Juba University students come face to face with mechanized farming at Green Horizon farm
Some confessed it was their first time to see Sukuma wiki (kale) and how it is grown.
By Paul Jimbo
When students of Juba University, School of Natural Resources and Environmental studies received news about a planned field trip, none could wild guess where the trip would be.
Field trips and assessment are part of Juba University’s mandatory students’ curriculum coverage before they get any green light to graduate.
This year, some 26 fourth-year students of the School of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies were picked to travel to an undisclosed location for their field trip.
To some, this sounded like a myth until the material day, July 25th, 2019 when the whole lot was bundled into the University bus and driven to a farm, several kilometres past Bilpham Military Headquarters.
They were taken to the famous Green Horizon farm, owned by Global Group South Sudan.
None of them had any field experience despite their four-year wealth of classroom acquired knowledge on agronomy.
The fourth year students visited the 100-hectares new land farm to learn various farming methods applicable in South Sudan including vegetable production through irrigation.
“We were very excited to see some ‘miracles’. It was our first time to come face to face with some farm machineries and this gave me a deeper understanding of mechanised farming,” says Gueth Ayom Luol, one of the students who visited the farm.
Green Horizon’s farm has nearly all agricultural crops including cereals, horticultural and several vegetables, he says.
“There is purely mechanized farming where different machinery is deployed to undertake different tasks from primary tillage to secondary tillage,” Luol says stretching his hands toward a wall portrait in our interview room.
He explains that Green Horizon farm has mobilised different equipment that can clear and till land, plant and harvest produce.
“The farm is well planned and to me, it was an experience I couldn’t believe ever existed in my country,” Luol says shaking his hands in surprise.
He admits that for the first time he learned that Okra, a vegetable is transplanted as opposed to what majority of local farmers do through direct seed sowing.
“They prepare a seedbed for the okra seedlings, which are later transplanted to a farm under drip irrigation, I couldn’t believe the massive acreage of land under okra,” Luol says.
Most students concurred that the experience at Green Horizon was just, “way too useful” to them, because the farm has an orchard where fruits like bananas and all types of fruits are grown.
“When we do practical lessons, we learn a lot, I had never seen Sukuma Wiki (Kale) for example and I saw it practically at the Green Horizon farm,” says Barnaba Barac Adhar, another student.
Naima Frazer Duku is among the only three female students in the male dominated class.
Naima exudes confidence that they have withered all mockery and discouraging remarks from people to reach their fourth-year of their studies.
“My father is a Mechanical Agricultural Engineer and he helped me in choosing my career. Whatever I saw at the Green Horizon farm is just so realistic, it encourages me that South Sudan has a great potential to feed itself,” she says.
Naima says the firm has invested heavily in mechanized farming and should be supported and protected to do more across the country.
“Food prices are high in South Sudan and Green Horizon is already defining the solutions that can sort out this situation,” she says clasping his fingers.
Naima says she witnessed several hectares of onions, tomatoes, kale, bananas and different species of vegetables and fruits including cucumber and French beans at the farm.
“It was lovely, I think they are doing a good job to help the people of South Sudan,” she says with a smile.
She urges the government to ensure peace prevails across the country so that South Sudanese can return to their homes and engage in farming.
“The country should train rural people on cereal, tubers, roots crops production. We should adopt a green revolution approach whereby we use hybrid seeds and environmentally friendly fertilizers,” Naima stresses.
Benjamin Mageu Ngong Ruai says Green Horizon’s is a model farm that should be replicated across the country.
“Green Horizon will be working with several out growers in rural set ups and the best news I heard is that they will buy the produce from farmers so marketing is not a farmer’s problem,” he says.
Mageu says the government should encourage local farmers through provision of incentives such as affordable fertilizers, subsidised seeds, and a policy where the youth are paid to work in farms.
“We have enough fertile land, I wish the youth are organized in groups so they can visit Green Horizon’s farm to learn modern farming methods instead of idling in Juba,” he says.
Mageu says most students and even farmers just understand mechanization in the theoretical context and should therefore have an opportunity to visit the Green Horizon farm to see and experience real practical farming methods.
