People in Mangok Amuol in South Sudan used to struggle to get enough food to eat, surviving off wild foods such as water lilies and collecting firewood to sell. Akol Deng remembers how she lived hand-to-mouth, earning barely enough to feed her children much less ever send them to school.
But since a project to change people’s lives called Building Resilience Through Asset Creation and Enhancement — Phase II (BRACE II) has strengthened the village, those tough days appear at least to be behind her and her family.
BRACE II is a multi-year project implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), with financial support from UKaid.
For three years, targeted households receive food assistance while they create assets that build their resilience to climate shocks. FAO provides seeds and tools to food insecure families while WFP provides a monthly cash transfer during the annual hunger season that coincides with the peak agricultural period. This ensures that people have enough energy to cultivate their land.
In Mangok Amuol, BRACE II participants recognized hunger as their main problem, followed by seasonal flooding which prevents children from reaching school and sick people from being able to receive treatment. At a community meeting, they agreed to establish a vegetable garden to grow their own food and a dyke road so their children could access school all year round.
“We now have vegetables which were never here before!”
“Before this project, nobody had vegetables in this village. The project has supported the entire community, not just those who worked on the vegetable garden,” says Akol. “We now have vegetables which were never here before!”
Through training from FAO, participants learn how to cultivate vegetables all year-round, not just during the rainy season. They also learn how to preserve seeds for new growing seasons, ensuring the sustainability of their vegetable production.
Mangok Amuol is in a swampy area in former Warrap State, and parts of the community can be cut off during the long rainy season usually from May to September. Flooding means children cannot attend school for months at a time, or their parents don’t send them due to the risks crossing the swamp.
“We built this dyke road so that our small children can go to school. I know that early enrollment of our children means they will succeed,” says Akol.
“We’ve seen the importance of this dyke,” says Alek Noor, who worked on the dyke alongside Akol. “Our entire community knows its value so we will repair it every year as water erodes it, so that it never goes away.”
The power of cash
WFP’s cash transfers to families had immediate benefits — they could buy food while they prepared their vegetable gardens. Some families were even able to invest in animals such as chickens and goats, building up an asset base to help them in times of shock.
Participants agreed that the benefits of the project were many — people were able to stay in their communities instead of migrating for work, they were able to enroll their children in school, and they could afford to buy small animals.
Nutritious food builds children’s lives
But the best thing, according to the vegetable growers, was that food security improved because people had access to nutritious foods that they grew.
“Now that my three years of participation in the project are over, I’m going to keep cultivating this vegetable garden so that I don’t fall back to my previous state,” promised Alek.