Improvement of farmer livelihoods in South Sudan depends largely on agricultural activities, which account for about 80% of employment. More than 1.25 million farming families are involved in agricultural input and output value chain activities. Depending on their geographic location and agro-ecologies, South Sudanese farmers practise traditional subsistence agriculture in which crop production, wild food crop collection, rearing livestock and fishing are combined in undefined ratios (Bigirwa and DeVries, 2010). Subsistence farming is not effective or sufficiently efficient to supply the surpluses needed to feed large numbers of returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), who continuously add to a rapidly growing number of rural and urban consumers.
Agricultural practices in South Sudan could be broadly categorised into mixed cultivation in the ‘green belt’, where maize, cassava, upland rice, sorghum and legumes as well as tropical fruits are grown along the southern borders with Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); and the Ironstone Plateau and semi-arid zones in the central, eastern and northern regions that focus more on livestock rearing, including extensive cultivation of sorghum, groundnuts and sesame in addition to niche market crops.
Over 50% of the land in South Sudan has high potential for agriculture. In these high potential areas,climate and soils are suitable to grow a wide range of both field and horticultural crops. Most farmers practise shifting cultivation, with an average cultivated area of two feddans (0.84 ha) per household. According to FAO (2011), the average yield of cereal production over the past ten years is less than 800 kg/ha. The major factor contributing to low yields is widespread use of seeds of local cultivars or landraces with poor genetic potential. Local varieties and landraces often have yield potential of less than 1 tonne (t) on a hectare of land. The farmers do not use quality seeds as they have limited access to improved varieties, there are inadequate supplies of seed, and prices are high.