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How the World Food Programme is enabling growers and consumers alike to access food markets with improved road networks in food-scarce South Sudan

Well before secession Sudan had gone through important food insecurity challenges, including food crises and forced displacements. The region that is now South Sudan experienced economic setbacks prior to independence due to underdeveloped transportation and communications systems, despite being rich in hydrocarbon resources. Following the split in 2011, rebelling factions against the South Sudan Government raised more concern for food shortages within the country. The political crisis that has shaped the ongoing civil war has effectively diminished the little political will for infrastructure building. A slew of socio-economic factors left many of the country’s populations impoverished & isolated by poor infrastructure. While little direct investment has been made, the government agrees that challenges to long-term growth cannot be overcome without proper road development and maintenance. In response, The World Food Programme (WFP) has taken the lead in connecting South Sudan communities with food markets in a multi-year initiative to help make food more accessible and economically viable.

The food supply chain is complex in a country unable to meet the most basic needs and services for its people. Being a landlocked nation South Sudan relies heavily on commercial ports serviced by three transportation routes cutting across nine different countries. WFP created 2,600 km of main trunk roads from 2004 to 2011, but a myriad of factors including low funding — due to the crippling political crisis — as well as flooding led to major deterioration. The second attempt produced better results (see Key Facts below). This time reinforcing “feeder roads” for linking agricultural communities, with the last phase culminating in 2018. About one year ago, the project delivered just over 450 km of feeder roads while dealing with similar political conditions. Without adequate monitoring and maintenance assistance, much of what was developed would suffer the same fate. However, during the construction phase WFP enabled resources to train local communities and government workers for increasing the chances the roads would be passable for years to come.


Key Facts:

  • In 2015, an estimated two-thirds of the country’s 12 million inhabitants were at risk of food insecurity.
  • The WFP found that “3 out of 4 [targeted] communities…indicated that roads reduced their travel cost.” The formula is simple: better roads means faster transportation and with faster transportation comes cost-saving replenishment of produce in food markets
  • Magbi Mayor notes that rotten food is no longer a concern as passable roads allow producers to deliver their locally grown produce in three hours to Juba’s markets versus 10 days prior to the new roads
  • In roughly one year’s time (2016-2017), the targeted communities have seen 68% more growers gain market access while 55% more people have been able to travel for purchasing produce

 

While the WFP initiative tackled an important aspect of the food supply chain challenge, South Sudan still ranks among the least food-rich countries when it comes to affordability. In 2017, A resident of New York would spend $1.60 (USD) on a plate of food, but in South Sudan one would have to devise a plan to amass $321 to purchase an identical plate. Can the WFP make food affordable by just building roads? The simple answer is no. A wide array of inputs and outputs would have to change on the economic front. That is if any hope of political understanding would first settle the differences of the warring sides.

The successful outcome of the WFP initiative does raise the question for countries caught in a spiral of unending food insecurity. Would similar circumstances in embattled African nations qualify for similar road-improving and other infrastructure initiatives? Or perhaps of greater significance is primary assurance of guaranteed humanitarian aid and leadership efforts toward state-building as the first steps?

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