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UMCOR’s farm program in Sudan is ?people-driven’

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A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMCOR

UMCOR provides agricultural support in the El Ferdous IDP camp in South Darfur.

Feb. 2, 2006

By Linda Beher*

KHARTOUM, Sudan (UMNS) — On an August morning, Jane Ohuma points to a large map of Sudan in the Khartoum office of United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Ohuma’s arm sweeps from west to east as she explains to a visitor the plight of displaced people out in Darfur, seven hundred miles from the capital city. She is head of mission for UMCOR’s operations in Sudan, which began in February 2005.

Funded by a large gift from Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, and other grants, the agriculture program based in the Al Daein region of South Darfur already has crops in the ground. Some 5,200 families are working the 4-hectare farms. At an average five per family, that adds up to more than 25,000 beneficiaries.

Such a program is a bit like a puzzle. Needs and resources at a variety of levels, like interlocking puzzle pieces, must be fit together. Most importantly, Ohuma stresses, solutions to hunger and livelihoods “must address people’s need and be people driven.”

For example, to strengthen the local economy, UMCOR contracted with local blacksmiths to make hoes and other handheld tools for the displaced farmers, rather than purchasing them from a factory. Displaced people have no land of their own, so area landowners offered parcels of land in exchange for a portion of the sorghum, millet, cowpeas, melon, okra and peanuts.

An agronomist on UMCOR’s field team showed the families how to “intercrop” or mingle their plantings to reduce risk of crop loss to disease or predators. At one farm, sorghum, groundnuts and okra have been intercropped.

Good rains are also part of the equation — and this season they have been excellent. The agriculture ministry of the Sudanese government predicts a bumper crop.

A successful harvest reaches into the future, Ohuma points out, providing enough seed for a new season, cash or barter capability, and sufficient food until next harvest. Darfur has one planting season.

Displaced, uprooted

The people displaced by Sudan’s long-running civil war would like to go back home, Ohuma says. A fragile peace agreement, reached in 2005, ended the 23-year conflict.
Instead, the displaced have joined Sudan’s uprooted. For them, “back home” is uninhabitable. In Kubda or Zalinge or Muterr — towns in the Sudan’s largest state of Darfur — the wells are filled in with dirt or fouled with corpses. All the houses were looted and burned, and schools and community health clinics razed. The people lost everything they had.

They fled by the hundreds of thousands in all directions — west to Chad, eastward and southward to the region of their state known as South Darfur. Some fled from the southern states. Now they live in settlements and camps for the displaced.

Their host communities, towns within short distances of the camps, are almost as impoverished as they are. Some have fled more than one time, hoping for safety. “The farms offer more than an occupation for those who are working them,” Ohuma explains. “They offer hope for their survival.”

Models for other programs

UMCOR aid workers have built a reception center at El Ferdous, located in the same vicinity as the farms. Typically, according to Ohuma, a camp population is rather fluid as residents enter and leave. The reception center allows a registration process that will facilitate future UMCOR follow-up with the camp residents as they eventually prepare to return home.
The Humanitarian Aid Commission and the World Food Programme recently named the reception center a “model” for all other camps, Ohuma says. The commission is the government monitor of all humanitarian activity throughout Sudan.

“Model development is a useful strategy in humanitarian service only if it is accompanied by extension into a program,” says the Rev. Paul Dirdak, UMCOR’s chief executive. “The UMCOR-built reception center at El Ferdous is a model we hope to see extended not only in our own work but by others.”

The farms are another kind of model. When new arrivals see “how beautiful the crops are,” Ohuma points out, and what has been accomplished in a short time, they want to participate as well.

?So much to do’

The Humanitarian Aid Commission officials are pleased at the rapid progress, and Ohuma anticipates that UMCOR will receive high marks for work in Al Daein.
UMCOR also is distributing emergency supplies to camp residents. Plastic sheeting becomes a roof that provides shade from the sun and protection from the rains. Jerry cans serve as water collectors from the water points in both host communities and camps. Blankets provide warmth on the cool savanna evenings.

Originally from Kenya, Ohuma worked for a time in Kosovo and then in Eritrea before joining UMCOR. “I left Eritrea because the programs were the same year after year,” she reflects. “In UMCOR Sudan, there is so much to do. We have the potential to be a high flier in Sudan.”

Donations for “Sudan Emergency,” Advance No. 184385, can be dropped in church collection plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. To make a credit-card donation, call (800) 554-8583.

*Beher, UMCOR’s communications director, traveled to the Sudan last August.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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