UMCOR Plans Food Project for Sudan
by Linda Bloom*
October 22, 2010—The food shortage in South Sudan is so severe that more than half of the residents in two counties say they regularly skip meals.
Armed with information from an August survey, the United Methodist Committee on Relief is planning an ambitious food-security project to assist the people there “so they have a broader food basket,” says Thomas Dwyer, who leads UMCOR’s nongovernmental unit.
The launch date of the three-year project is January — the same month when voters decide whether South Sudan should become independent from the current government of Sudan. Political unrest related to the Jan. 9 referendum could cause delays, he acknowledged.
Focused on Mugwo Payam in Yei County and Kenyi Payam in Lainya County, the project is designed to improve the production of cassava crops and help establish fish farms.
UMCOR directors approved $262,740 toward the project during their October board meeting, The agency is in negotiations with the European Union delegation to the Republic of the Sudan for additional funding through its Food Security, Rural Development and Economics Section, Dwyer said.
The agency’s research found that while the majority of residents in both payams, or geographic locations, produce cassava, few have the proper tools to maximize their yields. Meat consumption is low and alternative food sources are few, but there is an interest in fish farms, which would provide another source of protein.
The goal, Dwyer explained, is to promote something “that’s viable, given the local needs, but brings in some innovations.” One of the biggest components of the project will be agricultural training, allowing residents to establish techniques that are sustainable year after year.
Presence Since 2005
The United Methodist Church now has 17 official congregations in South Sudan. UMCOR began working in Sudan in early 2005, assisting displaced people living in camps in South Darfur with programs that grew to include education, agriculture and water, sanitation and hygiene. Programs in South Sudan have focused on reintegration of the population after years of war through water and sanitation programs and school reconstruction.
With its partners — including Ginghamsburg Church, a United Methodist congregation in Tipp City, Ohio — UMCOR has provided emergency supplies to nearly 80,000 displaced people, school uniforms and supplies to 16,000 students and improved water and sanitation to about 90,000.
Ginghamsburg — which has raised nearly $5 million for its Sudan mission work — and the denomination’s Holston Annual (regional) Conference, which has a covenant with United Methodists in East Africa — are the two U.S. United Methodist bodies most active in Sudan.
Holston, which has some 900 churches in Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia, initially committed $627,000 for clean water, medical care, pastoral training, education, supplies and leadership development in Yei and has raised other funds since then, including more than $150,000 in a 2010 annual conference offering.
The 2005 Sudan peace agreement — which ended more than 20 years of civil war between the government in the predominantly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south — gave South Sudan the right to hold January’s referendum on independence.
On Oct. 13, Church World Service, a partner of The United Methodist Church, hosted a luncheon in New York for a visiting delegation of Sudanese church leaders seeking the support of other Christians for a peaceful referendum vote. Attempts to interfere with the balloting could result in chaos and renewed fighting between the north and south, the delegation said.
Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of Sudan noted that both Christians and Muslims in South Sudan have suffered under the central government and want the freedom to choose whether to remain part of the state of Sudan or become independent.
The Rev. John Nuessle, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said the agency’s mission staff is working with UMCOR to monitor a situation that “potentially could be very dangerous.”
“We are very concerned for the Sudanese people,” he added.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York.