In late 2011, approximately 132,000 refugees fled Sudan to escape war violence and entered the border region of Maban County in South Sudan. Maban’s two largest refugee camps, Doro and Yusuf Batil, were built to hold 25,000 people. The start of civil war in South Sudan in 2013 displaced tens of thousands of South Sudanese people, adding to the camp population. By 2015, the camps were housing 50,000 people—stretching capacity and pressuring the stability of the surrounding environment.
Because of the growing number of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees, Maban struggles with a dwindling food supply and a constant need to build shelter. Trees are cut down for building material and fuel. The cycle has led to rapid deforestation, leaving large swaths of bare land that are especially vulnerable to flooding in the rainy season. Scarcity has also created tension between local residents and refugee families, who are competing for the same resources. Good management of forest resources, and environmentally-friendly farming and food storage techniques could help ease tensions.
To foster local food production and support the environment, Relief International established a year-long program scheduled to end in December 2016. RI works with local organizations such as the Maban Forestry Department and Agricultural Department, and has collaborated closely with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). To bolster small-scale vegetable gardening, RI discourages saving seeds for another season, and encourages planting. The approach increases food production and decreases dependence on seed distributions by aid organizations.
RI created three growing sites, one at RI’s compound and one each in Doro and Batil, which are managed by community-based groups of 10 to 20 people that learn to generate income from the gardens. The site at RI’s compound contains 15 demonstration gardens designed to demonstrate how to grow tomatoes, carrots, cow peas, cabbage, amaranthus, kale, eggplant, okra, onion and watermelon. Seeds for these fruits and vegetables are also provided. The demonstration gardens have been used to train 150 individuals in drip irrigation using plastic water bottles and improved farming techniques. These individuals each will be responsible for training 55 fellow refugees.
To further support economic self-reliance, RI trained 30 people in each camp to manufacture and sell fuel-efficient cook stoves. Called “lorena” stoves, the devices replace open fires and are made of inexpensive material. Because they are fuel efficient, the stoves reduce the amount of wood needed by the community, and relieve pressure on the dwindling forests.
Forty village savings and loan associations (VSLAs) support economic self-reliance with loans. Money for these loans is raised through the sale and production of timber and seeds. Through these programs, refugees are given a source of income through growing produce, building and selling stoves and timber, and through loans. As of July 2016, the groups had pooled a total of 2,652 USD/108,900 SSP (South Sudanese Pounds). Additionally, 150 entrepreneurs have been provided with small business training to build promising enterprises. These opportunities simultaneously benefit the environment and eliminate deforestation.
RI aims to reduce refugee dependency on aid by creating a self-supporting and economically stable community in Maban County. RI regularly provides health services and food security programs, and is working to create income-generating opportunities. The goal is to support peaceful relations between refugees and the host community in Doro and Yusuf Batil.