In January 2011 the South Sudanese people voted overwhelmingly, in a referendum established as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), to secede from Sudan and create the world’s newest nation (Figure 5-1).1 South Sudan has about 10 million people in an area about the size of Texas. Despite substantial national income from oil resources, the country’s income distribution is highly unequal. Over half the population lives on less than a dollar a day, government services are extremely limited, half the population lacks clean, potable water, and a third lacks access to health care.
Furthermore, histories of ethnic grievance coupled with meddling by political elites at the national and regional levels have caused local disagreements between communities over land use, land ownership, and resources to escalate into violent conflict. Such disputes typically manifest as raids to steal cattle and sometimes to abduct women and children. Although these raids have been portrayed as economic acts driven by young men needing cattle for marriage dowries, recent intertribal conflicts point to communal and political dimensions.
The cumulative effect of raids is a continual stress on farming, but agriculture in South Sudan is rudimentary in any case. Although more than 70
1 The introduction to this chapter is drawn from a background paper prepared for the workshop by Andrew Robertson, Senior Program Officer, US Institute of Peace.
FIGURE 5-1 South Sudan became the world’s newest nation in 2011. SOURCE: CIA World Factbook.
percent of South Sudan’s landmass is thought to be arable, and although the Nile and its many tributaries water these lands, only about 4 percent of South Sudan is farmed. Most land either lies fallow or is used to raise cattle—in most parts of the country, tribal culture has traditionally been pastoral rather than agricultural, and wealth and status have been measured by the number of cattle held, not harvest delivered to market. South Sudan’s limited agricultural sector is further hampered by primitive technology and high input costs. In 2009 the average value (in US dollars) of production per hectare farmed was $299 in South Sudan compared with $665 in Uganda, $917 in Ethiopia, and $1,405 in Kenya.
Even where agricultural surpluses exist, the absence of an effective national road system limits farmers’ ability to serve urban centers of consumption. With the exception of about 300 kilometers of paved roadway linking Juba to Nimule, transport occurs on gravel roadways that are inaccessible during the wet season (from approximately late April to early November). Such urban markets are mostly served by imports from Uganda or Ethiopia.
In addition, high transportation costs limit the adoption of inputs to improve productivity. Agricultural fertilizers and herbicides are almost
unheard of and, because of the cost of transportation, often do not warrant the productivity gains they provide. Replacing self-produced seed varieties with more productive varieties has been impeded by problems of access, training, and capital. Because little economic benefit accrues to early adopters, little incentive exists for investments in technologies to enhance farmer productivity.
Conflict disrupts the already meager food production by destroying scarce farm capital, driving farmers from their land, and disrupting transportation networks. During conflict, farmers are reluctant to invest in their farms. In the least developed nation in Africa, the investment is more basic than machinery. For example, in agricultural communities along migration routes used by pastoralists, fences are a crucial investment for successful farming; without them, cattle from transient tribes will enter fields to graze, greatly reducing yields or even destroying the harvest.
Long-term conflicts also tend to diminish the aggregate skill and knowledge of farming communities. Young men mobilized into militias for extended periods forget agricultural skills necessary to succeed as farmers. Furthermore, without assistance in both buying seeds and equipment and learning how to use them, young men demobilized from militias are unlikely to successfully reintegrate into rural farming communities.
Tim McRae of Food for Peace, USAID, explored the connection between peacebuilding and food security in South Sudan. The United Nations has defined peacebuilding as involving “a range of measures targeted to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities at all levels for conflict management, and laying the foundations for sustainable peace and development.”2 Reducing the risk of conflict and laying the foundations for peace and development require food security, McRae argued. The individuals most likely to participate in armed conflicts are males from rural areas with limited education and limited economic prospects. These are the same individuals who are most likely to work in the agricultural sector to produce food security. If they are not working in agriculture, they are more likely to foment conflict.
According to the United Nations, food security involves food availability, food access, and food utilization,3 and this definition has been adopted by other international organizations, McRae observed. All three elements must be realized to ensure food security and to create an environment that reduces the possibility of conflict.
Food availability refers to the physical availability of sufficient quantities of food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. Food may be supplied through domestic production, imports, or food aid. The 2012 crop assessment for South Sudan found that the country faced a cereal deficit of more than 473,000 metric tons.4 This shortfall was attributed to delayed rains, lack of fertilizers, pests, disease, poor technical capacity, and conflict at the border in addition to fighting internal to the country. Improving food availability in South Sudan requires improving technical capacity, including both production and logistics. Because of the bad road system, the movement of food is extremely limited for a large portion of each year. Building better roads would help reduce the travel time to markets and revitalize trade while providing other benefits, such as improving access to schools and health care facilities.
