Mary lost her husband 10 years ago; he was killed during a cattle raid, a common occurrence and a major cause of conflict and displacement in the Greater Pibor area where she lives. As is customary in these parts, after the death of her husband, Mary was “handed over” to his younger brother, now the biological father of her three youngest children.
“My relationship with my husband’s brother was rough from the start as we frequently quarrelled and he beat me,” she says casually, while gathering a bunch of leafy green vegetables.
His abusive behaviour led her to flee with her children to Pibor town, a dusty, desolate area along the banks of the Pibor River. She did all she could to earn an income to feed her family – including collecting firewood and selling water.
As head of a household with many dependents, Mary was prioritised by a local committee to benefit from the gardening project, funded by the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SSHF) and implemented by ForAfrika (formerly JAM).
ForAfrika introduced agricultural training among mothers whose children are being treated at the malnutrition clinics we run in South Sudan. The women are given “livelihood kits” containing seeds and tools and can then put their new skills to work in communal gardens under the guidance of our Food Security and Livelihoods assistant, Adam Omut.
“With my garden, I have managed to include nutritious greens into my family’s diet. Together with the nutrition education and services that my family gets [at ForAfrika’s outpatient centre], I have been able to feed my children well and keep them healthy,” she explains.
Besides putting food on the table, Mary is also able to sell any surplus to buy other household necessities.
“Whenever I am in need of cash, I take a portion to the market. With the money I earn, I can buy some salt, oil, meat and fish for my children. The vegetable market in Pibor town is very good and there is huge demand for vegetables,” she adds.
The market serves many of the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces working in the area. Many of the “Blue Helmets” are vegetarian and enjoy the fresh produce they can acquire from the local women.
Mary says her dream is to expand her garden and acquire a treadle pump to help her keep it watered.
With the support of the SSHF, ForAfrika is providing food security and nutrition support to over 10,000 families (60,000 individuals) in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area.
Sustained efforts, such as supporting community members diversify their food sources to include nutritious vegetables, and advocating for improved feeding practices, have shown high impact on the nutritional wellbeing of children under five in Pibor and other places.
In 2022, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) estimated around 1.34-million children under five years are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition based on the results of the SMART nutrition surveys, Food Security and Nutrition Monitoring System (FSNMS) and programme admission trends, in South Sudan
Pibor has seen high malnutrition rates in recent years. Although this year’s mass screening activities (conducted by ForAfrika) indicate a proxy GAM rate of 20.3% compared to 21.6% in 2021, they remain above the WHO emergency threshold of 15%.
The major factors contributing to acute malnutrition include high prevalence of diseases and inadequate feeding practices of infant and young children. Elevated levels of food insecurity (IPC Acute Food Insecurity Phase 3 or above) in most counties also contribute to acute malnutrition.
Andrew Ewoku is ForAfrika’s Communications Officer in South Sudan