Over the past few years, Joseph Tukube has watched the weather changing in South Sudan. As a trainer and agricultural expert, he had been used to the rhythm of the seasons, knowing what to plant and when. Now though, extreme temperatures, droughts and flooding have become commonplace, destroying crops and making it much harder to farm.
Through his work with Women for Women International, Joseph knows this means more hardship in Yei River State. “Due to the prolonged drought, water sources end up drying, making access to clean drinking water hard, and when it rains too much, the heavy rains make the drinking water dirty, since most communities drink water from streams and rivers," he says.
The extreme weather has caused even more problems for women in the community. They have the task of finding firewood but as forests have been depleted by drought, construction and everyday use, that task is now much riskier.
"We face challenges as women," one woman explains.
"You may go five miles or six miles looking for firewood in the forest. In the forest, a snake may bite you. You may also run into people in the forest if you are alone, and if they catch you, they may rape you. These are things we find challenges with."
Firewood is essential to the livelihoods of many rural communities in South Sudan, as a source of income and as a cooking fuel. Collecting firewood can be dangerous for local women but the loss of trees also contributes to the rising temperatures and changes to rainfall patterns, according to the UN International Organization for Migration.
It’s a problem that Joseph has been grappling with for some time.
Until one day, a solution came from an unexpected quarter. The women who had enrolled in WFWI Stronger Women, Stronger Nations Program had an idea. They wanted to plant trees.
They were so convincing that the local leadership of WfWI’s Country Office in South Sudan set about investigating the concept. They agreed to pilot an agroforestry farm in Gimun in early 2022. It was so successful that by the end of 2023, the team plans to establish three more farms planting approximately 10,000 non-fruit and fruit trees.
In setting up the farms, women in the program are increasing their understanding of agronomy and water conservation by planting species of trees that they can rely on to grow fruit and use for firewood to sell. The farms also enable the women to reap a harvest in an inconsistent climate. So far, they have established a variety of tree species that are both fruit and non-fruit trees, such as guava, orange, lemon, mangoes, jackfruit, coffee, passion fruit, avocado, and neem. Once the saplings are big enough, the women replant them in their own homes.
The benefits of the farms are enormous, explains Joseph. “They act as windbreakers in the fields, attract rain and help in the conversion of the carbon dioxide in the air into the soil and releasing oxygen to the air, they improve soil fertility, provide shade and fuel to the communities and families," he says. "Fruit trees promote resilience as a long-term income generating activity, and it helps to reduce the distances the women need to walk to collect firewood.”
That is having an immediate impact on the lives of local women.
"Here in Yei, we stay in town," says one WfWI participant "There is no firewood. We use the trees we planted. We cut them down to sell and get money, then cut the small branches to light fire and cook."
Reforestation in South Sudan is a practice that the African Development Bank has outlined as a priority for mitigating climate change. To that end, the country's leadership recently launched an initiative to grow 100 million trees in the next ten years, which the Minister of Environment and Forest Josephine Napwon Cosmos encouraged residents to participate in.
Since the idea of their tree nursery came from women participants themselves, they are extremely proud to see it taking off in their community.
As the women in Yei continue to nurture the farms, they are adapting to a problem not of their making and playing a small role in climate change mitigation, one tree at a time. Joseph is now tracking the positive impact the tree farms are having on the community. As well as generating future income and helping in the security of women, he particularly likes the birds and wildlife they attract and they beauty they add to local homes.
"I thank Women for Women for training us." says smiling a program participant. Our team in South Sudan is grateful to the women of Yei River State for showing us the way.