Maize grains packed in WFP bags at Konyo-Konyo market (courtesy of Juba Monitor)
By David Mono Danga
As hundreds of thousands of civilians go hungry in IDP and refugee camps across the country, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) stands accused of allegedly selling humanitarian aid to wholesalers in Juba at cheap prices.
Lately, over a hundred metric tons of aid food items have been flooding the local markets in Juba leading to a drastic fall in the prices of maize flour, one of the staple foods in South Sudan, from 7,000 SSP during the peak of the conflict to fluctuate between SSP 2,000 and 3,000SSP.
A very reliable source who sought anonymity revealed to Juba Monitor last week that WFP was behind the flooding of humanitarian food stuffs in the market describing it as an abnormal scenario given that the drop is opposed to the market forces of demand and supply.
“The source said there is a form of serious corruption scandal happening at WFP that is why tons of the food items are seen in shops in Juba,” he said.
“The market price used to be $550 per ton (about 110,000 South Sudanese pounds) but due to market reasons, it dropped to $350 (about SSP70, 000) which to me is normal. But dropping to 230 and 170 is because of the floods of the NGOs,” he exposed.
However, WFP denied the allegations saying some people were reusing the WFP bags to pack their products.
“There is a perception that food that is usually distributed by WFP is high quality. So there are those enterprise people who go after those bags. The bags are very many in the country,” WFP communications officer Tomson Phiri told Juba Monitor on phone yesterday.
He said WFP carried out a survey looking at the bags and the P.O numbers and found out that the food items in the market do not belong to WFP but rather to businessmen who reuse the bags.
Phiri revealed that WFP also found out that the food in the bags were from South Sudan.
“Someone can pack goods that are made in Uganda or Kenya with the logo of WFP,” he said.
He admits that some refugees or IDPs may sell some of their food items to access goods or services that they may need but insists it cannot be in the quantity currently available in the market.
He also noted that the logistics required to transport a truck of 20 tons of maize grain from Uganda to here is 4,000 US Dollars which he disclosed would not earn the business owner a profit if they charged 170 US dollars per ton.
“How can they sell the maize flour/grains at 170 which is not even covering the cost of transport? And where is the cost of growing, packaging, cleaning and tax if there is no theft?,” he demanded.
He also added that if the market price was $250 0r $230 per ton, it would be normal but below $160 would discourage the local farmers from producing, eventually killing the economy.
A situation he described as dangerous when WFP finds out and shuts down such corruption scandal because it would mean three things; the needy would not get the food items they are supposed to get, local farmers would be discouraged from producing more grains and finally once the humanitarian food is stopped, the prices in the market shall skyrocket to abnormal degrees that the common man would not afford.
One local farmer and sales officer, Kornelio Poth said,
“Something that is supposed to be given to the needy should not be turned to the market. I asked one of the traders and he told me a bag costs 2,500 and if one is buying more than 50 bags they can reduce to SSP2300 per a bag,” Kornelio told Juba Monitor.
He said subsistent farmers like him who produced little maize and sorghum for commercial purposes would find it difficult to compete with these aid food stuffs.
“We cannot sell anything because they bring in more and more of these cheap goods and the prices remain the same,” he added in despair.
Kornelio urged the government and the United Nations to investigate how these goods got to the market in large quantity as most of the wholesale shops in Juba contain the maize flour from WFP and USAID.
“UN and government of South Sudan should ensure what is meant to be for the poor should be for the poor, not to be sold in the market,” Kornelio emphasized.
According to the Relief-web South Sudan UNHCR operational updates of June 2018, there are 1.88 million IDPs and 297, 150 refugees in the country, including 210,545 in UNMISS Protection of Civilian (POC) sites.
The UN food security report of 2015-2018, says 3.9 million people – nearly one in every three people in South Sudan – were severely food insecure and 3.6 million were considered to be ‘stressed’, in September 2015. An estimated 30,000 people were facing catastrophic food insecurity (IPC Level 5) in Unity State, leading to starvation, death, and destitution. (OCHA, 5 Jan 2016).
Sorghum packed in USAID bags at Konyo-Konyo market