Vegetable farming is the game-changer to the vulnerable local communities in Ajong Boma, Wunrok Payam of Twic County, Warrap State as malnutrition wanes.
This development has come after World Food Programme introduced the Asset Creation and Livelihood Project funded by The Foreign Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO).
Many families who were bearing the brunt of climate change that culminated into malnutrition were targeted by WFP to form groups where they currently plant sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cassava and egg plants as the fresh diet to improve the health of their children and make little income from it as well.
Kennedy Genga, WFP Nutrition Programme Officer, says the rate of moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) has reduced from a total of 83, 553 children in 2022 to 73, 848 children in 2023 maintaining that the rate of reduction might be expected to be 80 percent this year in Warrap State.
He stated that the children who suffered severe acute malnutrition (SAM) without medical complication in 2022 were 23, 427 children meanwhile in 2023 they are currently standing at 25, 317 children without medication complication.
In an interview with the beneficiaries, Akon Rebecca, 36, a mother of 6 children says her two children were malnourished before she was targeted by the project but as a result of vegetable farming, her children’s health condition has improved.
“My two children were malnourished: a daughter and a son. Last year when I started vegetable farming, they were no longer malnourished,” she explained.
Before the project, Akon sold charcoal in Wunrok town to put food on the table because her husband is neither educated nor have any job. When lucky enough to get some money from charcoal sales, she could buy nutritious foods for her children from the market, but still this was not consistent given her social class.
“Before I was taught, I had been burning charcoal and I had been buying nutritious foods from the market, but this was not help. After starting to cultivate these, their malnutrition status improved because I used to take vegetable produce and cook the vegetables for them to eat. Getting food items from the market is now not like the way I had been doing it before,” she continued.
“What the organization told us while they taught us was that these vegetables; if you cultivate them well, they will help you at home. We have now found what the organization was telling us.”
She urged WFP to train other women who have not been trained so that they could benefit from the farming. Akon’s sorghum farm was destroyed by floods last year but when she was identified by the WFP project, she was taught how to diversify the diet that she gives her children for them to be healthy.
“The organization taught us that when a baby eats this food today, tomorrow you should change the diet. What we knew was silver fish, but now, it has changed because the organization told us that when you buy meat today, you can take two days and then buy fish, and also let them eat vegetables. This is what has changed malnutrition, she continued.
Akon also made an additional income of 22,000 SSP from the sales of her vegetables last year. She sales 6 pieces of tomato at 500 SSP and 4 pieces of egg plant at 500 SSP if she wants to change the diet by buying other food items in the market to balance the diet.
Areech Duar, 40 years, a father of 6 children and a member of a sweet potato farm called ‘Miet Piou’ says his family life has been changed by vegetable farming. When the farm performs well, he says he can harvest two sacks of sweet potatoes from only a single ridge.
He confirms that sweet potato farming has reduced malnutrition among the children in his village stressing that once a child consumes it, he drinks water for the whole day and does not disturb parents for food.
“Right now, there is no child who is getting malnourished again. I hope whatever support we receive from WFP; our community is very happy especially us the group members who received all these material training, we are very happy, and we will continue practicing the skills that we have learned,” she said.
According to him, when sweet potato was introduced to them for the first time, it tasted sweet and they thought it was not fit for their children’s health with the fear that their children could be constipated and if they eat too much, their stomachs might burst.
“Before the project people were facing hunger; people were feeding on one type of crop but now we have variety of crops. Now the rate of malnutrition has reduced compared to last time when there was not project intervention,” he explained.
“When we first tasted it, it tasted sweet, and we even prevented children from eating too much of it fearing that their stomach will burst due to constipation.”
He appreciated WFP and its implementing partner Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) for the skills they imparted to them which he said were very important for their livelihoods and that they would not stop it.
Adakchin Madut, says she does not buy vegetables again from the market because she has her vegetable garden where she only picks vegetables from.
She adds that the fact that her children eat vegetables has now improved their health and it is something she will not stop doing.
Adut Duot Kiir, a member of Ajong Women Savings Loan Association, who is also a beneficiary of this project ventured into the project in 2021. she was trained how to prepare the field, erect fence and ridges and transplant sweet potatoes with proper spacing and later irrigate it until the beginning of the rainy season.
“It has changed my life; we did not know it before. But now we have learnt that it is cooked and given to a baby. We had been eating a single type of food, we did not know sweet potato and WFP has should us,” she explained.
She said her sweet potato farm could give her up to three to four full sacks of sweet potatoes after harvest.
Adut says with confidence that her family life will not be the same again because she has the skills and when water is there either during the rainy season or dry spell, her family will not lack what to eat.
Vision of food security
Isaac Amule, the deputy head of programme for the WFP in Kuajok, Warrap State said the crops they introduced were those that performed well both during the dry spell and rainy season.
He said the target of WFP was to ensure that the communities living across South Sudan are food secure, and in the due time would be able to sustain themselves when the project ended.
“And the whole idea is that this crop (potato) takes a shorter time to grow and again also the yield is good, especially in places that there is little rain. When you see here, these are some of the innovations that we are doing just basically to make the communities we are supporting here to be food secure,” Amule explained.
He continued that the organization had also provided trainings to ensure that the communities are food secure.
“So that’s what we do as WFP, so the whole idea is basically to ensure that these communities are food secure. In case of things like floods and dry spell they are able to harvest something, and this is really in line with WFP’s mission of saving lives and changing people,” he continued.
The project targets 22,000 households in Twic County who are supported with crops such as rice farming, cassava farming, sweet potatoes and other vegetables.
“We started introducing these new crops three years ago and in Twic we are supporting 22,000 households with different variety of crops including rice, we are doing cassava, we are doing in sweet potatoes, so these all with an intention to be able to get food for their houses,” he continued.
He estimated that the project would support about 30,000 beneficiaries in Twic County adding that the communities were receptive to the new crop varieties and innovations.
Amule urged other people who were not targeted in the project to be show interest in adopting the new ideas because the crops could produce food within a very short time.
“My message to others who might be watching this and who might also want to take this, I think let’s embrace some of these new ideas because this is the way to go, because some of these crops have been tasted and they have really proven to provide food within a shorter time,” he concluded.