How South Sudanese community dug road to access market

Richard Sultan

Awi Michael stood at the edge of his cassava and groundnut farms, pondering on his next move. A year ago, the 51-year-old farmer, a veteran of the liberation war, promised to find a solution to his harvest that went to waste due to lack of access to the market.

For Awi and his village mates, every year brings new challenges. In the past, they had to deal with the challenge of elephants destroying their crops until they formed a local vigilante group and an alarm bell from an old metallic wheel to alert the residents in case the wild destroyer (elephant) is spotted within the vicinity.

Magwi, a rural County about 80 miles (120 kms) southeast of the capital, Juba, borders Uganda to the north and its one of those places that has suffered the brunt of the recent civil wars in the country in 2013 and 2016. Its vicinity to the Fulla National Game Park also makes its farmers vulnerable to wildlife-human conflict.

In 2022, while inspecting his green-looking farm, he pondered on  the next course of action. As a respected elder, he felt it was his responsibility to figure out a way. Burdened by the thoughts of how a man could work so hard and reap nothing out of it due to the inaccessibility of the market, he woke up the following day and headed for the chief’s house.

After a 30-minute discussion, the chief agreed to his suggestion and tasked him with mobilizing all the farmers for a meeting in five days.

When the farmers finally gathered, everybody, particularly the elephant vigilante group, seconded to the chief’s suggestion that they sacrifice two days of a week to dig (pave) the six miles (nine kilometres) path that connects their village to the main road such that they can transport their farm produce to the markets on the country’s only tarmacked highway that connects them to the Capital Juba where organic farm produce are on a high demand.

“This should not be a problem for us. If we can overcome the elephants despite their deadly nature, what about just digging roads, which is just like normal farming for us?” seconds Joseph Oryem, a member of the vigilante group, in support of the Chief.

This will not be a forceful exercise; for those who cannot take part, there will be a way.

“We are well aware that some of you might have pressing issues like sicknesses and family commitments that will prevent you from taking part, in that case, we advise you to contribute anything in kind to support the work”, says Chief Amoyi Kalisto.

Unlike in other urban towns in the country, where many community farmers form cooperatives to collectively market and sell their products by pooling their resources to negotiate better prices and access larger markets; farmers in rural Magwi County often prefer to sell their products directly at local markets in towns and villages. This allows them to connect with nearby consumers and avoid the complexities of long-distance transportation.

Today, the road leading to Magwi is a bustle of activities, with human and motor traffic heading for natural organic farm produce. The villagers are reaping the benefits of their hard work.

The need for organic farm-produced food spiked in recent months after imported food products from Uganda were discovered to be highly contaminated with a high level of aflatoxin deemed unfit for human consumption by the country’s National Bureau of Standards (SSNBS).

“Why will I have to buy poisonous food for my family when I can just drive for two hours to Magwi and buy organic maize, sorghum, groundnuts and other farm produce”, questions Okot Daniel, a 37-year-old resident of Juba who has made it a habit to drive there on a monthly basis.

 Charles Onen, a local government official in the county, says a lack of human resources and occasional insecurity have prevented the local farmers from establishing a proper cooperative despite their ability to produce more than their families need.

“The only thing these farmers receive is little agricultural extension services support provided by government agencies, NGOs, and international organizations. These services offer training, market information, and technical assistance to help farmers improve their production practices and market access without factoring in the major obstacles of roads and insecurity that has plagued the community for ages”, Onen said.

Onen adds that with just a little government intervention, Community farmers can explore value addition and processing techniques to increase the shelf life and market value of their products. This includes drying, packaging, and processing into value-added products like jams, sauces, or pickles.

“In Yei and Juba, there are lots of locally packaged honey and another farm produces in the supermarkets and market stalls as a result of value addition”, Onen cited.

However, all is not lost, with this newly paved road, comes access to the market and extra income in the pockets of the farmers.

“Where ever there is money, it becomes easy to lure the government into action”, Onen stated..

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