Innovative ‘green’ project by UNMISS and FAO partner boosts food security, skills among prisoners
WESTERN BAHR EL GHAZAL – With severe climate shocks, including severe floods and prolonged dry spells, the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, has been impacted by shortfalls in food production.
The situation is exacerbated by rising regional tensions, including the ongoing conflict in neighbouring Sudan as well as the situation in Gambella, Ethiopia, due to which tens of thousands of returnees and refugees are seeking shelter here.
Consequently, regular food imports have stalled while competition over already scarce resources is increasing every day.
In Western Bahr El Ghazal, food insecurity is taking a specific toll on prisoners, given a consistent increase in detainees that leads to inevitable overcrowding in prisons.
“Wau Central Prison is currently holding more than 1,200 inmates in a space that is equipped to cater to a mere 200,” revealed Major General Fidelle Mabior Majok, State Director of Prisons.
“We don’t have enough space for them to sleep, let alone enough food,” he added.
To support the National Prisons Service South Sudan (NPS), the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) came together to start a pilot project – the ‘Green Corrections Initiative.’
It’s focus: to train the incarcerated in scientific ways to cultivate food crops as well as decongest the prison.
“The NPSS has significant human and land-based resources. Therefore, we came up with the plan to transfer willing inmates to Thuro Majok, a locality on the outskirts of Wau, where the NPSS has around 200 acres at its disposal, and create a prison food farm,” explained Joseph Banda, a Corrections Officer working with the UN Peacekeeping mission in Wau.
“We have used an ‘open camp’ concept by engaging inmates with short prison terms of up to three months, or those nearing the end of their sentences to produce their own food,” he added.
Currently the Thuro Majok prison facility houses some 50 inmates at any given time. These prisoner-farmers rotate frequently.
With UNMISS and FAO providing tools, training on agronomic best practices, as well as seeds, and with a little elbow grease from willing participants, harvesting has begun in this innovative prison farm.
“It has been an immensely gratifying project. I was amazed to see the harvest at the Thuro Majok prison farm,” averred Tafiquil Islam, Head of the FAO Field Office in the state.
“We will continue supporting the farm by providing gunny bags and plastic sheets to enable proper processing and storage of produce,” added Mr. Islam.
For his part, Major General Majok says he is overjoyed.
“I am impressed with the outcome. Currently, our storeroom has more than 200 bags of uncracked groundnuts, cowpeas, and sorghum. We will continue harvesting until December, when the round nuts will be ready. Additionally, some of this year’s yields will be used for the next planting season,” he stated.
But perhaps the most heartfelt endorsement of this project’s success comes from James Kuoh.
“Initially, I was hesitant when we were brought here. But now, thanks to the livelihood skills I have acquired tending to crops in the prison farm, I have hope that I will be able to build a good life once I complete my sentence,” he said with a smile.
UNMISS plans to construct two additional structures in Thura Majok to accommodate more inmates and sustain the project until 2026.
“We hope to replicate this model across South Sudan and expand it to communities, beyond prisons,” concluded Mr. Banda.