming methods and means of livelihood, as well as to develop medical systems, improve hygiene standards, and to support parents in properly caring for their children. The Realigning Agriculture to Improve Nutrition programme was created in 2014 thanks to an important contribution from the European Commission and the support of donors from the People in Need Club of Friends and the Real Gift project. People in Need would like to thank all the contributors for their support.
For more information, please contact:
Marie Skálová, PiN programme coordinator for South Sudan and DR Congo, phone: +420 773 973 729, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jakub Smutný, PiN programme coordinator for South Sudan, phone: +211 955 467 379, +211 914 634 870, email: email@example.com, (currently in South Sudan, UTC+03:00)