Improving food security in South Sudan

By Jacob K. Lupai

February 22, 2013 (SSNA) — The Vision, Programme and the Constitution of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) published in 1998 highlights agricultural production as being aimed at primarily for self-sufficiency in food as well as cash crops for export to earn foreign exchange for farm families and the SPLM. In addition the SPLM would strive to promote the mechanisation of agriculture, beginning with ox-ploughing and then tractors as this becomes feasible. However, since the publication of the Vision, Programme and the Constitution of the SPLM in 1998 South Sudan in 2013 is nowhere closer to being self-reliant leave alone being self-sufficient in food production.

In contrast, South Sudan is a country with vast and varied natural resources that could have made it one of the richest countries on planet earth with a very high per capita income. Nonetheless, South Sudan is a very poor country with about 51 per cent of its population living below the poverty line. Out of the population of 8.26 million about 4.7 million are potentially food insecure. This means that about 57 per cent, which is more than half, of the population of South Sudan is potentially food insecure and in addition about one million are likely to be severely food insecure. These statistics do not make a comfortable reading for a country literally sitting on enormous wealth. What might have been the challenges? People have to search for answers in order to improve food security in South Sudan.

Agricultural policy

The SPLM vision is self-sufficiency in food production in achieving food security. Out of the vision detail agricultural policies can be developed to be applied on the ground for tangible outcomes. This is in order to realize the vision. In Sub-Saharan Africa the agricultural sector on which the majority of people depend represents the most important source of wealth which is essential to economic growth and food security. The development of detail agricultural policies is therefore important to revitalize the agricultural sector for the achievement of food security.

For sustainable agricultural production the detail policies include, in brief, provision of improved technologies to farmers, farmer empowerment, provision of advice and dissemination of information to farmers on research based farming practices to increase yields for self-reliance in achieving food security. The list of the agricultural policies is long. However, with commitment to the implementation of the policies, some concrete steps should have been taken in improving food security in South Sudan.

Implementation of agricultural policies

The importance of the agricultural sector to food security cannot be overemphasized. In the 80s the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) called for African governments to devote up to 25 per cent of government budgets to the agricultural sector. This was because of the relative importance of agriculture to the economy of a country in Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa on average the percentage of labour force in agriculture is 70 per cent, the highest in the world and agriculture as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) is higher than in East Asia and the Pacific and double that of Latin America and the Caribbean. This illustrates the central role agriculture plays in economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa in general and in South Sudan in particular.

It can be seen how appropriate it is to implement the agricultural policies developed to revitalize agriculture for economic growth and for improvement of food security for the people of South Sudan. However, the implementation of agricultural policies depends on adequate budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector but not on lip service as when agriculture is sung as the backbone of the economy yet the nation depends almost entirely on food imports from the neighbouring countries. The near total dependence on foreign food imports suggests that local producers are not being supported well enough to increase production to meet the demand.

Reliance on foreign food imports suggests that agricultural policies are not being translated into concrete activities to realize high production to improve food security. The government should be actively involved in programmes such as agricultural research for improved technologies to increase production, seed certification and distribution, provision of extension services, support to development of infrastructures and marketing system, and to provide subsidies for inputs and outputs.

The OAU had set a target that 25 per cent of government budgets should be devoted to agriculture but the budget of South Sudan is hardly more than 5 per cent devoted to agriculture as reflected in the draft budget 2011. This is one explanation how agriculture in South Sudan is under-resourced hence the near total dependence on food foreign imports. With poor budgetary allocation the agricultural sector will face numerous challenges. Due to poor budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector there is an impact on provision of improved technologies and capacity building of farmers. In this scenario farmers are likely to rely on antiquated farming methods that are not helpful in increasing production to improve food security in South Sudan.

Improving food security

Being over ambitious about agricultural development will not be helpful but taking one step at the time will. The vision in the government agricultural policy framework is food security for all with the mission being the transformation of agriculture from a subsistence system into a modern sustainable agriculture. South Sudan’s main goals in the transformation of agriculture included the achievement of food self-sufficiency, reduction of poverty by 30 per cent and the increase of gross domestic product (GDP) by 25 per cent and all this should have been achieved by 2011. However, a critical analysis may show that the goals set to be achieved in the agricultural sector by 2011 were over ambitiously set to say the least.

The goals set to be achieved by 2011 were set in 2005 but we are now in 2013 yet there is nowhere South Sudan is food self-sufficient and neither is poverty reduced by 30 per cent nor GDP increased by 25 per cent. It can only be concluded that the plan was nothing but over ambitious. For now it seems policy makers and planners are not asking themselves the right questions when South Sudan has 80 per cent arable land yet it is dependent on foreign food imports. Talking confidently of food self-sufficiency is only an expression of good intention but realistically it is unlikely to be achieved. People should instead be talking about food self-reliance.

In improving food security the focus should be on the farmer. This is because farmers’ knowledge, inventiveness and experimentation have been undervalued. Policy makers and planners who may assume they are knowledgeable seem to go it alone without farmers’ participation with the resultant over-ambitious goals being set that are not realistic. Often the goals are hardly achieved as it is the case in South Sudan. Focusing on farmers and their needs in the way of partnership in agricultural development is one step in improving food security.

Farmers are knowledgeable and most of the knowledge they apply comes from their own long experience in agriculture. Through their informal research and development activities farmers generate new knowledge and create new technologies. Working together with farmers as partners in agricultural development is therefore of great importance in improving food security. Farmers’ indigenous knowledge is an important complement to formal agricultural knowledge. Farmers may not have the formal agricultural knowledge to know what is possible but policy makers and planners may not know either the local conditions in which the farmers operate. One appropriate way of improving food security is therefore to focus on farmers’ expressed needs in farming for increase in production.    


In South Sudan there is a vast area of arable land with a very small percentage of land cultivated where agriculture is predominantly subsistence. Farmers still depend on traditional farming practices with no exposure to modern production technologies. There is no improvement in yields due to lack of access to improved technologies and services. The problem is exacerbated by lack of improved roads for transportation of commodities from surplus regions to deficit areas.

In conclusion, the scene of improving food security is set. The focus first should be on building the capacity of farmers through training and provision of extension services, and improving roads and market infrastructures. This can be achieved through farmer participatory research and farmer-led extension. Short of this all will be rhetoric. The farmer is central in any endeavour to improve food security otherwise unrealistic goals will be set with South Sudan being unnecessarily exposed to decades of food insecurity.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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