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Sowing the seeds of food security

cedass1May 27, 2010 – In Canada, the term “daily struggle” can refer to traffic jams, slow Internet connections or gloomy economic forecasts.


May 27, 2010
By Top Crop Manager

May 27, 2010 – In Canada, the term “daily struggle” can refer to traffic jams, slow Internet connections or gloomy economic forecasts.

In Southern Sudan, the daily struggle is often for survival in the wake of tribal skirmishes or to ensure sufficient food for families and communities.

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The scope of the challenges facing people in that region of Africa’s largest country is overwhelming. Sudan is a land mass that begs to be developed, agriculturally or economically. Yet since achieving its independence 54 years ago, it has been involved in a series of ethnic skirmishes and struggled in the shadow of wars and battles in Somalia and Darfur, always relying on trade and limited food aid from other countries for everyday necessities.

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Now, a Canadian not-for-profit organization is trying to change that, taking tools, equipment, seed, expertise and plenty of goodwill to the people of the Jebel Lado region, near the Sudanese border with Uganda. The ultimate goal with the Canadian Economic Development Assistance for Southern Sudan (CEDASS) organization is to help build a knowledge base and the fundamentals of agriculture and food production, in the hopes that the Sudanese people can help pull themselves out of poverty and create a better life through sustainability.

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In mid-May, CEDASS organizers welcomed Luka Subek Samson Subek, director of agriculture, Central Equatoria State (CES) for Southern Sudan, to Ontario for an information-packed tour. The five days spent in the province was something of a reciprocal visit for Luka, as much an opportunity for him to learn as it was for his hosts to say “thank you” for the hospitality he has shown to CEDASS workers in Sudan in the past two years.

The small entourage toured several farms, Salford Farm Equipment and Syngenta’s NK Seed division office, as well as University of Guelph’s main campus and its Ridgetown Campus. The tour culminated in a May 19th reception in London, where local dignitaries, businesspeople and philanthropists gathered to share Luka’s perspectives and hear what he has learned during his visit to southern Ontario.

By all accounts, Luka was an exceptional student, surprising many with his knowledge of GPS technology, agronomic fundamentals and his appreciation for Canadian agriculture. According to Luka, agriculture in this country is looked upon with a great deal of reverence in Southern Sudan; that respect has grown with the efforts of CEDASS in the past two years.

“First of all, the people of Canada are generous,” he says. “If you see the people who are with CEDASS, these are businesspeople, why do they waste their time to go to Sudan? It means they have the heart to help others. I feel we are honoured by the Canadian people, and that is what I will take back to my people.”

In the past two years, CEDASS volunteers have collected donations of farm equipment, tools, seed, money and even clothing and sporting goods. The immediate goal for CEDASS is to lend the skills, expertise and hard work of its volunteers, to help develop an area of land roughly 200 acres in size. The long-term goal is to expand that to 20,000 acres. In early 2010, volunteers with CEDASS helped harvest the first 50 acres of land, with another 150 acres being cultivated and planted, and more acres to be cleared later this year.

Rob Boyer, one of the principals with ON Communication Inc. in London, has been to Jebel Lado, and has learned much about sharing, be it information or tools or equipment. While he is often overwhelmed by what he has seen and what CEDASS has accomplished, he also points to a “big picture” goal for Canadian agriculture, and a lesson to be learned here at home.

“We took Luka to a grocery store here in Canada, and just what affects me is how much we take advantage of our food source,” explains Boyer. “When you think of food security in Sudan, it’s guarded with guns and an army to protect their food because they don’t have any. We have such a great abundance here in Canada, and we really need a lot of people to realize that, and then by realizing that, protect it.”

And as much as it may mean to be packing and unloading a tractor and a combine for the people of Jebel Lado, Boyer points to the power of learning and sharing information as the more important factor, along the same lines as the biblical adage of “give a person a fish, they will eat for a day; teach a person to fish, and they will never go hungry.”

“People think of knowledge and you go to school and it’s something that’s not tangible, it’s just here in your mind,” says Boyer. “You don’t take for granted the knowledge you have, especially in a country like Sudan, where they have nothing; they have no source of education, no source of training. And that’s what I think a lot of our volunteers see – that everyone can give something.”

Larry Cowan, who farms near Melbourne, southwest of London, also was impressed with Luka’s desire to learn and retain the knowledge he garnered, in order to share with his people. And he was pleasantly surprised by his familiarity with some of the technology that farmers here take for granted.

“He kept right up to speed with the conversation and the technology,” relates Cowan, who asked Luka what his “take-away” would be. “And he said, ‘Well, a lot of things I’ll see and a lot of things I’ll learn will be a dream.’ But the first thing he said they have to do is teach his people how to work.”

Since much of the food source in Sudan is a product of trade and commerce, the basic knowledge, not just for planting seed and harvesting, but for operating a tractor or combine, is unknown.

“One of our objectives is to set up training centres,” says Cowan. “When that machinery arrives and is available, we can teach a dozen people how to drive it, teach a dozen people how to service it, and have some sense of responsibility in dealing with that piece of equipment.”

For more information, to donate or to find out how to help, contact Rob Boyer at 519-319-2941, or go to the CEDASS website at Cedass.org


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