Photo: WFP/Musa Mahadi

Q&A: ForAfrika’s Berhanu speaks on challenges, immense potential in South Sudan

ForAfrika, a humanitarian and development organization, is implementing multifaceted programs designed to create lasting positive change in a number of African countries, including South Sudan.

ForAfrika, a humanitarian and development organisation, is implementing multifaceted programs designed to create lasting positive change in a number of African countries, including South Sudan.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Tamazuj, Mulugeta Berhanu, the Food Security and Livelihood Advisor at ForAfrika, delved into the organization’s impactful initiatives in South Sudan from addressing food insecurity to fostering economic empowerment.

Berhanu provides a detailed overview of their operations, emphasizing strategic approaches, collaborative efforts, and innovative solutions to challenges, including climate change.

Below are edited excerpts:

Q: Thank you for taking the time to share your insights with us today. Could you please introduce yourself and provide some information about your role at ForAfrika?

A: Certainly, and thank you for having me. My name is Mulugeta Berhanu, and I serve as the Food Security and Livelihood Advisor at For Afrika.

Q: Great. Now, could you give us an overview of For Afrika and elaborate on the organization’s activities in South Sudan?

A:  Absolutely. For Afrika is an international Non-Governmental Organization founded in 1984 in Johannesburg, South Africa, with its headquarters based there. We exclusively operate in Africa, spanning eight countries: South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda, Central African Republic, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.

In South Sudan, our operations commenced in 2002. Our multifaceted program encompasses Protection, Food security and Livelihood, health, nutrition, education, Water Sanitation and hygiene. Additionally, we are actively involved in the economic empowerment areas.

Q: Can you specify the areas in South Sudan where ForAfrika is currently implementing programs and explain the rationale behind selecting those particular areas?

A: Certainly. In South Sudan, we operate in 10 counties across five states: Northern Bahr el Ghazel state, Warrap, Unity, Central Equatorial, and Jonglei State. Specifically, we are present in Aweil South, Aweil West and Aweil Centers in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, Twic and Gogrial in Warrap state, Rubkona in Unity State, and Juba in Central Equatoria State. We also extend our operations to Bor, Twic East and Pibor in Jonglei state.

The selection of these areas is strategic and driven by the pressing issue of food insecurity. According to the latest UN IPC report, Jonglei and Unity are identified as the top two states with the highest proportion of their population facing food insecurity between September and November, at approximately 61% and 58%, respectively. Other locations, such as those in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State and Warrap Area, show potential for development activities.

In Juba, where we focus on economic empowerment, the urban context and high economic intervention needs guide our efforts. While we aspire to cover all parts of South Sudan, resource limitations currently influence the extent of our coverage. Our goal remains comprehensive intervention across the region.

Q: Are you coordinating with other partners to avoid duplication of efforts in the same areas?

A: Yes, we actively collaborate with various partners, including WFP, FAO, UNICEF, and the South Sudan humanitarian Fund, who are our major funders. In terms of coordination, we engage in multiple forums such as the FSL, WASH, Health, Nutrition, Education, and Protection clusters at the national level. Additionally, we coordinate with relevant government structures, sector offices, and the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission. Before entering new areas, we conduct a thorough needs assessment to identify gaps, ensuring our interventions are targeted and avoid duplication.

Q: We understand that access to clean water is an issue in many areas in South Sudan. Could you outline the methods ForAfrika employs to provide access to safe, clean water in the areas you focus on?

A: While I’m not the wash expert, I can provide an overview of our efforts. Our wash intervention aims to bring clean water, dignified sanitation, and effective hygiene practices to communities, schools, and health facilities. We focus on water supply by developing durable wash infrastructure like wells and boreholes. Additionally, we invest in sanitation and hygiene education, ensuring sustainability through the establishment of water user committees. Techniques such as water catchment conservation and promoting tree planting around catchment areas contribute to long-term sustainability.

Q: We understand that ForAfrika also works in the health sector. How do you ensure increased access to essential healthcare services, and what capacity-building initiatives do you provide to local healthcare centers?

A: Our collaboration with the Ministry of Health at state and country levels helps us identify needs and gaps, allowing us to provide services. Currently, we operate in the extremely remote Greater Pibor Administrative area, delivering services in 13 health facilities through partnerships with UNICEF and internal funding. We ensure community access to services using health and nutrition workers. In terms of capacity-building, we coordinate with state and county line ministries, providing training to local staff on treating common ailments in line with county health policies.

Q: Where do you believe ForAfrika is achieving success and making an impact in boosting food security and livelihoods in South Sudan?

A: Our FSL program focuses on saving lives while enhancing the capacity of affected communities to produce their own food. In collaboration with WFP, we implement asset creation and livelihood projects in Aweil South and Gogrial West in Warrap, resulting in improved food production. We’ve expanded our cultivation of rice and cassava, crucial climate-resilient crops, with high adoption rates by local communities. Notably, our success in promoting community vegetable gardens, linked to shallow water wells and multipurpose ponds, has been visible and is being scaled in various areas. Similar interventions in remote locations like Pibor, working with FAO to promote vegetable gardens around 26 nutrition centers, have been successful in improving nutrition for both mothers and children.

Q: In terms of the economy, how many people in South Sudan have benefited from your programs of strengthening livelihoods and increasing household income by providing training and support that assist people in gaining valuable employment skills?

A: This year, we are supporting approximately 700,000 individuals across various programs, including food security. Specifically, our economic empowerment activities in Juba, conducted in partnership with WFP, focus on the Urban Safety Net project. This initiative supports nearly 1,500 households, translating to around 7,000 individuals.

Out of the targeted 1,500 households, we have successfully supported 460, with a majority being women. These individuals received training in small business management, startup capital, and assistance in establishing their own businesses, leading to income generation. Additionally, we’re providing intensive vocational training to around 450 households in Juba, covering areas such as tailoring, hairdressing, salon tutoring, electricity, and computer skills. Graduating the first batch of 318 households, we provided startup kits, and the remaining 132 are expected to graduate by the end of December.

Q: What unique challenges and opportunities do you see in South Sudan? And what measures are being introduced to reduce the effects of climate change in areas where you have farming projects?

A: South Sudan faces numerous challenges, including poverty, food insecurity, climate issues, and drought. However, our development activities aim to address these challenges, leveraging the opportunities that outweigh them. Over 75% of South Sudan’s total area is suitable for agriculture, with 50% considered ideal farmland, offering vast untapped potential. The country’s extensive wetland resources, covering 50% of the total area, present opportunities for significant fishing potential.

To combat the effects of climate change, we focus on promoting climate-resilient crops like rice and cassava. Rice, being both resilient to flooding and a potentially high-value export crop, is particularly promising. Infrastructure development, such as rehabilitating dikes along the Nile River, helps mitigate extreme climate events.

Q: Do you have a final message?

A: My final message is to emphasize South Sudan’s immense agricultural potential. Despite current dependence on imports, there is a substantial market demand for food production. Supporting our farmers in investing and producing surplus crops not only enhances their income but also contributes to achieving food security. By harnessing the country’s potential, we can make food security a reality in South Sudan. Let’s unite our efforts to bring about positive change in this crucial area.