“They have huge tractors, some I only watched on movies, they have combine harvesters, seed drillers for caving and planting, these are not myths but a reality,” he says.
The students concur that South Sudan cannot continue relying on traditional farming methods to fill the food deficit gap.
“We cannot continue using the ox plough and expect to feed our starving populations, we must embrace modern farming technology like Green Horizon has done,” they say.
The government is encouraging many investors to acquire land in South Sudan to produce food intended to ease the country’s food scarcity crisis, said Dr. Loro George Leju Lugor, the Director General of Agriculture Production and Extension Services.
“As we speak, three quarters of the country is going to be hit by famine because we have less food production. We don’t have farm under irrigation now, no, no commercial farm but we used to have them before the 2016 war,” Leju says.
However, the government has now put in place strategies to engage new commercial investors in large scale-food production to meet the high food deficit. The 2014 Drought and Flood Vision Comprehensive Agriculture Master Plan envision commercial production of food through local and foreign investors, Leju says.
This will include more research-based farming to ensure quality food production, he said.
“We have so far divided the country into six ecological zones to ensure food security. We have the Nile corridor, Eastern and Western flat places, Hills and Mountains, Semi-Arid areas and agro-ecological zones,” he says.
Leju says the government will also gazette land into agricultural lands and grazing lands for cattle, as well as national reserve forests throughout South Sudan.
The ministry is also currently rehabilitating the stalled farming machines, some of which were expensive, he says.
He says the fact that land belongs to the people provides opportunities for individuals, families and communities to become easy targets of land frauds in the country.
As far as the government plans to “massively invest in food production through investors,” “how they acquire land is not our business because there are people responsible for land matters,” Leju says.
South Sudan has great potential and capacity to feed its people through agriculture, agronomist Dr. Erneo B. Peter Tombe concurs with Dr Leju .
Dr Tombe is the National Project Coordinator, Global Group South Sudan and says Green Horizon is mandated to explore ways of ensuring food security in the country.
The Global Group, South Sudan signed an agreement with the National Government’s Ministry of Agriculture in November 2015. The firm has been contracted to produce food for the country, Dr. Tombe says.
“We have planned to establish farms in the former 10 states but due to insecurity, we only managed three states, thus Jonglei, Jubek and Torit where we have out growers who rely on seasonal rains to produce agricultural produces,” he says with confidence.
Dr Tombe said the country has a high potential of producing main food crops including maize, sorghum, rice, vegetables, millet and other grains.
“Are you aware that South Sudan can produce surplus food for export, leave alone to East Africa but even to America?, we currently produce some of these bananas and vegetables you see in the market.”
Dr Tombe further says that the Ministry of Agriculture has classified the country into different ecological zones.
These include Green Belt, Eastern Flat Plains, West Flat Plains, Nile Soboat Corridor, Iron Stone Plateau and the Hill, Arid and Semi-Arid and Mountain zones.
“These depend on the amount of rains each region receives, type of soil, water availability, topography and other factors,” Dr Tombe asserts.
He says the firm has been working very closely with identified local farmers in a project that aims to boost food production across all states.
“We provide them with extension services, we also support them with seeds and other farm implements and at the end of it all, we buy the produce from them, so they literally don’t have to worry about markets for their produces,” Dr Tombe said.
Yoash Zohar, Managing Director for Global Group South Sudan said the recent field visit by Juba University students to Green Horizon aimed at ensuring the country produces professional and practically trained personnel to tackle the current food crisis.
“We know for sure that some of these students will work with us in future as agricultural field extension workers and even specialists in different fields,” he says leaning back on his chair.
Yoash says Green Horizon has one major focus in South Sudan; ensure food security.
“That is our sole mandate and we carry it out in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, ours is purely agriculture and that is the reason we would like to work with and empower rural farmers to increase food production through mechanized farming,” he says.
“We are doing so because we want them to acquire practical skills and knowledge that can boost food production in future. We will even hire some of them once they complete their studies,” said Yoash