South Sudan: Livestock outnumber people and the environment suffers (IPS)

| June 9, 2014

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Twenty-year-old Wani Lo Keji stares at the sky as his cattle drink on the eastern bank of the Nile River opposite South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

He says, “We bring our animals here every day because the seasonal river near our village has dried. There were many herders fighting for water there.”

This is a common situation in an arid country where livestock outnumber the population. According to South Sudan‘s Ministry of Agriculture, there are an estimated 35 million cows, goats and sheep in the country of 13 million people.

Isaac Woja is a natural resources management consultant. He says that South Sudan’s livestock population is estimated to be worth $2.2-billion US. But the livestock are not being managed sustainably. In the dry season, the sheer number of animals creates a scarcity of water and pasture.

Mr. Woja says: “Cattle in South Sudan are a curse. [They are] not a resource that benefits the people because they are not rearing cattle for economic benefits or for food security benefits. They are … for prestige.”

In South Sudan, cattle are revered; there are communities where pastoralists won’t even contemplate slaughtering one of their cows for meat. Much of the country’s meat comes from animals imported from neighbouring Uganda.

In many South Sudanese communities, cows are used primarily to pay a bride price, or as compensation in cases of murder or adultery. Cattle herders are proud of the quantity rather than the quality of their cattle. This situation leads to overgrazing, soil erosion and the misuse of water resources.

Mr. Woja says that farmers often graze one hundred cattle on a piece of land that can support only three.

He believes that to ensure sustainability, there should be regulation of how a piece of land is used to raise cattle. He explains, “If you have a big piece of communal land, you should be able to divide it into paddocks … this year you [graze] on this piece, and the next year you will graze on another piece.”

Mr. Woja says that if livestock could be managed in a way that was profitable to their owners, conflicts over water and pasture would decline, the environment would suffer less, and the quality of livestock would improve.

Leben Nelson Moro is a professor of development studies at Juba University. He believes that a lack of clear policy from the government is contributing to the situation.

Professor Moro says: “We need proper planning and policies. We should identify what natural resources we have and prepare good policies guiding how they should be used … to benefit the current and future generations. There should be a national plan.”

But until such a plan is in place, people like Mr. Lo Keji will continue to keep livestock for prestige. He says, “In our family we have four hundred animals and we are working hard to buy more.”

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