Date Posted: September 15th, 2014
Along the fertile banks of the White Nile, a war veterans’ co-operative is planting a garden for peace and a food secure future in South Sudan. The garden is like a cornucopia in a country facing a potential famine.
Wilson Abisai Lodingareng is the founder of the Werithior Veteran’s Association, or WVA, in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan. He explains: “I have seven active members in the group, all former SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] troops. I call them when it’s time to weed the garden. I visit once a day, each morning, to check the health of the crops and to see what’s ready for the market.”
The WVA members grow one and a half hectares of vegetables on the banks of the Nile River, six kilometres outside Juba. Mr. Lodingareng says it was a struggle to obtain this prime but idle agricultural land. Many international investors had also expressed interest. It took him almost three years to acquire a lease from the community which owns the land.
Simon Agustino is the program officer at the Mennonite Central Committee, or MCC, in South Sudan. He remembers Mr. Lodingareng visiting the MCC office to ask for assistance with a proposal. Mr. Agustino recalls, “The veterans had no hope and no way to provide for their families. People thought he was wasting his time with digging. But he didn’t give up.”
MCC provided Mr. Lodingareng with capital to lease the land, pay for training in fruit and vegetable production, and buy farm supplies and tools.
Mr. Agustino says, “Finally he got land. [It] is now yielding and his crops are being sold at the market … more veterans are considering joining.”
The WVA veterans are members of several South Sudanese tribes. The association’s work demonstrates that agriculture is one way for people to look beyond tribal differences and work together. The group has transformed their field from a wasteland of long grasses and weeds to a garden bursting with leafy vegetables and herbs.
The co-operative started by growing okra, kale, mulukhiyah (jute leaves) and coriander. Mr. Lodingareng says, “These … crops [mature] quickly, within one to two months. Okra is harvested every three to four days.”
Mr. Lodingareng sees the group expanding into surrounding land which is currently fallow. He says, “I’m looking at … crops like maize, potatoes, carrots and eggplant. The first year has been a struggle. The next year should be much better.”
According to Mr. Agustino, many SPLA veterans engage in crime rather than finding work. But Mr. Lodingareng refused to turn to cattle raiding or robbery. He has a vision for the future of South Sudan. He says: “I did my part to put my country on the path to self-determination. Now my approach is to work hard. Me, I will do anything that can pull me out of poverty and improve my situation financially.”
He believes it’s never too late to take up farming. He says, “The political climate has discouraged many from planting this season. But if everyone planted gardens, things will improve.”
To read the article on which this story was based, War veterans planting for peace in South Sudan, go to: http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/