From civil war to commercial farming 

By John Alier

 March, 2016 (RFSP)-The Dewtong farmer group was badly affected by the South Sudan civil war in 2013/2014. After losing all of their belongings and farming implements, the farmers received tools and seeds from the USAID-funded Resilience and Food Security Program implemented by Catholic Relief Services. With this support, the farmers were able to re-plant crops and produce enough food for their families.  

 Following this recovery, the program continued to provide support in the form of trainings on seed growing and business management. As a result, the farmer group became one of the main suppliers of sorghum seed in Jonglei State. Catholic Relief Services, along with many other organizations, now purchases seed from the Dewtong farmer group in order to distribute the seed to other farmers in need elsewhere in South Sudan.  

 To meet this growing demand, the farmer group purchased a tractor using revenue from the seed sales. With the tractor, the group expanded their acreage and their seed production 

 The potential of mechanization attracted the attention other farmers in the area who commissioned the Dewtong group to plough their fields on a fee-paying basis. Paul Angeth, the Dewtong group leader, explains: “When our neighbors saw the benefits that we were reaping from selling the seeds, they requested us to plow their farms because they wanted to expand their farms and become seed producers and suppliers. We sat as a group and came up with tariff for anybody interested in hiring our tractor. Since then, even cultivating our group’s farm is difficult because so many people want their plots to be plowed”.  

 With revenue from sales of seeds and from fees for tractor use, the Dewtong producer group has taken major strides from subsistence farming to commercial entity. The group has recently taken the next step towards entrepreneurial agricultural production by registering as a farmer cooperative society with the Jonglei State Ministry of Cooperatives. The group’s next business target is to sell its seed production to buyers beyond Jonglei in South Sudan.  

Diversifying and learning from experience 

The civil war in South Sudan has ravaged communities in Twic East state, and the farmers of the Thempour farmer group were not immune. Despite the war, the resulting loss of their belongings and tools, and fleeing their homes, the group has worked to become one of the most successful food processors in Twic East.  

The group initially received agricultural tools and seeds from the USAID-funded Resilience and Food Security Program implemented by Catholic Relief Services. Using those tools and seeds, the group was able to plant and reap a substantial harvest in 2016.  

“From the 2016 harvest, we used part of the grain as seeds for this year, as we doubled the size of our farm. We had enough for our own household consumption and sold the surplus to CRS. For the first time in our group’s history, we earned a huge amount of money [$4,900]”, reported Matiop Deng, Thempour FPG leader. 

To diversify their sources of income, the group bought a mill to grind cereal; this generated a net weekly revenue of $200 every week. The group has also started trading in agricultural tools as small livestock.  “We did not keep idle or misuse the money that we got from sales of our sorghum seedsWe bought 17 goats which we want to sell to humanitarian agencies that conduct livestock fairs in this area. We also used part of this money to buy 1,000 hoes at a unit price of $1.34 and sold them to Oxfam at SSP350 ($2.35) each”, Deng continued. 

Today, the group’s business activities include selling seed, tools, livestock and grain processing. The group’s ambitions include building a grain storage facility, both for their own harvest and to rent out to other growers.  Because of the risk of post-harvest losses and lack of modern granaries, most farmers must sell immediately after harvest when the market prices are at their lowest. “We will have a modern storage facility in which we will collect sorghum seeds from our own harvest and buy seeds from other villages. We will store them for some months and later resell them for a profit, said Deng. The group is also planning to buy a tractor that can be used to cultivate own farm and be hired by other farmers to generate money for the group”, added the group secretary, John Garang Lueth.