Tree nurseries: empowering vulnerable farmers while nourishing South Sudan

Dalia Wang, 39, lives in a village near Maban and is a mother of five who has looked after her children alone since her husband passed away.

Only two years ago, Dalia and thousands of women like her in Upper Nile would spend hours trekking to remote areas to forage for increasingly scarce firewood. “I had to walk very long distances to collect firewood from the bush for a living. It is our responsibility [as women] to collect it. It was only in this way that I could feed my children,” she says. “Sometimes I would also brew local alcohol and try to sell it at the market”.

Luckily, Dalia speaks in the past tense. Her life has changed since she joined the tree nursery where she now works as an operator. With support from the European Union, FAO is strengthening the livelihoods resilience of pastoral and agropastoral communities in South Sudan’s cross-border areas. This includes promoting the production of seedlings in small-scale nurseries as a means to raise vegetable production and tree planting.

As part of the ‘cross-border’ project, FAO is training 30 operators like Dalia in preparing tree nursery beds, planting pockets and raising tree seedlings in Maban. The operators will be able to transfer the skills and knowledge they gain to other farmers and replicate the techniques they learn in the nursery in their own farms.

The Department of Forestry in Maban provided a plot of land to be converted into a tree nursery. FAO then fenced the land to protect it from animals searching for pasture. To start off the plantation, operators received seeds like guava, eucalyptus, teak, Leucaena leucopenia and sesbania sesban. FAO also distributed some okra, tomato and kale vegetable seeds that were planted in the nursery to diversify the farmers’ yields and products for sale. 

The small-scale nursery in Bunj is fully compliant with COVID-19 prevention and control measures. There are several hand washing stations and all operators wear facemasks and maintain a safe distance from one another as they work. “My colleagues and I are working in total safety and feel at ease here at the nursery,” says Dalia recalling how different her life was only a short time ago.

With her energetic smile and magnetic personality, Dalia works with dedication in the nursery 3 days a week. She arrives at 9:00 am and starts monitoring the seedlings, then waters them, and if needed, she weeds and sows new seedbeds. “Now we are growing tree seedlings and vegetables which are allowing us to produce and earn more. We have already finished harvesting okra,” she says while pointing to an abundant okra plantation. 

The income the community generates from the sale of tree seedlings and vegetables (okra, kale, tomatoes) is allowing operators like Dalia to earn additional money to buy the goods they need. “I can’t believe that I am earning some extra income and buying what I need without having to travel long distances to look for firewood,” Dalia says. Through cash vouchers, the project is also helping the community buy other essential food items and non-food items like soap.

Dalia is hopeful for her future and that of her new job. “Many buyers are coming to buy our seedlings like mango, guava and eucalyptus that are the most in-demand,” she says and adds that the community also raised Leucaena fodder tree seedlings, which can be sold as animal feed.

The wealth of new skills nursery operators are gaining can be transferred to other farmers and Dalia is geared to channel her knowledge in this direction. “I look forward to establishing my own bountiful nursery with many tree and fruit species and a good local trainer to share what I have learned with other women and raise awareness on the need to plant more trees because trees are life.”

Source : Fao