From the freshly paved roads of Juba to muddy rural paths clogged with bighorn cattle, the people of South Sudan are busy building a new country with help from a new agricultural development partnership.
Through a recent agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, part of the Texas A&M University System, is helping the world’s newest nation develop its agriculture in collaboration with the John Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology in Bor.
“Through this USAID-funded agreement, we will be working with Garang University to help develop its agricultural research, teaching, and extension curriculum and skills,” said Joey King, associate director for the Borlaug Institute in College Station, Tex. “The Borlaug Institute also will work with its counterparts at Garang University on related issues such as youth development, gender equity and conflict resolution.”
Garang University, one of that country’s few institutions teaching advanced agricultural sciences, is located in the state of Jonglei and is named for the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army who died in a plane crash in 2005 and whose efforts helped bring about South Sudan’s independence earlier this year.
Borlaug Institute and Texas A&M System personnel will provide on-site project administration and support from Jonglei. Additional support will be provided through collaboration with Iowa State University. The initial project term is 2 ½ years with the possibility of another 2 ½-year extension.
Three Borlaug Institute personnel are already on site in South Sudan, and soon additional institute and Texas A&M System staff will join them in project implementation.
“What makes our presence here unique among U.S. universities involved in working with the people of South Sudan to build their new country is that agriculture specialists with the Borlaug Institute are now living in rural South Sudan,” King said. “Bor is their new home, and Garang University is their new office. Institute staff will collaborate alongside faculty at the university in a number of agricultural sectors essential to the development of Jonglei state and the rest of South Sudan.”
“The primary office and classroom areas for the Garang University are housed in a square, one-story tin building with a small, open-air courtyard in the middle,” said Jerry Kenney, a Borlaug Institute staff member who recently returned from Bor. “Full-time boarding students sleep in rows of tents placed behind the school. It will be a challenge, but Garang University staff and students have been very enthusiastic about our being there and are anxious for our cooperation in improving their agricultural sectors.”
The Borlaug Institute and Texas A&M System personnel will provide expertise, including technical and hands-on assitsance, in the areas of rangeland and livestock, fisheries, field crops, and ecosystems conservation and management, said project coordinators.
“There are more than eight million people in South Sudan and almost 80 percent of the nation directly or indirectly depends on agriculture or livestock for their livelihoods,” said Dr. Ed Price, director of the Borlaug Institute. “And currently more than one third of South Sudan’s population lacks basic food security. The agriculture sector is not only vital to the current and future food security of Southern Sudan, but also its long-term social stability.”
Price added that South Sudan has overcome 50 years of conflict and oppression in order to determine its own future, but that this future depends on “educating a new generation of innovative, highly proficient agriculture specialists” who can go into agricultural communities of South Sudan to help increase their efficiency and productivity.
“John Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology is the place to start this process,” he said.
“Our relationship with South Sudan and Garang University actually began more than two years ago when the governor of the state of Jonglei, the vice chancellor of Garang University and other South Sudanese government officials came to Texas A&M,” said Mustafa Sharif, who is Sudanese and currently working toward his PhD at Texas A&M.
Sharif, who works for the Borlaug Institute, will go to South Sudan in December for the initial project term, serving as a deputy chief of party.
“They recognized that Texas A&M is a top agricultural institution and that both Texas and Jonglei are big in agriculture and livestock.” Sharif said. “We began discussing ways to help South Sudan develop these sectors.”
Those discussions later became more formalized and ultimately developed into the new USAID-funded project, he said.
“This is a true collaboration,” Sharif said. “This is not the Borlaug Institute or the Texas A&M System dictating what the South Sudanese people need, but rather a desire from both parties to coordinate and build South Sudan’s agricultural capacity. There is also a desire to ensure that the people of South Sudan learn adequate skills and practices and continue to implement these skills acquired from this project. We want to enable them to continue to improve their agricultural capacity long after Borlaug Institute and Texas A&M University personnel have left.”
King said project efforts in South Sudan will begin with a full assessment of the needs and the challenges to building its capacity in the agricultural sector.
“Bor is currently inaccessible by land due to flooding during the rainy season and there are other impediments our personnel will have to address,” he said. “Fortunately, our Borlaug Institute people already in South Sudan are experienced with working in challenging international contexts.”
Price added that with the support, agricultural knowledge and resources of the Texas A&M System and the specialized skills and dedication of the Borlaug Institute, Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology “will become an indispensable driver of agricultural development, economic opportunity, and enduring stability in Jonglei state and throughout South Sudan.”
“The chance to lend a hand in helping a people develop a new nation is rare,” Price said, “but we have embraced this opportunity and hope to make lasting partnerships for the future of South Sudan.”