May 30, 2016

Urban gorilla gardening in South Sudan

Urban sack farming South Sudan 2016

The civil war which broke out in December 2013 in South Sudan displaced thousands of civilians who are now living in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps near the capital city of Juba. SPARK, as part of its ABC programme, has recently started supporting agricultural, educational and empowerment & wellbeing initiatives for the displaced women in the camp. The team in South Sudan has introduced the innovative idea of sack gardening to provide livelihood support for the urban poor. Incorporating urban agriculture into IDP communities can play a critical role in creating vibrant spaces, enhancing sense-of-place and providing opportunities for social inclusion.

New opportunity

Over the years the refugee camps have taken on more permanent features as tent walls morph from fabric into metal, brick and rubble. An effective peace singing, which will allow refugees to return to their home safely, is still a long way off. Conditions in the camps are difficult especially for women who survive on food handout and day labouring which is notoriously violent.

The IDP camp is located in the Don Bosco parish around Juba and houses roughly 1,900 displaced people, largely from the ethnic group Pari from the Eastern Equatorial area. These groups of mostly women and children have fled to the south and many have lost their husbands in the conflict.

An opportunity presented itself to bring more sustainable practices to the camp when the local church allocated nearby land for cultivation. The area, roughly 1.5 by 1.5 KM gives families the chance to sustain themselves and to practice their traditional farming skills. SPARK and partners have stepped in to support the full utilisation of the land. As agricultural activities were favoured by the female groups consulted, this drove the project planning and any surplus crop can then be sold locally in order to provide essential services.

Urban farming

Urban farming solutions have been explored widely as a way to respond to crisis by building a sense of purpose, creating jobs and increasing food security. The use of sack farming in urban areas has been well documented in the slums of Africa but has not, until now, been used in refugee camps. Cloth sacks are filled with manure, soil and small stones which enable water drainage and SPARK is assisting IDP female youth to start their own agri-businesses with this method through training and in kind material provision. A total of 150 youth will be trained in farming along with business skills, finance management and product development.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is also involved to make sure the project is properly sensitized to the context. This will include the level of trainings needed and what disease and pest controls are necessary. Nursery beds have been set up and SPARK has been coordinating the delivery of equipment. Because of the current conflict, many women are afraid of leaving the camp so trading activities have been limited to within the camp for now. SPARK envisions that urban agriculture can become an instrument that could tackle household food insecurity if geared towards increasing urban food production, employment, encouraging productive participation in urban resource and efficient utilization of land along with attitude change from dependency to self-reliance.