Rows of plants teeming with plump red tomatoes are everywhere you look. In the distance, sukuma (collards) stand tall next to a field of eggplants the size of footballs. It’s a Farmer Field Demo Day in Torit County, South Sudan, and everyone has come to see what Erwa Joseph, the vegetable farmer selected to host the demo, has achieved in the dry season by pumping water from the Kenneti River.
“This kind of event is really important because it allows others to see what is possible. You can start small, with whatever you have, and someone will be there to support you,” says Andrew Yunda, Deputy Team Leader of the Water for Eastern Equatoria Programme. “These demos bring together different stakeholders – other farmers, the local community, government, business partners – who can take from the knowledge shared and expand on it. Be it an individual initiative, like a farmer who decides to apply the same techniques, or partners who see new linkages like the new farm service centres stocking the right seeds at the right time and making sure the necessary tools are available for sale.”
Learning by doing
Funded by the Dutch Government and implemented by NIRAS as lead in partnership with WE Consult and Witteveen+Bos, Water for Eastern Equatoria is five-year integrated water resource management project that aims to foster resilience, deliver economic development, improve health, and promote peace in a long-term, participatory process. The programme targets three key components — integrated water resource management, water for productive use such as farming or livestock, as well as safe water and improved sanitation and hygiene. Livelihood-creating, quick-impact interventions with a long-term perspective are also a key part of the project and cut across all three components.
Erwa was selected to host the “farmer field demo day” in Torit because he was very active in a group of farmers supported with training as part of the project. He had started by himself, growing bananas and papayas on a very small scale about five years before. In the early days of the project, Joseph received sweet pepper seeds and did so well on his own, it was felt with a little support he could really scale production up. Thanks to his determination and hard work, he was selected to receive additional support from Premium Ago Consult, an agribusiness development service based in the capital, Juba. Two partners from the firm, Ramson Duku and Taban Elizara, spent considerable time with the farmer.
Their support began with a three-day training on the practical aspects of establishing a viable commercial farm and assessing where Erwa’s skills and interests lay. Then over a period of about five months, they went to work side by side with him on the farm, clearing and preparing the land, establishing a nursery, doing bed layout and preparation managing the crop, advising on weeding, pest control and the like ... essentially offering in-person guidance during each phase. They even went so far as to research the market and advise him on what prices he should be charging and how to calculate this going forward while taking all his expenses into account.
“It’s important to physically be with farmer. Providing technical support is key because hands-on practice is the best way to ensure they have understood the process and know how to resolve problems,” Ramsom explains. “You can bring someone tomato seeds and equipment, but if he doesn’t know what to do with them, it’s useless. That’s the difference here.”
But also on the farmer’s side, commitment and patience is critical. As far as Joseph is concerned, there was no shortage of this. In the early months, he slept next to his crops every night to keep animals at bay. All the hard work has paid off. The output has been tremendous in just a few short months, and it is even possible he will complete three more planting cycles over the course of the year.
I was deeply impressed with the farmer demonstration. It shows the way forward to a real agricultural development on a commercial basis, with farmers taking their own destiny in their hands. For sure there are many obstacles to overcome, but with the high value chain in place, the farmers are in a position to face these challenges.
Determination pays off
Erwa has now been supplying the market in Torit with tomatoes regularly and earlier this month picked 13 crates, each weighing 40 kg, which were sold very quickly on the market. Due to this regular supply, the market price has dropped to 150 SSP per kg from 200 SSP, which is more affordable for the consumers and still a good price for the farmer.
“I see big changes!” Erwa exclaims. “I can pay my children’s school fees. I’m planning for the future and thinking how I can expand. I know from what I have already gotten, what I am going to earn and how I can reinvest to grow. I am really confident I have the skills now to keep this going and to show others how to do this.”
An example for others
Sharing Erwa’s success is important because it is allows other farmers to envisage their own potential. Suzanne Roko was one such impressed participant in the field demo. For years, the 26-year-old was a garden farmer who had received support from various organisations in terms of seeds and materials, but none had managed to increase her outputs in the way the Water for Eastern Equatoria project had done with practical hands-on advice.
“In those days, we didn’t know how to grow vegetables properly. We put everything there in a mix, okra, tomatoes, sukuma (collards) and just hoped it would work. But today, we get real farming advice specific to the crop. We learn new techniques and the different phases needed to improve production like using nurseries and transplanting into a well-prepared field. The project also gave us some new equipment like a treadle water pump that saves so much time in watering crops, time that can now be used for other activities on the farm,” Suzanne says, adding, “Earlier I was able to produce only enough for my family, but now I can take my sukuma, eggplant, tomatoes, spinach, and okra to the market and get money from my labour.“
Hands-on practice is the most important support you can give, especially to traditional farmers. This project is effective because it provides funds for technicians to come and show how things are done. Experts like us who get their hands dirty next to the farmers and pass on the knowledge through demonstration.
The Water for Eastern Equatoria project is in its final year, but the effects will be felt long-term thanks to the skills that have been gained and market linkages that are already in effect. In addition, with a Kenneti Watershed Management Board in place, the project has established a strong institutional foundation for oversight of the river, of which Erwa is just one user. But probably the most success-critical factor is the recognition at all levels of the need for the protection and integrated management of this precious resource, from government down to members of village water management committees and even the individual fisherman. Everyone has taken ownership.
As Luka Orasio Loya, Chairman of the Kenneti Watershed Management Board, recently noted, “When we make the grass-roots level understand, the others will understand. People understand when they see … We cannot say who are the targets within the catchment area, but it looks like everyone. Even those who thought this project would never touch them, it’s already touching them. But you need to open their eyes. This food you are eating; it is because of Kenneti. This town that is growing; it is because of Kenneti … water is life and belongs to everyone.”
For more details on the project, click here.