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GROW BIOINTENSIVE Training Program in South Sudan
by Jake Blehm, Assistant Executive Director

Samuel Nderitu discusses composting with participants from South SudanAt Ecology Action we are always looking at the current world situation and trying to assess where GROW BIOINTENSIVE (GB) might have the most positive immediate effect in people's lives. Since our resources are limited, we strive to create the most benefit for the largest number of people. Early this spring, such an opportunity presented itself in South Sudan, the world's newest country. Jim Conley, who has been working for USAID in agricultural development, had become familiar with GROW BIOINTENSIVE in Afghanistan while visiting Naqibullah Salik, a former EA intern who now teaches GB near Kabul. Recently Jim was on a short-term assignment in South Sudan, and he contacted us to see if we might be interested in doing some GB training in that country.

Southern Sudan has experienced long years of conflict-induced displacement and malnutrition, and the World Food Program has sent them emergency food aid during this time. The current situation in South Sudan is challenging on many levels. According to a 2007 USAID report, "The scope of the needs and the vastness of southern Sudan are daunting when considering what would be the most appropriate targeting for development interventions." The country has suffered many nutritional emergencies combined with adverse living conditions: lack of water, sanitation, proper cooking facilities, etc. An assessment by the World Food Program and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization found that nearly 5 million out of a population of some 9 million South Sudanese will have difficulty providing food for themselves this year (as compared to 3.3 million in 2011). Of this number, more than a million are estimated to be close to the starvation track. The joint assessment has warned that an escalation in conflict, rising food prices due to reduced trade, and increased food demands from returning displaced persons could threaten the fragile food security situation in the new country. There are few international organizations and partners actively involved in nutrition programs, and they generally focus on emergency food relief rather than long-term solutions.

After hearing from Jim Conley, Ecology Action wrote a grant proposal to USAID to fund a pilot program for GROW BIOINTENSIVE training in South Sudan. We were informed in late April that our proposal had been approved. The budget was modest, but it was enough to get a program started. Samuel Nderitu from the GROW BIOINTENSIVE Training Centre of Kenya (G-BIACK), with over thirteen years' experience in helping small-scale farmers use organic, sustainable agriculture techniques, and arguably the best GB trainer in Africa, was selected to implement the training program. The program had two components; first was a series of GB trainings in South Sudan, to be held in two or three locations. This would provide the first food-growing training opportunities for the people of South Sudan, and also give Samuel a chance to screen prospective South Sudanese applicants for the second component, a future two-month training program at G-BIACK in Kenya. This hands-on training method of observing the people involved is an effective way of evaluating potential candidates rather than just seeing their applications on paper.

The first training was in Yei, southwest of the capital city of Juba, where Samuel had a lively group of GB students to teach. He made his second trip to South Sudan a few weeks later, May 24-26, to the town of Bor along the Nile River. The training took place at the Dr. John Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology (JG-MUST), which hosted the three-day GROW BIOINTENSIVE workshop. There were sixty-six participants—from the Jonglei State Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the State Prison Service, JG-MUST students and staff, as well as participants from the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries and the community in general. This workshop was one of the first outreach projects funded by the JG-MUST Joint Development Fund.

An additional training in South Sudan will take place, as well as a two-month training for four South Sudanese at G-BIACK in Kenya. A follow-up training will be done in the September/October time frame. We are very excited about this first GB training in South Sudan and are hopeful that additional resources will be found to expand the program throughout the country.

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