Yei Farmers Eye Farming As A Business

Ngakoyi Farmers Group is vying for a stake in the highly lucrative locally produced food business which currently is unable to meet the huge market demand nationwide and has remained largely untapped in many productive areas of South Sudan.

Yei Farmers Eye Farming As A Business
Hired farm workers cultivating at the Ngakoyi farm [Photo courtesy of NPA]

By Tamama Norbert Mansfield

YEI, 22 April 2016 - For over a decade, the bulk of the population of Yei River County relied heavily on food from neighboring countries, especially Uganda.  Much of the population had sought refuge in neighboring countries during the fight for freedom. Many started to return home with the ushering in of peace in 2005 to begin life, practically from scratch.

The tedious task of rebuilding their livelihood eroded during the turbulent periods, took many people a considerable period of time to recoup what is left of the traditional village mode of living.

Over 10 years down the road, the predominantly foreign nature of food trade, is taking a new shape with more local suppliers venturing into the field.

The enormous demand for food country wide, coupled with prohibitive reliance on imported food, has caught the eyes of many local progressive farmers, like Ngakoyi who have seen the need and are willing to make profitable use of productive resources at their disposal.

Yields of food crops in South Sudan remain considerably below their agronomic potential with internal markets still at early stages of development, according to the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD).

Yei is endowed with fertile soil and sufficient rainfall. The area is suitable for cultivation of varieties of crops notably cassava which is widely planted and consumed. However little value is added to this profitable food crop, which if produced on a sizeable scale, through appropriate methods and processed, could transform the lives of many households.

Majority of the rural population rely on subsistence farming as their main source of livelihood. They produce food mostly for direct consumption with little or no surplus for sale missing the benefits agriculture production could have offered in improving their household income.

The rural farmers are aware of the benefit of production for market but most of them are unable to meet startup costs on their own. They lack the resources to access the much needed inputs, vital in the realization of good harvest which would have naturally made its way to the market with cash flowing back home at the end of the day.

Efforts to empower rural farmers to produce for market are championed by non-profit organizations in collaboration with the Government and local authorizes. The aid agencies are at the front of provision of funds, tools and trainings on improved farming methods to various farmer groups.

The sustainability of most of these Groups seemed momentary though, with a high likelihood of the members, parting ways, once the fund-tap runs dry. 

Majority of nascent-loosely formed groups, owing to several factors, plummeted, a few still have an uphill task, which would require continued support from aid agencies and other stakeholders, over a period of time, to push them out of infancy.

A handful of groups like, Ngakoyi Farmers Group, motivated by an all-embracing interest in farming as a business, chose to remain afloat and work for their share of this huge market.  

Formed in 2005 by returnees, whose main aim at that time was to meet the food needs of the members, the Lasu Payam based group, has come a long way. The group intended to expand their farm but lacked capital.

Their effort was bolstered with a small revolving grant and trainings in 2014 from the Smallholder Production and Marketing Project (SPMP) implemented by Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA).

The project which kicked off in 2013 supported farmer groups to produce for market.    
“For years we were producing low quantities of food because we lacked the capital for expansion.  However the grant from NPA has motivated us to aim higher” said Mr. James Karaba Silla, the group’s advisor.

The group grows mainly cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, watermelon and okra on its large plantation in addition to off-season crops, such as vegetables with the aid of irrigation. Cassava is the group’s main brand. Ngakoyi cultivated over 40 feddans of this crop last season and plans to continue with addition of more acreage in the near future.

The Ngakoyi member’s farm jointly “We cultivate as a group and at the end of the day divide the money earned from the sale of produce amongst the members with parts allocated to reserve and reinvested in the farm” explained, Mr. John Kepo, a group member.

The group registered as a cooperative society in 2011 currently relies heavily on hired labour which is elusive. “The local people are showing less interest in manual work” Mr. Kepo noted.

“Right now we are hiring farm workers, from Uganda and DRC Congo, to uproot trees and do weeding” Mr. Kepo added.

Access to tractor hire services, remains, distant, most times out of reach at the time of need.  

Authorities in the County Agriculture Department (CAD) likewise contented that scarcity of tractor for hire is slowing down agriculture production.

Mr. Edmond Gogo, the County Assistant Commissioner for Agriculture, said the Government and stakeholders are working on ways to address the challenge.  

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