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More than half of the population in South Sudan lives below the poverty line. The high household reliance on cereals makes the population highly vulnerable to crop failure and sudden price changes. Agriculture is frequently subject to pest and disease outbreaks, seed shortages, erratic rainfall, lack of tools, labor and insecurity. On top of this, limited road infrastructure, absence of credit and other input support services, a reliance on very basic technologies and low labor contribute to low agricultural production.
The lessons learned from the 2011 response to the drought in Horn of Africa highlighted the inadequacy of emergency preparedness and alert mechanisms in slow onset crises, which resulted in delayed and inadequate humanitarian interventions. Oxfam, Save the Children and Concern Worldwide identified the insufficiency of market system analysis and livelihood and response analysis, as well as gaps in institutional technical and operational capacity as the main causes of the delayed response. This assessment applies learning from that experience to the South Sudanese context with the aim of supporting more effective, timely and appropriate responses to slow onset recurrent crisis via a pre-crisis market analysis. The target population of this assessment is the people who are most affected by drought, floods, and insecurity in Gogrial East County of Warrap State and Wau County of Western Bahr el Ghazal. The study focused on the agricultural labor market system, as labor is a critical factor for cultivation during the cropping season (essential for medium-term food security) and one of the main sources of income and food for the poor and very poor members of the community. For this assessment, 2010 was taken as the normal year and 2011 was considered as the emergency year.
The availability and accessibility of agricultural labor varies throughout the year. Key actors in the agricultural labor market system include the workers who perform labor and the farmers (usually with mid-size operations) who hire them. During the baseline year, the poor and very poor engaged in agricultural labor as a source of both food and income and also as a coping strategy. In normal times, access to and availability of agricultural labor is determined by the amount of land cultivated, which depends on the capacity of farmers to cultivate. Land in South Sudan is available, and farmers can cultivate as much land as they want as long as they can afford the agricultural inputs, including the cost of hiring labor. However, even during normal times, farmers have limited capacity to employ workers and pay good wages.
During emergency times, household income is reduced, increasing the income-expenditure gap for up to 6 months. This report suggests that the agricultural labor market system is not sufficient to cover the gap in household income even in baseline years, let alone emergency years. Floods have a negative effect on agricultural labor since they destroy crops in the field affecting production. People displaced into the area by conflict lead to higher labor supply and further competition for labor opportunities. Similarly, during droughts there are more people looking for agricultural labor opportunities as a way to cope with reduced agricultural production in their own fields, which leads to higher competition and lower wages.
Given the complexity of the agricultural labor system and the high variability among states, and even counties, there is no simple solution to address the challenges noted. It is recommended that work be done during the preparedness phase to understand the ratio of people that rely on labor as a main source of food or income. The Household Economy Analysis baseline should be updated as first step. The main operational recommendation is to support work on farms, through cash or food-for-assets schemes. This way, during emergencies, food production and the overall agricultural sector would be supported, triggering positive knock-on effects on market prices. The sector can also be supported through the provision of seeds and tools (which need replacing every one or two years), through direct distribution or local fairs, involving farmers and blacksmiths. The mechanism for delivering food assistance should be decided based on the functionality of the markets and their capacity to supply food, as well as the target population's preferences.