A tale of an empty bread basket in Yei, once the land of abundance
During the pre-conflict era in South Sudan, January marked the beginning of the season of fullness in the Yei River area. It was around this time that most of the crops from the fields were being harvested and made ready for consumption.
Years of conflict and insecurity have dramatically hindered large-scale farming in the area. Many fled the area, while the few farmers left behind restricted their cultivation close to the main town of Yei, too afraid to venture outside. They alleged frequent harassment, torture and even arbitrary killings by people in uniform, whose identity they could not verify.
Those who have dared to venture outside have met with dire consequences. Thomas Yeka regrettably recounts what befell his best friend who, together with 10 other youth, were seized by unknown kidnappers last week while collecting their cassava in an area South of the town.
“I advised him to stop going to the farm, but he couldn’t listen. He and the other boys insisted and went, that is where they met their fate,” Thomas recalls, “Since then, we have not heard anything about their whereabouts; neither has someone taken any initiative to find them,” he says.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) intervened, after renewed fighting in 2016, and set up a base in the area. The peacekeeping mission ensured protection of a five-mile radius of farmland around Yei town by conducting daily patrols using its military components.
On his part, the team leader of the UNMISS base in Yei, James Mugo, said UNMISS, in collaboration with the area authorities, has developed an action plan for conducting daily patrols within Yei and its surroundings to encourage farming within a five miles radius.
“UNMISS has effectively continued patrolling the designated locations including feeder roads as it has previously planned without any alteration,” he says.
On the changing farming patterns, Mr. Mugo says:
“What we have observed recently, is an increase in urban farming and a rise in population density due to displacement from the rural areas. These factors have in fact contributed to an increase in the price of consumer goods in the markets.”
The prices of consumer goods in Yei town are increasing at an alarming rate. Cassava flour, the staple food for the indigenes, has particularly been more affected. In December 2018, one bucket of cassava flour cost between 400 – 450 South Sudanese pounds (just over two US dollars). Now it costs between 550 – 600 South Sudanese pounds – nearly three dollars.
The natives of the Yei River area are predominantly agriculturalists and the area has been a bread basket for Juba and surrounding areas. Coffee, beans, maize, sweet potatoes, cassava have thrived here for years. Being well-versed about the benefits of farming, the natives sell some of their produce in the local markets, with buyers drawn from far and near.
Things could change tremendously, if durable all got joined the revitalised peace agreement, and peace returned to the area. But that has not been the case. Continued tensions between government forces and armed opposition elements in the Yei River area mean that it will be a while before the once land of plenty and the region’s bread basket will cease to be an empty bread basket in the land of abundance.
Mr. Mugo, the UN official, reiterated his petition to all the parties involved in the conflict in the Yei River area to cease fighting and implement the revitalised peace agreement signed in Addis Ababa, for the benefit of all the sons and daughters of the country.