This week marks the two-year anniversary of South Sudan’s independence. To mark the occasion, here’s an incredible set of photos from the world’s newest nation that illustrates the resilience and determination of the farmers and the communities they strive to feed. Photographer Kelly Ranck of World Concern shares a personal story with each of her photos below.
I met Mary on a Tuesday at noon – the most wonderful time of day in South Sudan [read :"not so wonderful and ridiculously hot"]. Towering over my mere 5’4″ frame, the 6′+ woman gracefully sauntered over to shake my hand, barely a bead of sweat to be found on her beautiful and intricately scarred face.
Smiling all the while, Mary, a mother of eight, told me about her life as a farmer in Lietnhom. Despite being an experienced farmer, she has often been unable to harvest enough crops to feed all eight of her children. Mary works with other local farmers to make sure that the shared garden is watered twice a day and the crops are properly cared for. The farmers involved have even harvested enough crops to take some home and sell those that remain in the local market!
In the greater Warrap State, dry season - five painfully long months of no rain and extreme heat – farming is a rarity. This is tragic because, when implemented properly, it can provide food to fill the hunger gap that haunts every family for two (or more) months every year. After attending school in the morning, these brothers assist at their father’s farm. When Dad can’t be there, they watch over the land and do their part to take care of the crops.
When it gets too hot (by South Sudanese standards, of course), they need to bathe, or the boys just want to be kids, they jump and play in the water. Atak, their father, manages the only dry season farm for miles. For three years, he has been successfully growing crops year-round. In fact, his farm is such a success that he has trained and employs ten locals to work on his land and has made enough money to buy a generator that pumps water to his tomatoes, onions, simsim, pumpkin and okra. “My children are healthy because this work is good…they cannot go hungry. I don’t need to ask anyone to bring me seeds ever again.”
Twenty-three-year-old Kuekuek is still celebrating the independence of his beloved South Sudan; only two years old, it is the newest country in the world. As we would walk through the local market, his lanky, beautifully dark, 6’3” frame towering over me, Kuekuek emphatically reminded me, “Kelly, this is the land of opportunity.”
Sporting, without question, the toothiest grin in South Sudan, this woman spends a portion of her week working on a community-owned dry season farm. Along with 40 others, she is learning the ins and outs of farming even in the driest and most brutal of seasons. She plans to take what she has learned at the community farm and apply it to her personal farming methods in the coming years.
The war in Sudan killed roughly 2 million people and displaced more than 4 million. It depleted the country of a shared nationhood and any sort of infrastructure. South Sudan remains greatly impoverished, with over half of the population living below the poverty line. Two years post-independence, returnees continue to arrive in South Sudan every day. The war robbed an innocent people of their lives, homes, land and physical and mental capacity to see beyond surviving until the next day. Achol [pictured below] has seen the war through and knows what it means to start life from scratch. Though the hunger gap still permeates life in a big way, the people of South Sudan are resilient and hopeful about their country’s ever-improving future.
In any South Sudanese household, farming is a shared role. Yet, many would argue that women do the large majority of the work (possibly even all of it). Given their busy daily schedule of farming, caring for the household, and tending to the family, women work to complete household chores and farming as efficiently as possible.
Amid the chaos of the war, the Sudanese ability to successfully farm year round was tragically lost. Hiding in the bush, fleeing outside of the country, and living in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, the war left the people of Southern Sudan no opportunity to practice long-term cultivation. Rather than relying on natural self-sufficiency, most were forced into a life of dependency. These farmers meet under a large tree (the only shade to be found) to discuss future farming plans and trade/buy tools and seeds for the upcoming harvest.
During and after the war, food and water were provided in the form of handouts and aid. Survival was determined by the work and assistance of someone else. Over time relying on relief, as it was often the only option, transformed into a pattern of life. Most tragically, it became deeply engraved in the Sudanese cultural mentality. For 25 years, babies were born and people, of a variety of ages, died never knowing how to provide for themselves. Organizations across South Sudan are working to educate and train families to farm sustainably, so that they can provide for these babies.
As the dry season comes to a close and the hunger season, the period between cultivation and harvesting, appears without welcome invitation, it is time for the people of South Sudan to plant, plant and plant. These gorgeous women wait for members of their local community to buy, sell and trade seeds and tools. The dry season is coming to a close and it is time to prepare for a bountiful harvest.
In South Sudan, the going rate for an ox-plow is expensive and inconvenient. Yet, ox-plows can cultivate significantly more land in the same period of time that it would take to do so with traditional tools, such as maloudas. Mabok paid for his ox-plow through a rent-to-own program and now uses it on his farm as well as on the land of vulnerable families in his community. This last season, he was able to cultivate more than seven times that of the prior harvest. This is significant because of the many beautiful mouths he is responsible to feed.
Special thanks to Kelly for sharing these beautiful and illuminating photos with us. If you want to hear more of her stories and see more of these stunning photos, follow Kelly’s blog here: kelly.worldconcern.org