August 30, 2019

Facing famine: a woman’s mission to bring quality seeds to South Sudan

A woman waters crops, South Sudan, on 2 May 2019. SPARK Photo / Tobin Jones

Across South Sudan, millions of people suffer from food insecurity; some households can only afford one meal a day, some none at all. While much of the famine is exacerbated by recent conflict and migration, the soil is rich and fertile and the climate is favourable for agriculture. So why are millions in South Sudan still surviving on food aid? 

In February, the Governor of Gbudue State, Hon. Daniel Badagbu, said during a UNDP mission to the region in February this year: “Now that peace is here in South Sudan, we need to create jobs, especially for the youth…Internally displaced people want to go back to their homes. Food security is a main issue to enable their return, but the soil in Yambio is fertile and the natural resources are there. What we need to make people feel safe to return is…above all, empowerment”.

Marketplace stall, South Sudan, on 1 May 2019. SPARK Photo / Tobin Jones

The state of Gbudue borders the Democratic Republic of Congo to the south and the Central African Republic to the west, and is considered the breadbasket of South Sudan because the climate is conducive for farming. However, for farmers, access to high quality, certified seeds and agricultural equipment remains a challenge due to poor road conditions in and out of the state. Farmers are forced to rely on local seeds and occasional seed distribution by NGOs, which often doesn’t coincide with planting in the rainy season. 

“I had always wondered how to solve the issue of supplying certified seeds and equipment on time to farmers,” said Naumba Alice Gordon, a local farmer in Gbudue State.

Naumba Alice Gordon hard at work in the farm
Naumba Alice Gordon (second from right) with other winners of the Agro Processing business plan competition

Naumba recently participated in SPARK’s Agro Processing business plan competition, which offered agri-entrepreneurs the chance to receive business training, mentoring and coaching. “When I heard the announcement of this competition, I realised this could be my opportunity to finally serve my people”.

Naumba’s business idea is to import high quality seeds from Uganda and start a seed multiplication business, eventually selling on the seeds she produces to other local farmers. Naumba’s business will improve food security and move local farmers away from subsistence to commercial farming because of the increased yields that can come from better quality seeds. Farmers will be able to keep the crops that feed their families and sell off any surplus. 

The business competition was part of the Food Security through Agribusiness in South Sudan (FSA) programme, being implemented in rural areas by Cordaid, SPARK and Agritera, and financed by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The programme supports farmers by improving food security, youth-led enterprises, higher income and more employment for farmer households in South Sudan.

Naumba said: “It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. We had to undergo additional training and proposal writing. This had its challenges, for instance, access to the internet for research was difficult and the cost of secretarial services was high.” Despite the challenges, Naumba’s business idea was among just 10 that won financial support to get them started. 

Naumba’s hopes to one day package and sell her branded seeds under the name: ‘Naumba Quality Seeds, a product of Gbudue State, South Sudan’. Right now, she is searching for startup capital, but has already invested her own money in the business in order to get started. She said: “With the prevailing peace, thanks to the efforts of the government and support from organisations like SPARK, I am confident in realising my dreams”.