South Sudan, a scenario afflicted by crisis
In South Sudan, a nation in profound crises, the convergence of political and security instability, food emergencies, environmental upheavals, and economic collapse paints a stark picture. With more than half of the population experiencing severe food insecurity (IPC3 and 4 - Integrated Food Security Phase Classification) and in need of food assistance, the significant challenge of acute and chronic undernourishment is evident. In fact, South Sudan is ranked 191 out of 191 countries in the Human Development Index by UNDP (2021) , underscoring the gravity of the situation.
Traditional agricultural practices dominate the unstructured agricultural sub-systems, proving unresponsive to nutritional needs. The private sector, hindered by insecurity, poor infrastructure, and a lack of market and finance support, languishes at the 185th spot out of 190 economies (Doing Business Archive World Bank).
The rain-dependent, unmechanized, and non-commercialized agricultural system, coupled with trade obstacles, exacerbates malnutrition, hitting women, who make up 60% of the agricultural workforce, particularly hard.
The looming specter of climate variability, marked by erratic rainfall, droughts, flooding, and famine, further compounds vulnerability. Amidst this challenging backdrop, recent climatic anomalies, including prolonged dry spells in 2023, significantly disrupted the farming season in project implementation areas.
The RURALSS project
Having acquire a primary position in the field of food security and agricultural development, supporting the most vulnerable communities in both Lakes State and Eastern Equatoria since more than a decade, AVSI embarked on a transformative journey to tackle the challenges and enhance the development of the farming sector.
To do this, AVSI Foundation in South Sudan is actively implementing a five-year initiative known as RURALSS - Rurals Upgrade of Resilient Agribusiness and Livelihood in South Sudan. Funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, this project initiated in 2021, sets its sights on addressing the challenges hindering the socio-economic transformation of rural communities. With a strong focus on Food Security and Livelihoods (FSL), Agribusiness, and Nutrition sectors, RURALSS aims to shift the communities of 5 counties (Torit, Ikotos, Magwi, Cueibet and Wulu) from subsistence farming to thriving commercial ventures, ultimately elevating income levels and nutritional well-being.
At the core of the RURALSS project strategy lies a concerted focus on nutrient crop production, processing, and commercialization, specifically tailored to fortify the resilience of South Sudanese communities in the Eastern Equatoria and Lakes states. The overarching objective of the project is to instigate positive transformations through three primary pathways:
- Increase nutrient-rich food availability to enhance access, promoting improved nutrition and socioeconomic well-being.
- Enhance nutritional status to decrease health risks, boost cognitive abilities, and enhance productivity.;
- Boost income to enhance access to services (such as health and education), encourage investments, and promote economic resilience and development.
As the project unfolds, it will actively promote heightened farming productivity by leveraging enhanced knowledge and strategically forging market linkages in its initial phase. This strategic approach sets the stage for further success, with subsequent stages marked by substantial investments in productive assets.
Beyond the individual economic gains, the initiative is driven by a commitment to fortify local markets, diversify food choices, and promote balanced household consumption. The anticipated ripple effect of this endeavour extends to community members, enriching their lives through the acquisition of new knowledge, improved practices, and increased access to essential services and food resources.
Furthermore, the project is dedicated to addressing gender-based violence (GBV) by adopting a sensitive approach across all sectors. For example, it goes beyond empowering female farmers (who constitute the majority) to contribute more to food security; instead, the project aspires to exert a transformative impact on gender dynamics by addressing the root causes of inequality rather than merely addressing the symptoms. In essence, RURALSS serves as a model for positive change, steadfast in its commitment to ushering in a thriving future for South Sudan's rural communities.
Nutrition at the core:
The Nutrition sector witnesses diverse interventions, including capacity-building, cooking demonstrations, and the innovative establishment of Role Model Homes. These homes, of which 18 have already been strategically positioned in Eastern Equatoria and Lakes State, serve as living references for the community, promoting optimal hygiene, nutrition practices, and gender inclusion.
Role model homes: a catalyst for change
Designed for practical learning, the Role Model Homes encourage Community Nutrition Action Groups (CNAGs) to improve their living condition by enabling hands-on experience of their positive impact. Indeed, AVSI's Role Model Homes became dynamic hubs for behavioural change. Equipped with essential facilities such as kitchen gardens, food stores and water facilities, they actively address nutrition, hygiene, and gender-based violence. These homes are references not only for RURALSS’s beneficiaries but also for all community members offering a firsthand learning experience and a tangible blueprint to emulate. They act as catalysts for positive changes in local traditions, impacting various aspects of community life but in harmony with the local context.
Agnes’s journey of transformation
Agnes Ifere, a 21-year-old from Abalwa Boma, Torit County, underwent a remarkable transformation through her involvement in the RURALSS project with AVSI since early 2023. Leading the Community Nutrition Action Groups, she vividly recalls the challenges her community faced, relying on a limited variety of food. AVSI’s intervention brought profound change, offering not just diverse crops but also health and well-being knowledge through trainings and kitchen gardens.
Agnes’s life transformed as she gained practical skills in cultivating diverse vegetables, enriching her family’s diet, and providing surplus products for sale, generating essential income. The initiative empowered Agnes to establish a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), overcoming challenges in accessing financial resources. Agnes, expressing her appreciation, stated
” Now I can plan to go back for education. And my two brothers, I’m now paying their school fees through the VSLA savings.”