Mayak Akuot

South Sudan: Planting seeds in time despite COVID-19 restrictions

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered travel and movement restrictions and is hampering ongoing humanitarian operations around the world. In South Sudan, humanitarians had to adapt to these new challenges so that life-saving interventions are maintained and vulnerable communities continue receiving the support they need.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its partners were quick to implement additional measures and scale up capacity so that CERF-funded seed distributions were carried out before the upcoming planting season begins.

“If we miss this planting season, farming families could fall into a hunger catastrophe in a few months’ time,” says Meshack Malo, representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in South Sudan.

FAO and partners are working hard to distribute around 10 000 metric tons of seeds, including maize, sorghum, groundnuts, cowpeas and vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplants, to vulnerable farmers in Northern Bari Payam, Central Equatoria State. These seeds will eventually grow to around 800 000 metric tons of food to feed several hundreds of thousands of people.

“We are determined to overcome the challenges that the coronavirus has presented, and that means working in an agile way to find solutions to ensure farmers can plant this season,” Malo says.


Implementing partners are preparing a community distribution. Credits: FAO/Mayak Akuot

In partnership with the Government of South Sudan, FAO has sought an agreement to allow transportation of seeds to the counties and villages where they are needed most. By moving quickly, they have so far delivered 4 000 metric tons of seeds and hand tools, with more to come. 

Humanitarians also need to change the way they work to ensure the safety of community members and staff. Seed fairs, where farmers and seed traders are brought together by FAO, have been suspended. Instead, vulnerable farmers are receiving cash so that they can purchase seeds directly from vendors.

Around 25 percent of the seeds are sourced locally, meaning shorter value chains and less logistical hurdles to get the seeds from the producers to where they’re needed.


A farmer washes his hands at a recent seed distribution. Credits: FAO/Mayak Akuot

To encourage physical distancing, seed distributions are taking place in villages rather than at the county level so that fewer people are brought together at one time.

Additional livelihood support is being provided to people living in the highly congested Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and Protection of Civilians (PoC) camps in Wau where social distancing is near to impossible. People choosing to return to their village to free up space in these camps is receiving crop and vegetable seeds, a fishing kit and essential agricultural hand tools so they can resume farming. These efforts are carried out in close collaboration with the UN Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS).

Victor Onenchan is an Area Coordinator in South Sudan and organizes seed and tool distributions. “We have spoken to community members about the virus and explained why they need to keep their distance. It was strange to them at first, but they took it positively,” he said.

Like many people around the world at the moment, Onenchan is working from home rather than going into the office each day. In Juba, his electricity is supplied by a generator so when it cuts out as it sometimes does, the internet is also cut off.

“But we are still managing to work, and the seeds are moving,” he says. 

This year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, FAO plans to reach 4.8 million people – or around 800 000 vulnerable households – with livelihood support. Following the outbreak of the pandemic, CERF has allocated US$ 3 million to support FAO’s efforts in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso and Haiti. Funding will help to protect the livelihoods of vulnerable families depending on agriculture and livestock, safeguard the functioning of the main markets, carry out awareness raising for stakeholders of the food and labour-flow systems and much more.

This funding is part of CERF's global allocations, totaling US$ 95 million, to kick-start efforts towards the Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP). All latest information on CERF and CBPF funding for COVID-19 is available in real-time via https://pfbi.unocha.org/COVID19/