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Agricultural Development: A Valuable Tool for Peacebuilding in Conflict Countries

July 31, 2017

Author: Stephen Pelliccia, International Development

Six years ago, in July 2011, South Sudan – the world’s newest country – came into existence. A year before that, Abt Associates was there implementing the first of two USAID Food, Agribusiness, and Rural Markets (FARM) projects.

The first FARM project, from 2010 to 2015, introduced modern agricultural technologies and practices that had not existed in the country. It also created the systems, structures, and networks to reach large numbers of farmers in difficult-to-access locations in a cost-effective manner.

The one-year FARM II project, from 2015-2016, built on the first project’s successes, further introducing smallholders to market opportunities and helping usher them into a nascent economic system.

The projects yielded, for example:

  • A 535 percent increase in maize yields;
  • An 82.5 percent reduction in post-harvest losses; and
  • Increased farmer productivity, which doubled and sometimes tripled the African continent’s average for cereal crops.

Civil Wars Fueled by Valuable Commodities and Cheap Labor

Yet as this agricultural progress was happening, South Sudan fell into civil war in 2013. Considering South Sudan’s economy, low per-capita incomes, and weak institutions, this should not be a surprise, argues David Miller, who directed both FARM projects for Abt in South Sudan.

Miller, in a new white paper, notes that civil wars are more likely in countries that are heavily dependent on single commodity export, such as petroleum, minerals, or a cash crop, according to economic studies.

In South Sudan’s case, that single commodity is oil. The region also has a long history of conflict related to cultural traditions, geography, and centuries-old geopolitics between the Arab and sub-Saharan African worlds. The competition to control this resource has led to endless violence since petroleum was discovered in the country.

Internal conflicts are also more likely in extremely poor developing countries. In South Sudan, one of the world’s most impoverished nations, an ample supply of inexpensive labor enables conflict. Peace in South Sudan will not come easily, Miller writes. The country needs support at all levels to end these recurring conflicts. However, long-term and sustainable peace in South Sudan can only be achieved through a bottom’s up development approach.

Abt’s agricultural development work during its six years in South Sudan has proven that significant economic and societal gains can be made at the grassroots level, even during times of chaos and disorder.

Read the white paper, “Agricultural Development: A Valuable Tool for Peacebuilding in Conflict Countries.”

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