The development of productive and sustainable agriculture in South Sudan has been severely constrained by persistent armed conflict, post-harvest losses, livestock diseases, lack of tools and machinery and weak institutions. As a result, the country’s agricultural production is far from sufficient to feed the growing population, including the many internally displaced people (IDPs) forced from their homes by armed conflict and violence in recent years.
As part of the Special Initiative Refugees of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) has since November 2014 been implementing a programme for the rehabilitation and stabilisation of livelihoods in the Equatorias and in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area. The programme has been working with small farmers, livestock herders and fishermen to increase production and foster food security. In the so-called ‘greenbelt’ of the Equatorias – a fertile region with considerable agricultural potential – the programme focuses on Lead Farmer Field Schools, an innovative approach that fits with the local context and promises the best results under the circumstances. Interventions have taken place in Western, Central and Eastern Equatoria in a total of 24 payams and 65 bomas.
Adapting conventional Farmer Field Schools
The programme first started work with conventional Farmer Field Schools before shifting to Lead Farmer Field Schools. In general, Farmer Field Schools are designed to enable small farmers to acquire agricultural know-how and improved farming techniques. The farmers learn through physical participation, discussion and observation. Training takes place on demonstration plots, and once back on their fields participants are advised by extension workers from government institutions. Agricultural inputs such as seeds, hoes, barbed wire, nails for fencing and watering cans are normally distributed for free.
GIZ had previously worked with conventional Farmer Field Schools in the framework of its Development-oriented Emergency and Transitional Aid (DETA) programme in South Sudan. The focus was on the following standard topics:
- Planting in line along a rope to optimise planting distance, thus increasing the number of plants and yields, and facilitating weeding.
- Sowing only one seed per planting hole to avoid competition for nutrients and provide optimal space and access to nutrients for each seedling. This should result in strong and healthy plants and good yields.
- The introduction of new varieties that are more virus-resistant or mature faster than the usual ones.
In the current GIZ programme in the Equatorias, farmers didn’t really adopt the new techniques introduced to them on the demonstration plots, in part because of the poor performance of extension workers and farmers’ generally sceptical attitude towards government representatives. Farmers also considered the field schools to be ‘owned’ by GIZ and the extension workers, not by themselves. Although GIZ provided training for the extension workers they remained largely ineffective.
Lead Farmer Field Schools
Against this background, in 2015 the GIZ programme abandoned the conventional approach in favour of Lead Farmer Field Schools. The new approach focuses on farmer-to-farmer training and does not involve agriculture extension services provided by the government. From the beginning the programme made sure that members of host communities, IDPs, returnees and refugees were involved in the Lead Farmer Field Schools as direct and indirect beneficiaries.
A Lead Farmer Field School is headed by a lead farmer elected by peers in their village on the basis of their experience and proven record of good agricultural practices and results. Instead of working with demonstration plots and extension workers – as in conventional Farmer Field Schools – the lead’s farm is the workplace where farmers meet and learn from the lead farmer and from each other.
Cooperation between GIZ, the lead farmers and the community is based on a Letter of Agreement (LoA) defining both the contribution of GIZ and the contribution of the lead farmers. The LoA also specifies the conditions under which the lead farmer passes assistance from GIZ on to the other participants in the field school. GIZ supports the lead farmers mainly with capacity-building measures and agricultural inputs, including seeds, tools and machinery. Lead farmers are trained by GIZ, and in turn train other small farmers. Lead farmers are also obliged to open their fields for project monitoring and to apply improved agricultural practices, such as intercropping.
The training services that GIZ offers are free. However, to strengthen ownership inputs are tied to a contribution (30– 50% in cash of the value of the inputs) and/or an exchange, for instance training and agro-services for other farmers in the community. Lead farmers also use the improved equipment they receive for demonstrations, and lend it to other farmers.
The GIZ programme facilitates links between lead farmers and resource providers such as oxen team owners, tractor owners, seed traders, agro-input dealers and transporters. The entire farming community benefits from these links, which are expected to become long-term relationships contributing to a sustainable increase in agricultural production.
In addition to the Lead Farmer Field Schools, GIZ supports farmers in the greenbelt with vouchers for good-quality seeds and agricultural services. The voucher system also strengthens the local private sector and increases purchasing power by creating work opportunities (bush clearance, fencing, ploughing). During the previous DETA intervention, GIZ just distributed seeds and tools. However, due to the large quantities required local traders couldn’t participate in the tender, with negative effects for their businesses and local seed production in general. In contrast, the voucher approach deliberately strengthens local businesses and seed production. It also improves the relationship between farmers and seed suppliers and supports customary arrangements, enabling smallholders to increase their farm-land and productivity by building on existing practices and relationships.
In 2015–16, GIZ, in cooperation with Welthungerhilfe, distributed around 10,000 vouchers with a total value of €400,000 to 420 subsistence farmers in the Equatorias. This resulted in 210 hectares of additional cultivated farmland, equivalent to an additional total cereal production of 600– 700 metric tons.+Vouchers were preferred to cash on the assumption that recipients would spend at least a portion of the cash assistance they received for purposes that would not have directly supported their agricultural productivity. Voucher recipients belong to small-scale farming households that own less than five feddans (one feddan = 60m x 70m) of farmland and are food insecure, i.e. the most vulnerable house-holds. Lead farmers are involved in the selection process, and farmers with more than 2.5ha of farming land are excluded. Vouchers are tailored to the production constraints and barriers of the small-holders. The aim was not to initiate job-creation measures, but rather to provide opportunities for needy small-scale farmers (especially female-headed households) to develop their subsistence farming into more business-oriented production.
Vouchers were provided for a range of purposes, including bush clearance, fencing, ploughing (tractor or oxen) and seeds. In principle, recipients contribute 25–30% of the value of the voucher, although for expensive services like ploughing the contribution is lower. Payments are only made when the service is fully completed in terms of quantity and quality. This has to be confirmed by the beneficiary as well as by the lead farmer or agricultural staff from the programme. Each voucher is registered with a number and the name of the beneficiary, and there is a maximum of two vouchers per recipient per season. Attempts to abuse the system immediately lead to exclusion from any further support. Although a final assessment/evaluation has not been completed yet, it is clear that counterfeiting would need considerable effort, and is very unlikely.
Following the recent outbreak of violence in South Sudan the programme is being remotely steered from Germany, as all expatriate staff have been evacuated. Staff in Germany are in regular contact with counterparts in South Sudan via email, skype, telephone and other means, including WhatsApp. Due to insecurity many farmers in the Equatorias have left their homes and villages and sought refuge in other areas of South Sudan or in neighbouring countries. GIZ is currently conducting a situational analysis to assess how many farmers are still in place in the various project locations. Lead farmers are the main contact points for GIZ during this exercise, and are gathering information on farmers’ whereabouts and the current status of agricultural production.
While it remains to be seen if the Lead Farmer Field School approach will have the expected positive results and a lasting impact, the approach fits with the local context, and many local stakeholders have acknowledged its effectiveness and suitability. Even under the extremely difficult circumstances that prevail in the Equatorias, activities have continued. Meanwhile, the high rate of redeemed vouchers (95%) indicates the overall success of the voucher approach.
Detlef Barth and Matthias Oesterle manage the GIZ programme Rehabilitation and Stabilization of Livelihoods in the Equatorias and in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area. Thanks to Hendrik Hempel for technical advice and support.