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Strengthening agriculture and food security information in South Sudan

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Strengthening agriculture and food security information in South Sudan

Crop assessment in South Sudan. Photo: FAO
Photo: FAO
Crop assessment in South Sudan. Photo: FAO

With South Sudan still facing a large-scale food crisis, the need for quality data on crop harvests is crucial. As part of strengthening the agriculture and food security information, FAO has conducted an intensive 12-day field crop and harvest assessment training in Aweil for 28 government officers and NGO field staff from all states. It is the first time that such training could be done in the field, giving participants the opportunity to master rapid assessment techniques through practical, hands-on exercises.

FAO, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and other partners, carry out crop and harvest assessments throughout the year. To be able to survey all areas of South Sudan, a large team is needed for constant support.

“The newly trained surveyors are now able to broaden the scope of assessments that can be done, and ultimately increase the data that is available,” said Evans Kenyi, FAO Crop Assessment Specialist. “Having access to all this data is unique in South Sudan, and analysis of it shows the scale of the food crisis and facilitates informed decision-making at all levels.”

Data collection, in a country with one of the lowest developed road networks and literacy rates, can prove quite challenging. Insecurity is also a limiting factor, along with accessibility. In many cases, assessment teams walk from farm to farm to gather data, and in some areas this means crossing swampy areas and rivers. Equally, there are sensitivities around how you interact with farmers in order to get robust data.

“When we arrive at someone’s farm and start asking all kinds of questions, some people can get suspicious,” Kenyi explains. “Especially when you want to know how much they have harvested. It is like asking someone: how much money do you have in the bank? This country-wide training allows us to go with the participants to the farms in their respective areas, and train them right then and there on how to interact with farmers to get the required information and respond to the communities’ questions.”

The practical, hands-on exercises have meant that participants can now independently replicate the techniques they learn to assess the food supply in their own regions. “The handbook with pictures showed me what I needed to do, and every day we have all been going out to practice,” said Anai Azik, an Agriculture Inspector from Warrap State. “After the training I am going to visit the farmers in my own state, and do this on my own,” she said.

The participants from the training are now actively feeding data necessary for the Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission report, which is due to be published in early 2016. The report, a joint FAO/World Food Programme initiative requested by the Government, shows how much agriculture has contributed to the food supply in South Sudan, by estimating the cereal production during 2015, along with assessing the overall food security situation.

Funded by the European Union, these assessments are part of the work done by the Agriculture and Food Security Information System project, which is instrumental in the formulation of the IPC – a key data source for informed decision making on food security in South Sudan.