South Kordofan: the land is fertile yet food is scarce

06 January 2009 (IRIN)

Southern Kordofan state used to produce surplus food and cash crops, but poor infrastructure, limited access to markets, conflict and landmines have left large numbers of residents without enough to eat or sell.
Following the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North-South civil war, displaced civilians flocked back to the state in huge numbers.
Now, according to locals, they face food insecurity.
"Most of the returnees rely on traditional farming methods which do not yield much," said Adam Hawaja, a resident. "Even if we produce a lot of food, we have nowhere to take it."
During the rainy season, villages barely 40km from Kadugli, the state capital, are cut off for months.
According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), an estimated 39 percent of Southern Kordofan's population is food insecure - despite most of the land being fertile.
"The use of poor seeds, lack of technology as well as poor land preparation results in reduced yields," said Sungval Tunsiri, head of the WFP Kadugli sub-office. "The irrigation system is also not well-developed."
Due to the poor infrastructure, WFP pre-positions food aid three months in advance for distribution by local partners in areas that are inaccessible for months each year.
Road transport is, however, difficult even during the dry season, while some needy areas are difficult to reach due to conflicts between local communities.
"There is a need for technological support and good seeds," Tunsiri said. "[And] for more joint effort between the government and UN and other aid agencies as well as capacity building for the ministry of agriculture."
The protracted implementation of the CPA coupled with regional disparities had also contributed to the fragile state of food security, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
In addition, last year Southern Kordofan experienced below-average rains after flooding in 2007 that destroyed a lot of crops.
The toll of conflict
Conflict, which often peaks during the dry season when the herds migrate, was also a factor. "In areas near Lagawa [west of the state], people flee and cannot work on their land during [inter-communal] conflict between farmers and pastoralists."
Emily Henderson, head of project for the NGO German Agro Action in Southern Kordofan and Unity States, said internally displaced persons' (IDPs) subsistence mechanisms had been weakened by conflict and migration. It was also more difficult for them to access land in host communities.
A new state created by the CPA, Southern Kordofan lies between North and South, a zone of ethnic interaction between Arab (mainly Misseriya and Hawazma) and indigenous African (mainly Nuba) communities.
In a recent report, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that the CPA was at risk in Southern Kordofan. Many of the same ingredients that produced the Darfur conflict existed, it said.
"Inadequate implementation of the CPA's special protocol relating to the region has led to insecurity and growing dissatisfaction," the ICG stated in Sudan's Southern Kordofan Problem: The Next Darfur?.
"There has been some limited recent progress, but much more is urgently needed," it added. Ethnic and communal reconciliation to foster peaceful coexistence was a daunting but essential task. "More is at stake than the prevention of a local conflict."
According to the UN Mine Action Office (UNMAO), Southern Kordofan is one of 19 of 25 states in Sudan at risk of landmines or explosive remnants of war.
"The mines, which litter the countryside, pose a danger to the community that depends on agriculture and livestock," said Suleiman Nyamwaya, operations officer UNMAO Kadugli.
The worst-affected areas in the state include Kauda, the Western Jebels in Dilling and the southeast, including the locality of Kadugli, where the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement used to operate.
A Landmine Impact Survey is due to be completed in January 2009.
"The mines are not many but since the war was not conventional, the contaminated areas were neither marked nor recorded properly to facilitate future clearance operations," said Nyamwaya.
"When we arrived, we could not find vital records necessary for the planning of our demining operations and a lot of effort was spent in identifying the areas and sources of information."
As of 30 November, over 43 million sqm of land had been cleared across Sudan, of which 11.7 million sqm was in Southern Kordofan. UNMAO and partners are also clearing roads because the fear of mined roads has impeded delivery of humanitarian aid and hindered socio-economic development.
"It is difficult knowing where the mines were laid - it is like looking for a snake in the dark in a 10-roomed house," Nyamwaya added. "The redeployment of military forces after the signing of the CPA compounded the problem as most of the engineers responsible for laying the mines were out of our reach."
Changing lifestyles
One returnee, Halima Kurikwa, said: "Here there is no land to cultivate but at least my children can go to school."
A mother of four, Kurikwa told IRIN: "Before, I wanted to be sure that everything in El Ehamais [her home village in the outskirts of Kadugli] was safe. Now I have decided not to return to my farm since my husband has found a job in the town as a watchman."

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