Earlier this year, South Sudan fell victim to the first famine declared since 2011. Almost six million people are still at risk of starvation. Over 1 million displaced Sudanese are migrating to neighbouring northern Uganda, where they stay in camps for internally displaced people fleeing conflict.
Yet, resources to feed the influx of people fleeing South Sudan are scarce. The World Food Programme has reported overwhelming demand for food aid, which has recently been cut due to funding delays. To avoid increasing unrest and migration, a long-term food security solution for the region is urgently needed.
Ugandan farmers can be part of the solution
In the Gulu district of Northern Uganda, communities have slowly returned after fleeing the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group three decades ago. Despite little farming experience, technology and resources, they now have a major task on their hands: supplying food for their own families and communities, and also to those escaping war and hunger-stricken South Sudan.
Together with Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), CIAT and partners including the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), have been working together to supply farmers with high yielding, drought and disease resilient beans to boost production and improve nutrition among vulnerable refugees and communities in northern Uganda.
Despite persistent drought, farmers are now increasing their bean yields for their families to eat – and to sell traders who demand particular types of beans – for example NABE varieties, from the term NAROBEAN – considered tastier and more resilient to climate stresses, pests and disease than local varieties.
Relief agencies of the United Nations and other organizations are buying the resilient seeds from private sector companies like Equator Seeds Ltd., to provide to communities in refugee camps along the border with South Sudan, where hunger levels are critical.
An African-led solution to end hunger
Many of the improved varieties developed for farmers using conventional methods in Northern Uganda came from the Kawanda Genebank. It protects and stores around 4,000 thousand types of beans.
Many these were sourced from CIAT’s genebank in Colombia – which houses the largest collection of common beans in the world. Led by a pioneering team of African breeders, this storage facility is a refuge for a series of resilient beans sent to countries across Africa, to boost local supplies of improved, hardy bean seeds, and alleviate reliance on food imports.
In recent months, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have received different types of heat and drought tolerant beans. Four micronutrient rich bean varieties – high in iron and zinc to tackle malnutrition – were released in Kenya and five were released in Uganda in 2016. Researchers are exploring sending more climbing beans for Rwanda and parts of Uganda – where they help farmers on smaller plots of land increase their production.
Yet this refuge for seeds could be under threat, with dwindling funding and fewer resources to support vulnerable national research programs – for example those in South Sudan. Researchers are under more pressure than ever to beat increasing weather extremes: such as drought and flooding – with fewer resources and less capacity. This could critically affect the supply of nutritious beans, an affordable, major staple and source of protein for many countries across Africa.
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