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عربي

Food prices soar in Juba, residents flee or struggle

Esther Muwombi
Buying basic foods in South Sudan has become a luxury. Food costs are up to five times more in Juba’s markets than in Uganda, largely because 88 percent of South Sudanese foods are imported from Uganda.
15.07.2014  |  Kampala
A group of women selling their produce in Kegulu, Yei County, June 2, 2012.
A group of women selling their produce in Kegulu, Yei County, June 2, 2012.

Sarah Keji’s family has been in Kampala since fighting broke out last December and she says they will stay put. We mostly eat meat, bread, greens and posho at home. It costs us 150 SSP (US$ 40) to prepare this meal in Juba and US$ 15 to prepare the same meal for our Kampala family. Instead of returning to Juba, we want the rest of our family to migrate to Uganda,” she says.

It costs us 150 SSP (US$ 40) to prepare this meal in Juba.”
Sarah Keji
Grains, beans, tomatoes, onions, carrots, cooking oil, and even cows for slaughter are imported from Uganda to South Sudan. Violence has displaced millions of people from their lands, leaving South Sudan running short of food, putting an estimated 3.5 million at risk of acute famine.

Fighting which began on December 15, last year reversed South Sudan’s tentative progress in agriculture production. Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, South Sudan had been importing 99 percent of its food from Uganda. After independence imports from Uganda reduced to 88 percent as South Sudan’s agriculture production improved.

Facing the pending shortages, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it has so far provided food and nutrition support to more than 1.2 million people in South Sudan, but more help is needed. WFP needs significantly more donor support to continue providing food assistance,” says Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), noting that the agency has a funding shortfall of US$ 419 million for its emergency operation to reach the 2.9 million people it planned to help by the end of 2014.

WFP needs significantly more donor support to continue providing food assistance.”
Jens Laerke
South Sudan began trying to reduce dependency on imports from Uganda and other neighbours after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, opening the door to peace in the region. Back then the Ministry of Agriculture embarked on agricultural strategies to increase food production in the country.

Among these, farmers were trained in new farming methods and given high quality seeds and tools to farm. In addition, early last year, the Government of France joined efforts with the South Sudanese Ministry of Agriculture to implement a US$ 612,000 year-long agriculture programme.

Although some farmers faced difficulties with floods, lack of transport to markets for their produce sale and many others, these projects made some progress until the recent fighting began. They also increased the availability of seeds to South Sudan’s most vulnerable farmers, a scheme that has since been halted due to the violence.

But there is a danger of South Sudan importing too much food from abroad, an expensive channel for food which sparks price rises. Meanwhile, the county’s food culture is slowly dying away too. Locals now have to buy what is available in the market, meaning that they often buy new goods, changing their traditional diet.

Moreover, the imported foods are simply not enough. Charity Loki who often buys Bananas from a food vendor near her home in Kololo says sometimes bananas are not available for 2-3 days as imports are few and far between.

Trade between Uganda and South Sudan is down by more than a fifth.”
Sekitto Issa
And food supplies are shrinking further. Some traders from Uganda have stopped their business due to the violence. Before the conflict started last year, between 150 and 500 trucks crossed from Uganda to South Sudan every day. That number has reduced to about 20 trucks per day, according to an official from the Bibia-Elegu border post.

Sekitto Issa, Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA) spokesperson, says trade between Uganda and South Sudan is down by more than a fifth. Uganda earns about 54.2 billion Ugandan Shillings every month from exports to South Sudan down from about UGX 271 billion it made before the crisis.

As violence continues, some Ugandan traders are considering changing trade routes to Somalia, Congo or other countries, making the outlook even more bleak for those trying to source food on Juba’s markets.