By Beatrice Mategwa
Dark rain clouds hang over a seven-acre field of crop and green houses, located in an area in Bor, where South Korean peacekeepers serving the United Nations Mission in South Sudan have turned fallow land into a productive farm.
A handful of youth are busy in the farm, either tilling or harvesting. They are not your regular farmers, or farm hands, but agriculture students on a 12-week farming course at the South Korean Vocational Training Centre, which has brought together youth from diverse communities in Bor.
“We have come here to get skills and knowledge. We have grown a lot of different crops, including corn, celery and cucumbers. We are going to train the whole community outside,” says trainee Peter Mathiei. “It is something good, because the knowledge that we have acquired here we are going to use in our communities. We are going to open up our farms, we will dig and we will cultivate our crops. If we sell those crops, we are going to have money, and that is self-employment,” he says with a smile.
Peter and a few others are squatting, skillfully weeding a section of the field inch by inch, while stealing glances at the darkening skies. A fast-growing species of maize crop has reached its flowering stage in just two months, and weeding the land will ensure the soil has sufficient nutrients for a plentiful and healthy crop.
Peter Mathiel dares to dream big, way beyond self-employment.
“I would like to open up a large plantation that will help the community by employing others and supplying markets with our products,” he says.
War-torn and hence food insecure South Sudan desperately needs enthusiastic and skillful farmers like Peter – and the safe environment required for them to grow their crops in peace. Armed conflict has severely reduced agricultural output, leading to the country being dependent on food aid from humanitarian agencies year in, year out.
Peter Mathiel acknowledges that peace is key to keep starvation and malnutrition at bay.
“We all know that agriculture is the back-bone of the country. If there is no food there is no country. What we want is to be able to farm, so that starvation will not disturb us anymore.”
Taab Gatkoch, another trainee, is nearby, harvesting cucumbers. Three medium-sized crates are full, ready to be sold.
“Now we have become farmers, we planted some stuff and it is working. We are not like before, with this training we can all together develop South Sudan,” says Taab.
Manyok Abraham is one of the instructors at the agricultural training ground. He is convinced that the interrelationship between peace and farming goes both ways.
“Conflict only brought poverty, but agriculture can bring welfare of the people. The current situation is different, you can see that the communities are now working together here at Hanbit [as the vocational centre is called]. Working together as a community through agriculture can eradicate conflicts and hunger at the same time.”
First Published by Gourtong