Food access involves the economic circumstances that allow people to acquire adequate resources for the provision of foods for a nutritious diet. It thus depends on household income, the distribution of resources within a household, and the cost of food. In South Sudan, poverty is a major contributor to food insecurity. Strengthening the agricultural productive capacity of households is essential to moving people from a state of economic deprivation to self-sufficiency, McRae said. Currently, the half of Sudan’s population that lives below the poverty line is unable to withstand shocks due to droughts, flood, crop diseases, pests, or theft of livestock, all of which are common in the country. People who are marginally food secure can be reduced to food insecurity by just one of these shocks, as happened when the government shut down the flow of oil in January 2012. Agreements were later signed to release the oil, but inflation and high food prices increased food insecurity. Higher agricultural productivity, improved resilience against various shocks, increased transportation capacity, expanded access to land,
3 According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, “food utilization” is “the way the body makes the most of various nutrients in the food” and is thus related to an individual’s nutritional status. Available online at www.fao.org/docrep/013/al936e/al936e00.pdf.
4 Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme. 2012. FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to South Sudan. Rome: FAO and WFP.
and better access to credit and to saving mechanisms would all improve food access in South Sudan.
The third component of food security has to do with food utilization, which involves adequate diets, clean water, sanitation, health, and basic principles of nutrition and proper child care. The high rate of poverty in South Sudan limits food utilization, resulting in malnutrition, which has negative impacts not only on personal health but on the growth and development of a country because it stifles productivity for entire economic sectors. More nutritional knowledge, greater access to potable water, and better overall health would help improve food utilization, McRae said.
USAID has been working in the state of Jonglei and other parts of South Sudan to build agricultural capacity, though these efforts have been impeded by continued fighting, especially as many groups have young leaders who are trying to prove themselves, according to McRae. Steps that can be useful include training and employment of local youth, better communications, support of the government’s capacity to meet basic needs, development of governance and budgeting skills in the government, knowledge transfer to small-holder farmers, and efforts to promote peace and communication in countries in conflict.
In asking how systems engineering could be usefully applied to improve food security in South Sudan, this breakout group framed a series of questions that they considered crucial to developing a systems-based solution to the problem:
What are the government’s and other stakeholders’ objectives?
What is the existing system?
What historical data are available?
Can a rough model be built of the current situation?
Could analogous situations contribute to such a model?
Could existing work inform the development of such a model?
To further organize their thinking, the breakout group adopted the model suggested in the morning session of the workshop by William Rouse (see Chapter 3) as a possible technical approach. At the level of people, the group identified calories per day, satisfaction levels, and immediate and long-term needs as important factors. At the level of processes, they identified
food production, information processes, education, infrastructure services, security, and conflict management as critical systems components. The organizations level included tribes, NGOs, process owners, and political parties. Finally, at the society level, government, regulations, and the international community were thought to play a significant role.
The group identified assumptions that seemed to span these four levels: predictability, the need for good metrics, sustainability, ownership of various aspects of the system, stakeholder buy-in for solutions, and cultural values. Among the challenges identified, in addition to those mentioned by earlier speakers, were vested interests, the conflict between immediate and long-term needs, the newness of the government, weak infrastructure, and corruption at various levels. Finally, the group discussed what one would need to know in order to decide between different options for agricultural development such as simple subsistence agriculture, highly centralized farming, or market-focused production.
The group identified expertise and other perspectives that would be needed to provide input into an operational systems engineering model—transportation, agricultural production, logistics, culture, nutrition, public health, the environment, and the dynamics of inter- and intra-tribal politics—and in doing so realized that the outputs of the model would provide compelling information for decision makers.
Finally, the group discussed what kinds of metrics would be appropriate for the model, acknowledging that they can be interdependent and at the same time point in different directions. Among the metrics identified were measures of stability, sustainability, growth of the society, and the access to, availability of, and utilization of food. For example, the percentage of malnourished people, income, food prices, and how quickly food gets to consumers would all be important. Metrics would also need to be used to establish a baseline to enable measurement of the results of implemented changes.
In the subsequent plenary discussion, workshop participants observed that part of the model could be constructed quickly as work progressed on the overall model. They also speculated that observations of ongoing changes in South Sudan could be used to reverse engineer how the system currently works. A dynamic analysis could provide guidance for policy interventions.
The challenge of applying operational systems engineering to peacebuilding is particularly formidable in South Sudan because the country is so new and faces so many challenges. In developing a model to link food security to conflict, the conclusion was that the best approach might be to start simple, determine the most important factors, and gradually add complexity.