Sowing seeds for the future

Sowing seeds for the future

Giving out seeds and tools to help rural farmer is not enough for MAF passengers from ACTED. The agriculturalists teach improved farming methods to create more productive, resilient communities.

ACTED aims to improve the methods of agriculture used by the farmers in what was once called the Western Equatoria of South Sudan, maybe the country’s most fertile area. If managed properly and if the country’s infrastructure improves after years of war and insecurity the state of Maridi could become South Sudan’s cornucopia.

Story and Photos by Thorkild Jørgensen.

A team of specialists have come to ACTED’s compound in Maridi to train the field staff in improved practices of farming.

The workshop is intense and lasts from the arrival of the team on MAF’s western shuttle on Tuesday till the next shuttle departs from the airstrip in Maridi the following Thursday.

Donald Itti arrives together with five ACTED colleagues at the airstrip in Maridi, South Sudan, on MAF’s Caravan.

Sweating over swales

Between theoretical lessons in a stuffy classroom, both teachers and participants literally put their back into it, as they armed with hoes dig a long ditch through the compound. The instructor, Michael Mangano, an American farmer who lives in Uganda, wipes the sweat off his brow and points to the adjacent plot. 'See how they have swept it all clean over there?' Michael asks. 'When the rain comes, it will wash away all the nutrients of the soil right off that compound.'

To demonstrate how to harvest water in a field, both teacher and workshop participants dig a swale through the garden in ACTED’s compound in Maridi.

'We want rainwater to stay and sink into the soil instead of washing away, so we are digging this swale for water harvesting.' Michael Mangano

Pointing at ACTED’s garden and all of the dead grass and stems from various vegetables and herbs, Michael explains: 'Leaving a garden with mulch like this enriches the soil and insulates it from the heat of the sun so that it stays moist. Moreover, we want rainwater to stay and sink into the soil instead of washing away, so we are digging this swale for water harvesting. We want to teach the farmers this principle of water harvesting to improve agricultural production and food security.'

Healthy crops with an increased yield

ACTED has formed 55 Farmer Field Schools with 30 members in each. A total of 1,650 beneficiaries are supported with vegetable seeds, field crop seeds, farming tools and training on vegetable production, post-harvest handling, management and general crop husbandry practices. They also receive sacks for storage, tarpaulins for drying their produce and irrigation kits (treadle pumps, pipes and jerrycans for water).

Donald Itti in a demo plot of a Farmer Field School.

'55 demo plots have been established for training on a small scale,' Programme Manager, Donald Itti, explains. 'Half of the crops on the plot are grown traditionally using farmer ideas, while the other half are grown with improved practices with proper spacing and mulch to reduce evaporation and weeds with the aim of producing healthy crops with an increased yield.'

'Members from each farmer group come once a week to study and track changes in their demo plot through observation of the crops against factors such as pests, weeds and natural enemies within that ecosystem. The farmers discuss the findings of their group, analyse the problems and suggest solutions.'

Sharing seeds for success 

24 Seed Multiplication Farmer Groups with 30 members in each have been established aiming to commercialize farming to a bigger scale, targeting the market niche within Maridi and outside. Each group have opened up two hectares of land for seed production, and ACTED supports the farmer groups with seeds and training on principles of seed production, handling of post-harvest losses, management and basic crop husbandry practices (weed and pest control techniques). The groups have also received tarpaulins and empty sacks for drying and storage of farm produce.

Ground nuts stored in a farmer’s tukol (small hut made of clay and straw).

A sweet deal

ACTED has also established 15 groups of beekeepers, with a total of 150 beneficiaries. The keepers are supported with bee suits, gumboots, smokers, bee brushes and two types of beehives – the traditionally made and the improved. 'We have established apiaries and are monitoring the beehives to see if they become colonized or overgrown with foliage,' Donald Itti says and adds: 'The beekeepers receive training on apiary establishment and management, pest control, honey production, processing and marketing.'

Improved beehives made of wood are provided and monitored by ACTED.

Roads to wealth, health, education and water

'To improve remote communities’ access to markets, schools and health facilities it is important that the roads between the villages are opened up,” Donald Itti says.

ACTED’s infrastructural team together with the help of local authorities identified areas with poor accessibility to essential infrastructural facilities, and a total of 15 km around Maridi have been measured out for access roads. In order to avoid conflicts that might potentially come up during the construction of the roads, the access roads are diverted in areas where they affect assets such as individual farms, homes and big trees.

Local labourers are paid each of them $3 a day for three work days per week for 12 weeks of road construction.

The roads have been constructed through bush clearing, removal of smaller tree trunks and roots, and the compacting and leveling of the surface. To do this, and to give the users a sense of ownership, ACTED has issued identification cards to 200 beneficiaries and has paid each of them 3 $ a day for three work days per week for 12 weeks of road construction. ACTED has provided the tools for constructing the roads and supervisors to teach the local workers how to do the job.

Moreover, ACTED identified some locations in Maridi County with difficult access to clean water. 12 shallow wells, typically about 12 m deep or more, were dug, and the labourers and all of the materials were paid by ACTED. After completion of a well, it is handed over to the local community who is responsible for maintaining the well and the access road.

Michael Mangano and two ACTED colleagues are ready to depart from Maridi after a three-day workshop. ACTED has projects in other parts of South Sudan and to visit them it is crucial to be able to travel by air, rather than to travel by land on bad and insecure roads.

'To improve remote communities’ access to markets, schools and health facilities it is important that the roads between the villages are opened up.'Donald Itti