Traffic hyped on all the feeder roads leading to Ngindo Center, an agricultural knowledge transfer hub 15km away from Yambio town on Thursday, November 14th, 2019. To witness the official launching of the aggregation of maize grain, as part of the Small Agricultural Market Support (SAMS) project, which is supported by WFP and implemented by Star Trust Organization in the former Western Equatoria State Counties of Maridi, Ibba, Yambio, Nzara, Ezo and Tambura. The primary objective, of the project, is to provide market to rural farmers in South Sudan. The occasion was graced by Hon Gibson Wande State Minister of Agriculture (Gbudue State) and Yambio County Commissioner. The event drew different UN agencies that included FAO, UNHCR WFP field office Representatives, INGOs, NNGO and CBOs (CORDAID, RDAA, Kush Bank, Nile Sisters) supporting production and productivity in the area.

Briefing the guests on the occasion was STO Executive Director Mr Tangun Stephen who gave an overview of the project that was piloted last year and knowing well that the project has been able to fix a critical gap in the agricultural value chain in the region. The impact of the project on farming population in Western Equatoria has been great, stating that last year alone the project reached 2169 House Holds and injected a total sum of 23Million South Sudanese Pounds (SSP) into the rural economy of the community. There has been a shift in the livelihoods and leaving standards of the people in Ngindo as mentioned by the chief of the area Mr Mokozi that last year alone many farmers afforded to purchase bicycles and pay their children to school citing the opening of the aggregation centre in Ngindo.

While post-harvest loses remain a huge challenge to farmers in the region, the SAMS project also aims at reducing these losses by training farmers on best post-harvest handling practices and provides modern household storage equipment. The eye-catching silo (capacity 0.35MT) was on display together with hermetic bag and a hand shelling machine, these types of equipment are available at the centre on cost-share bases. From the lessons learned last year the number of female farmers who sold was 9 folds lower than the male counterparts i.e. 10% of the total number that was reached. Acknowledging the multifaceted challenges that might have caused this; inaccessibility to the hub disadvantaged women, by contributing to low income, and access to information. A tricycle (Rickshaw) has been stationed at the centre to aid women who will need to sell at the centre, meanwhile getting access to information and getting custody of their incomes.

  The SAMS Project Manager, Justin Mbiri gave a detailed explanation of the procedures involved at the Rural Aggregation Center (RAC).  Stating that, once a farmer arrives at the RAC, quality is ensured by cleaning, packing and standard moisture content confirmed, however, at the site, is a solar dryer that is used to meet the recommended 13.5 moisture content. Payment is made on a weekly basis by Kush bank a private sector partner. While talking to the farmers, the Kush Bank Manager pledged free financial literacy to the farmers and encouraged them to open accounts to improve their savings.

And while addressing the occasion the WFP Head of Field Office, Russom B. Habtegabriel resonated the multiplier effect of the SAMS project by saying “It is not only buying…. It has a training component that begins at the production level with FAO and post-harvest handling with WFP and STO. The region has high postharvest losses of 40% compared to the 30% regional average. “Reducing this would be a big boost to our economy” he continued to say that the SAMS project comes with improved technology to preserve grains for a longer period for consumption as well as seeds. Market access remains a vital agenda to the restoration of productive capacity under pillar 3 of the Partnership for Resilience and Recovery. This project has been commended by different stakeholders in the state, however, the price per 50kg remains a challenge to farmers as mentioned by the farmers’ representative and the chief. WFP head of field office was quick to Explain, “the price is determined based on the average of the weekly price assessments done by different partners. And also, it is a policy that we do not want to disrupt the demand and supply principle in the local market” WFP is committed to scaling up he said, thanking the government for creating enabling environment and the hard-working farming community of the region.

The SAMS project supports many other projects of WFP including the school feeding program and other nutrition programs. This project employs “from the community to the community” strategy, where maize bought locally is used for the school feeding program in the locality and feeds IDP and returnees if any. Western Equatoria Nicknamed has the breadbasket is expected to do more. Given the short back in the quantity that WFP needs to procure locally.

It was time for the chief guest of the function, who thanked everybody and referred to Ngindo as the centre of co-location. One of the Four Cs in the Resilience and Recovery framework. He thanked the agencies for upholding the spirit of the partnership for Resilience and Recovery (PfRR) citing FAO support to production and productivity, STO implementing and WFP providing market for the produces and at the same giving it back for the school feeding program. While addressing the farmers he encouraged them to cultivate more since they have a ready market. He went on to explain that the absence of the private sector is what gave birth to the SAMS project. WFP is not a business entity; however, they procure food to distribute to the communities affected in South Sudan including schools, that is why they cover for the private sector. He mentioned the benefits of the aggregation centre that its proximity to the community has comparative advantages on the time, access and quantity to be sold. The minister encouraged farmers to increase their farm acreage and he appreciated the gender-sensitive approach taken in operating the aggregation centre for this year, with the provision of the tricycle to support the women farmers to have access to the market on equal terms with men. However, he cautioned them on the management of the tricycle and said it should not be used for the prosperity of the area, not conflict.

Guests inspecting the Tricycles (Rikshaws) used in supporting women transport their produces to the RAC, Thursday 14th November 2019

Ngindo Aggregations centre demonstrates PfRR in action, it is the result of collective efforts of partners and different stakeholders amplified to benefit the community. STO has replicated this model of Rural Aggregation Centers as knowledge transfer hub across different counties and Payams in the former Western Equatoria, where farmers have access to knowledge on agronomic best practices, post-harvest handling, and techniques, basic literacy and numeracy, financial literacy, value addition, etc… With the prevailing peace in South Sudan, production and productivity are set to increase and Western Equatoria is set to live up to its Nickname as the breadbasket of South Sudan.

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