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Chronic food insecurity with reference to South Sudan

By Dr. Jacob K. Lupai

Associate Professor of Food Security

University of Juba

Chronic food insecurity with reference to South Sudan is a focus on South Sudan as a potential breadbasket in the region.

To begin with, South Sudan is a landlocked country surrounded by six countries and in clockwise, Ethiopia and Kenya to the East, Uganda and Congo to the South, Central African Republic to the West and Sudan to the North. However, although South Sudan is landlocked it can be self-reliant. It is endowed with vast natural resources and arable land, forests, pastures, mountains and hills, rivers streams, lakes and marshes, wildlife and human resource in abundance. This is in addition to the various minerals found in South Sudan. It can therefore be confirmed that South Sudan is potentially a rich country on the continent. What remains is investment to realize the potential of South Sudan as the breadbasket in the region.

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. This is standard definition of food security. In contrast, food insecurity is the opposite. It is seen as a product of low agricultural production and low incomes where people have limited access to food. The implication is that to achieve household food security there should be improvement in agricultural production and opportunities for income-generating activities. Improvement in agricultural production can be realized through improved technologies and timely advice on improved farming methods. This suggests investment in agricultural research and extension. Also, people can be advised on income-generating activities for self-reliance in food.

Food insecurity can be classified into two types, transitory and chronic food insecurity. Household food insecurity is either transitory or chronic or both. Transitory food insecurity is seasonal while chronic food insecurity occurs over a long period of time. Over a prolonged period, chronic food insecurity may lead to a sense of hopelessness, which may likely reduce the effort individuals exert to find long-term solutions.

Chronic food insecurity in rural areas is faced by resource poor households while in urban areas it is faced by low income households employed in the public and private sectors. For transitory food insecurity in rural areas, it is faced by less resource or poor vulnerable households to shocks especially during droughts and man-made disasters. In urban areas transitory food insecurity is faced by poor vulnerable households to economic shocks, especially those causing food prices rise.

In South Sudan food insecurity is yet to be classified into transitory and chronic food insecurity. It is in general seen as acute food insecurity where people rely on humanitarian food assistance. In reality, reliance on humanitarian food assistance for prolonged and extended period of time suggests the prevalence of chronic food insecurity. This is because people are not food secure on their own. For South Sudan it seems there has hardly been any time of food self-reliance hence the heavy reliance on humanitarian food assistance. Humanitarian food assistance is therefore pivotal in preventing transitory and chronic food insecurity in South Sudan. Unfortunately, this is in contrast to South Sudan being endowed with vast natural resources, which are enormously in abundance.

South Sudan has six agro-ecological zones and they are the Arid Belt with high reliance on trade, the Green Belt which is exclusively agriculture, the Hills and Mountains zone for mixed options, the Flood Plains with high reliance on cattle, the Ironstone Plateau which is predominantly agriculture and some livestock, and the Nile Sobat Corridor with high reliance on cattle and fish.

It can all be seen, indeed, that South Sudan has vast resources in abundance. However, the paradox is that South Sudan is still relying heavily on humanitarian food assistance for prolonged period of time. The six agro-ecological zones mentioned above offer extensive opportunities for development in South Sudan that can then become the breadbasket in the region. This is in contrast to relying on humanitarian assistance or on food imports from the neighbouring countries that only drain the badly needed foreign exchange for development. Nevertheless, it is important first to identify the root causes of the problem that have made the vast resources in South Sudan not yet tapped for the achievement of food security.

To begin with, it is very important to review budgetary allocation to the agriculture and food security section in particular and to the natural resources and rural sector in general. The resource envelope for the fiscal year 2019/2020 national budget with a grand total is 207,771,498,549 SSP. The budget for the natural resources and rural sector is 1,534,662,809 SSP. This shows that the budget of the natural resources and rural sector is about 0.7 per cent of the national budget. It is important to note that the natural resources and rural sector include livestock and fisheries, agriculture and food security, tourism, wildlife conservation, environment and forestry, and land commission. For agriculture and food security section the budget allocation is only about 0.2 per cent of the national budget. From the budgetary allocations, it can be confirmed that agriculture and food security section in particular and the natural resources and rural sector in general have been grossly and miserably underfunded. This is one of the main causes of the problem. The other cause of the problem is insecurity, which does not need any elaboration.

South Sudan has a population estimated to be 10,900,000 occupying an estimated area of 619,745 square kilometres. This shows that there are about 18 people per square kilometre in South Sudan. In contrast, Uganda a neighbour to South Sudan has an estimated population of 36,400,000 in an estimated area of 241,038 square kilometres. Uganda’s density is about 151 people per square kilometre. Compared to Uganda, South Sudan has more than enough land for development. In fact, only about 4.2 per cent of the land of South Sudan is cultivated. Where about 80 per cent of the people live in rural areas, confirms a potential for agricultural development in achieving food security in South Sudan. However, the high population density in Uganda may encourage encroachment into South Sudan’s lands. This is, nevertheless, a different issue altogether that needs a different space.

With all that said, the way forward is the provision of adequate budget to the natural resources and rural sector and absolute commitment to agricultural development goals. This will create employment opportunities for income in order for people to have access to food. Adequate budgetary allocation to the sector will improve agricultural production in achieving household food security.

In conclusion, with the achievement of peace and security in the rural areas, budgetary allocation to the natural resources and rural sector should be between 10 and 25 per cent of the national budget if chronic or acute food insecurity is to be a thing of the past and history in South Sudan.

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