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Mr. Leonidance Andrew Rugemallia Head of WFP Field office in Renk

WFP’s food purchase in South Sudan’s Renk brings peace dividend to residents 

By Benjamin Takpiny and Oyet Patrick

In South Sudan’s Renk town in the northern part of the country, restaurants, guesthouses, shops, and new constructions are springing up everywhere.

Renk hosts between 150,000-200,000 people according to the United Nations World Food Program, the area’s residents are either selling in the market, working at the Nile River port or in the farms.

Since the country’s 2018 peace deal, Renk town, which borders Sudan, has enjoyed relative peace. Many who had fled the 6-year violence prior to the peace accord have now returned to their own homes.

Agriculture is providing opportunity for those who returned from refugee camps to work and re-build their lives.

Viviana Ador, a 33- year old mother of five who had fled the 6-year civil war in South Sudan returned from a refugee camp in Sudan four years ago.

Sine then, she has been working in one of the warehouses in Renk, cleaning and packaging gum Arabic in bags.

“If you work here, you get money, the money is helping me resolve my problems, I buy food for my children, I buy clothes for my children and my children can go to school, it’s the money I get here that helps me.” Said Ador.

Ador says she earns about 55,000 South Sudanese Pounds daily ($13).

Viviana Ador, a warehouse worker.

One warehouse employs more than sixty women.

Other women found in the warehouses are the food vendors who sell tea and food to those working in the warehouses.

South Sudan’s government through Agricultural Bank built three warehouses in the area however; the facilities could not store all the produce.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has set up six more structures and it says it plans to have eight more storage facilities to help farmers.

 “WFP’s mandate has been first of all to do the structural improvement on the storage facilities, so where we are now, helps support the farmers to keep their harvest specifically, sesame, sorghum and gum Arabic, one store which has the capacity of six thousand metric tonne is allocated to sesame and gum Arabic.” Said Leonidance Andrew Rugemalila, head of WFP’s field office in Renk.

The WFP has also built a fence around the warehouses 

Part of the fence built around the warehouses in Renk with WFP’s support

Everywhere your eyes turn to in and around the warehouses there are people, many men are in the business of offloading produce brought from the farms into the warehouses and loading processed produce into trucks heading to the market of distribution centers, thanks to the WFP’s purchase of surplus produce in Renk which began in 2017.

One such employee is Ameel Guchweng Deng, a 22-year- old who completed senior four in 2021 and is waiting to join university.

“ My advise to young South Sudanese people is; to let by gone be by gone, now we have peace and we have job opportunities, we should work and help ourselves and our families.” Said Ameel.

Many in Renk share similar thoughts to that of Ameel, a lot of them have seen violence on both sides of the border, they had sought refugee in Sudan during civil war in their country only to find themselves in the middle of another violence when former Sudan’s president Omar Al Bashir was overthrown, consequently, chaos and political uncertainty followed.  

They had to return to Renk and they have found peace and work in the agricultural sector, which they are not ready to let go.

“I get money, my children are in school, I am saving money and if there is any emergency that needs money in my family, I can avail money so, I am happy that farming is going well, WFP is buying produce from our farmers.” Said Gisma Kak, a tea seller beside a warehouse.

In 2021, farmers in Renk produced and sold 23,000 metric tonne of surplus sorghum to WFP according to Rugemalila.

“The 23,000 metric tonne was more than 50% of what we had targeted to get from the area, we had targeted 40,000 metric tonne but some of the sorghum were sold to traders.” He explained.

He said since 2017, WFP has injected about $13.5 million in the purchase of white sorghum from the area.

The food WFP buys from Renk is used to support school feeding programs in areas where there is food shortage.

The United Nations and South Sudan’s government reported early this year that 7.7 million people in the East African country face acute food shortage and WFP says it’s targeting to reach 4.5 million people with food assistance.

“This purchase is providing business opportunities for traders and transporters; even to boys who sell water in warehouse areas, ports and shops, it’s also enhancing good relationships amongst the farmers and traders within and outside Renk, hence contributing to peace.” Said Rugemalila.

Sample of the food bought by WFP from Farmers in Renk

Rugemalila says agriculture keeps everyone in Renk engaged and earning income especially the youth who now don’t have time to involve themselves in conflicts.

The Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Forestry in Upper Nile State, Mary William told Juba Echo in Renk that the area has 1,500,000 hectares of land dedicated for agriculture and currently about 500,000 hectares is cultivated. 

 “We now don’t have food stuck in the stores because WFP is buying it from farmers, that has brought hope to farmers and they are now preparing to cultivate more because they have market unlike those years where their food could get spoiled in the stores because there was no market.” Said Mary.

South Sudan’s government is also getting revenue from agriculture in Renk through taxes levied on the farm produce.

However, farmers complain of government coming up with new taxes every season and that they are always not informed of the changes only to be surprised with demand notices, that they say is making planning difficult.

They also say they face shortage of fuel needed for mechanized farming. A drum of fuel (200 liters) currently costs 200,000 South Sudanese Pounds in Renk.

The chairperson of farmers Union in Upper Nile State, Simon Kiir Adiang said the high fuel price may end up affecting prices of agricultural produce.

“We are ready to start farming as the season begins, in Upper Nile we only depend on farming, but unless we get support from the government and other well-wishers in terms of subsides on fuel, the prices of our produce will also go up which may negatively affect sales” Said Adiang.

WFP is appealing to the government to waive taxes on agricultural inputs, outputs and subsidize fuel meant for agriculture in order to stimulate more production not only in Renk but also in other parts of the country and in turn promote peace across the ten-year old state desperate to get back on its feet after a long civil war.

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