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In 2012, violence in the Sudanese border regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile States generated huge influxes of people crossing the border from Sudan to seek refuge and assistance in South Sudan. Over half of the refugees settled in Maban County, and by early 2013, refugees represented more than half of the local population. Four new camps were established in Maban in 2012 to accommodate these new refugees. At the same time, South Sudan was suffering a severe food insecurity crisis. The closure of the Sudan - South Sudan border in March 2012 significantly disrupted the main supply chain for sorghum. Food prices subsequently skyrocketed, especially in small communities.
Solidarités International commissioned a rapid market assessment based on the EMMA methodology and two HEA livelihood baseline assessments in Maban County in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of the livelihoods of refugees and host community members in the affected area, and to ultimately enhance the design of Solidarités International and other aid agencies' food security and livelihoods interventions. This assessment focused on host and refugee populations in Bunj Town and Yusuf Batil Refugee Camp and looked at the sorghum, vegetable and livestock market systems.
The primary source of commercial sorghum is imports from Sudan. However, in rural communities, a sort of informal economy for sorghum operates, where wealthier households with excess production barter sorghum for labor from poorer households. After the March 2012 border closure, commercial imports of sorghum from Sudan were severely restricted, which resulted in a significant increase of prices in the region. With the increasing arrival of refugees after July 2012, sorghum in the form of food aid rations entered local market places, brought there by refugees in need of cash. In Yusuf Batil Camp, however, the sorghum trade largely remains within the camp itself. Sorghum purchase and resale in Yusuf Batil Camp is dominated by a large number of small retailers, who directly purchase from and sell to refugees. There is also a small group of wholesalers who source small quantities of higher quality white sorghum from suppliers in Renk.
The vegetable market mirrors the sorghum market system in many ways. Rural households cultivate vegetables during the rainy season mainly for subsistence-level consumption. It is worth noting that vegetable wholesalers in Bunj also supplied significant quantities of certified vegetable seeds from Sudan in response to seasonal demand from rural households in Maban. With the closure of the Sudanese border, supplies of vegetables were disrupted, and there was a significant increase in prices. However, this has had little impact on wholesalers' ability to source certified vegetable seeds from Sudan. In addition, after the arrival of refugees and humanitarian agencies, demand for vegetables increased significantly, and supply increased in response. New supply routes from within South Sudan as well as increased local production have been developed in order to meet the increasing demand. Market traders in Batil Camp sourced out their vegetables directly from regional suppliers outside of Maban.
Before the border closure and the influx of refugees, the supply of livestock in Maban exhibited significant seasonal differences. During the dry season, pastoral Falata from Sudan settled near Bunj and supplied cattle, goats, and dairy products to the local community. During the wet season, pastoral herders from Longichuk brought cattle to the market. A small portion of livestock supplies also came from rural households and traders in the host community. As with sorghum and vegetables, the 2012 border closure led to significant increases in the price of livestock. Meanwhile, demand in the local market system has dropped by 30%. The arrival of refugees did not trigger further price increases but changed the local livestock market structure significantly by creating a new market for livestock products that meet the demand of refugee communities. This market shift affected the power relationship between livestock traders and retailers (butchers) in Bunj. A small number of traders and wholesalers are now able to control a large portion of the market due to the decrease of total trade volume.
Overall, this study's findings indicate that market systems in Maban County are dynamic and have responded effectively to increased demand. In the near future, markets may be impacted by declines in refugee incomes, increasing in sorghum production and better adjusted livestock trade systems. It is also clear that local livelihoods remain primarily at subsistence level, and demand is constrained by the limited cash income for both host community and refugee households. Based on these findings, this EMMA assessment recommends a comprehensive package including cash transfers, seeds vouchers and dairy vouchers for low-income refugee households. It also suggests a cash crop-focused strategy for middle-income host and refugee households that reevaluates the market systems for sorghum, maize, sesame, honey, and vegetables.