The CHF-trained OSIL Field Assistant shows off the produce of ground nuts harvested by the conflict-affected community.
Where only fear, death and destruction reigned, now income-generating crops are grown, new farming skills are learnt and a community is working together for a better future.
In Ingiri village, 68-year-old Sara Aba scrapes the leftovers from her simple lunch onto a plastic plate and walks with it to her garden. Tethered to a tree is a tan coloured young goat. Sara gives her leftovers to the goat and smiles as the goat munches happily.
|The blue placemark is an approximate location.|
The goat was given to Sara by MAG’s partner in southern Sudan, Operation Save Innocent Lives (OSIL), as part of the Sustainable Livelihoods and Mine Action (SLAM) project to improve the livelihoods of conflict-affected communities.
Sara lives in an area that has already benefited from MAG and OSIL’s land clearance and Risk Education activities. [See: SUDAN: From landmines to markets]
For Sara, a widowed grandmother, such assistance is quite simply life changing. She lives in a small mud and straw hut on the outskirts of the village, with her only remaining grandson, Diliga. Her husband, son and daughter-in-law, and two other grandsons all died through illness.
Sara and the goat she recieved from the SLAM Project.
With only a very small garden in which to grow crops, providing enough food for herself and Diliga – and paying for his school and medical bills – is a constant and energy-sapping battle.
She remembers with joy the day she was informed that she would receive a goat from OSIL:
“I had never reared goats before, and I wanted to do it right, so I attended a training course provided by the OSIL team. I never attended school, so the training was my first formal education. I even wore my best dress.
“In the training I learnt what my goat likes to eat, and how to keep her healthy and well. I know that I must protect her from the rains, and give her salt to lick sometimes. I have even named her ‘OSIL’ as a way of giving thanks.”
Sara’s goat will be ready to mate in December 2011. Her first kid will be returned to OSIL who will pass it on to another beneficiary also living in a mine-affected area. All further kids will remain with Sara. In time, she hopes to have as many as 10 goats. Then she will be able to buy a bride for her grandson.
Farming on a former minefield
A short walk from Sara’s hut is an OSIL demonstration farm, where villages learn and practice new and improved planting, weeding and harvesting techniques before taking these back to their own gardens.
The area used to be a minefield, but was cleared a year ago by a MAG technical team. Where only fear, death and destruction reigned, now income-generating crops are grown season after season, new farming skills are learnt, and a community is working together for a better future.
Sara's only remaining grandson, Diliga, whose parents and brothers all died through illness.
In December 2010 and January 2011, the community harvested about 600 kg of sorghum and 900 kg of groundnut from the farm. Some of this was sold to provide extra household income, some will be used as future seed and some will be eaten by the villagers.
In this growing season, the villagers will plant maize, sweet cassava and beans. The land has already been prepared and planting starts in early May. The local committee has already prepared a roster of work shifts.
“There can be up to 100 people working on the demonstration farm on the same day,” explains OSIL Field Assistant Baker Charles, who has been trained by another of MAG's partner in Sudan, CHF. “We have men and women working together. They shout and laugh and sing as they work and many say that they really enjoy these days of communal toil.”
Relieving women of the burden
Throughout the agricultural season, the OSIL Field Assistants show the villagers new and improved planting, weeding and harvesting techniques.
The traditional method of planting in this region is by simply walking slowly and throwing the seeds. On the demonstration farm, OSIL teaches the villagers to sow the seeds in straight rows, equal distances apart. This means each plant has enough space to grow, and weeding, pulling out diseased plants and harvesting is much easier. But there is also a rather unexpected added bonus.
“If the plants are sown randomly,” explains Robert May, OSIL’s Livelihood Coordinator, “weeding must be done by hand, with a lot of bending and stooping. Men refuse to do this kind of work, so all the burden is put on the women.
"However, if the plants are sown in rows, then hoes can be used for weeding. The men in the village like using the hoes so they are happy to help share the workload with their wives.”
Leaflets demonstrating fair distribution of activities by gender.
[Photos: Marysia Zapasnik/MAG]
Baker admits that although this new technique was demonstrated and practiced last season on the OSIL farm, not all the beneficiaries he had visited on his daily rounds had also used the improved technique in their own gardens.
Sara was one of the villagers who struggled with making changes in her own garden. “I am an old woman and it is hard for me to change the way I have worked all my life. I did try to use the new technique last season but I failed.
"The OSIL team have told me my work will be easier and my crop will be better if I use the new technique, so I shall try again this season. Who knows, maybe even an old woman like me can succeed and become a modern farmer. Then I shall be proud.”
As part of the SLAM project, OSIL has also distributed vegetable seeds – onion, cabbage, tomato, eggplant, okra and green pepper – and carpentry tools in the five villages of Yondu.
Life is still difficult for Sara and Diliga, but thanks to the combined work of MAG and OSIL, they now have hope for a better future.
• Reporting by Marysia Zapasnik, Community Liaison Manager, MAG Sudan
The SLAM project is a partnership between OSIL, CHF and MAG in South Sudan, and is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
12 May 2011