Indigenous Solutions to Food Insecurity: Wild Food Plants of South Sudan

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During times of severe food shortages, alternative sources of food are the only means of survival. When crops fail or are destroyed, markets, houses, livestock and food stores are demolished or stolen, and movement is limited due to conflict, local populations have only two sources of food left; aid and what is locally available in the surrounding environment. The utilization of wild plants, fish and game becomes a primary coping mechanism for people affected by conflict. While the killing of wild game is illegal, and fishing is supported with distributions of tools, knowledge on the role of indigenous wild plants in diets is not well understood. Although vital during times of food shortage, wild plants are also a normal part of diets in South Sudan. Research has found that wild plants are “the nutritional equivalent of- and in some cases are superior to- introduced vegetables and fruits” and their use both diversifies and improves diets.1 Some wild plants are particularly nutritious and could potentially play a significant role in creating a sustainable source of much needed nutrients in South Sudan.

Further some wild plants also hold economic value and are already traded in local, and even international markets. The domestication or sustainable collection of wild plants with agricultural or economic potential could create alternative sources of both income and food. Distribution of food aid is costly, unsustainable and not always a possibility. The potential for developing or promoting a local, sustainable food source should not be ignored. Utilizing and sharing indigenous knowledge on wild plants, including which ones are edible, how to prepare them and which have economic value, could play an important role in supporting communities. The expansion of the use of wild plants is not an immediate solution to the dire food situation currently found in South Sudan, and should not be promoted as such. However, the humanitarian community should not ignore any potential local solutions that exist. The correct utilization of indigenous wild food plants could play a significant role in improving the lives of people suffering due to conflict and food insecurity.

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Michael Arensen

Michael J. Arensen has extensive work and research experience from Sudan and South Sudan. Since 2004 he has managed and coordinated humanitarian and peacebuilding programmes for various INGOs. In the past five years he has carried out field research for various organisations, including the Rift Valley Institute, Oxfam, Norwegian Refugee Council, and International Organisation for Migration. He has published papers and presented on youth and inter-ethnic conflicts in South Sudan, customary authorities, the militarisation of societies, food security, and protection of civilians.

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