This is the story of the role of cattle in South Sudan, as seen through the eyes of Murray Anderson, JAM Field Reporter.
In South Sudan, a country that has never known peace, prosperity or development but is all too familiar with war, exploitation and suffering, cattle are the lifeblood of the people. Cattle has always been a stable source of income and an indicator of wealth for the majority of the population.
The United Nations Food And Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimated in 2011 that the country was home to 11 million cows and 80% of the population’s livelihoods are cattle-based. The actual number is likely to be far higher. Making accurate assessments in a country the size of Texas or France, and with only a handful of tarred roads, is difficult. Added to the lack of infrastructure are the torrential rains, which cut off large swathes of the country for months. These factors make collecting accurate data challenging if not at times impossible.
The country is rapidly developing. However, much of the population remain rural dwelling pastoralists (livestock farmers) for whom cattle are still and will continue to be “walking, eating banks” that represent all their wealth in the world they’re functioning in. Cattle also dominate the social landscape of South Sudan. In many cases, young boys don’t go to school but instead join cattle camps to look after the cattle (a camp ‘houses’ a communal herd numbering in the thousands) and men pay marriage dowries, which can number hundreds of cattle.
In an environment where cattle are so valuable, the frequent raiding of these animals lead to clashes, which in turn claim the lives of hundreds of people every year, and thousands more are displaced as result. This could easily result in a security situation that can worsen overnight, placing massive strain on the capacity of an unseasoned government.
The problems caused by cattle raids exacerbate volatile security situations already strained by the activities of internal rebel groups, and threaten ethnic and clan relations. With very little civil and legal infrastructure in the country, the delivery of security and policing services are difficult. It is common to see young men casually cradling an AK47 firearm while shepherding their cattle. For many people security is a “do-it-yourself” business.
These factors can complicate humanitarian work for organisations such as JAM, who has been operating in South Sudan since 1999. At present much of JAM’s program work, as one the World Food Program (WFP)’s key implementing partners, revolves around feeding vulnerable people affected by violence and social upheaval. JAM’s wide programme activities, comprising General Food Distribution (GFD), Food For Assets (FFA), Blanket Supplementary Feeding (BSF) and Food For Education (FFE) ensure that JAM improves the lives of children and their families in the areas where JAM operates. In a country as complex as South Sudan, developmental aid and emergency food distribution complement each other by providing a platform for other programmes such as FFA.
Despite the hurdles that a fluctuating security landscape present for JAM, the organisation is making inroads into communities that have never received help and support before. JAM hopes to extend its FFA programme to more communities in the near future, especially after many projects in various communities have proved very successful and popular.
Murray Anderson, JAM Field Reporter.
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