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Food Preparation an Obstacle to Education

This article is written by Betty Kidan Muni who is a field officer working for SCF with women's groups in south Sudan*.


Betty Kidan (author of the article) with Angwet in the women's association vegetable garden in Bararud

Bararud lies about 40 miles north west of Wau town in the Bahr el Ghazal region of Southern Sudan. In 1997 there was a drought and a poor harvest in the region, In 1998 there was another harvest failure. Insecurity and fighting as well as constant raiding and looting by militias from the north continues to undermine food security so that although life has to a large degree gone back to normal since last years crisis, food as well as general security is precarious. Last night along with the rest of the people in Bararud I fled to the hills on hearing gunfire which later turned out to be a drunken soldier returning from his mother in law's house. However the immediate flight to safety is a sign of the general insecurity and the level of nervous readiness, which has become part and parcel of everyday life.

Bararud currently has a population up of about 3500 which increased by about one third after fighting in Wau in January 98. As one walks from the airstrip through the dispersed toukels, there is a feeling that normal life is going on. People are cultivating the land immediately surrounding their toukels and women and girls are pounding grain in preparation for the main meal of the day.

Bararud is part of the ironstone plateau food economy zone. This area is sparsely populated and contains a range of ethnic groups. Bararud, which is in Wau County, is dominated by the Jurchol, a Nilotic group, more commonly known as the Luo or Jur. The relative importance of different food sources in a normal year for Wau County residents is represented in figure 1. Sorghum is the main crop but sesame and groundnut are also of significant importance During a bad year only 3 to 5 sacks of Sorghum are harvested (a quarter of household needs). Households plant an average of 4 feddans. In good years when drought and insecurity have not prevailed the Ironstone plateau is a self sufficient or food surplus producing area.

Walking past one compound comprising 3 toukles and a small amount of land the women were keen to stop their chores and talk. They explained that the crops normally cultivated in the area were Sorghum, Maize, Simsim, ground nuts, cassava and Millet. Vegetables such as Cassava leaves, cowpeas pumpkin leaves and green peas also contributed significantly to the diet. While we were sitting chatting with or hosts, children were collecting familiar wild foods, which although part of the normal diet are heavily relied on at times of extreme food stress. Samples of some wild foods picked and presented by the children were as follows; Uhding (Gynandropsis gynandra), arugo (Hibiscus) and root, kudera (Corchorus in arabic / ayaak in dinka), alana (petrocarpus lucens) and manyok (Commelina benegalensis). All of these are leaves except arugo which is both leaves and root.

Mali,Gao area - Two women pounding

We ate lulu as we chatted (a delicious wild food with an avocado like outer layer and a hard nut inside - the nut is pounded for its oil) The women explained that they were planting serado, which takes about 3 months to harvest, and maize, which takes longer. Dura (sorghum), which is a dry season crop take longer again to harvest. In normal times cow and goat meat as well as fish would also be part of the diet but the level of insecurity has made it difficult to graze and access livestock or go on fishing excursions.

After the fighting in Wau in Jan 98 the resulting increase in the population in Bararud put additional strain on the food economy of the area. Insecurity has also reduced access to land for cultivation. The Luo women explained that last year some families were worse hit than others and that large families have a greater capacity for cultivating land and were therefore less likely to be amongst the most food insecure. Most food harvested last year was eaten although some was traded with SCF for WFP food so that SCF could store these local seeds and redistribute them at planting time. This seed exchange strategy, which was undertaken in order to preserve local seed variety and support peoples productive capacity, involved the trade of WFP grain for local seeds at a 3:1 exchange rate in favour of the local seeds.

The main strategy to meet food needs as well as support peoples coping mechanisms has been the general food distribution. This is implemented by WFP who target General rations to the vulnerable households in the area on the bases of household food economy type assessments.

A General ration distribution had taken place 2 weeks previously. However, one of the women explained that she did not receive the food at this distribution as she has no husband and was sick on the day so could not attend. She did not send her children as she was afraid with all the people at the site that they may not be safe in the crowds. Wheat was distributed, as has been the case throughout this year, but the women complained that this was difficult to pound.

Pounding is a time consuming activity which turns some cereal grains like maize and sorghum into flour. - Wheat grain needs to be ground and the Luo women pointed out that they can use stones to do this but that in some area there are no stones so that the grain has to be pounded. This does not work well as it becomes sticky and takes a long time. (See picture of girl pounding). Much of women's and girl's time is taken up pounding grains. All food brought into southern Sudan by relief agencies is in whole grain form - none is pre milled. As can be seen from figure 3, WFP recognised the potential loss through damage to bags of flour as higher than bags of grain. Also the sheer size of the operation and amounts of food being brought in would make milling before distribution a colossal and expensive operation.

Some women expressed a preference for receiving unmilled cereal as in this form it is more suitable for beer making. Sorghum and Maize is preferred over wheat and takes less time to pound into flour. Most of the women however complained of the length of time and energy that goes in to pounding the grain. The process takes from early morning till about 10 or 11 when the first meal of the day is cooked, this can be mandazy (a kind of bread) or kisera. Then after the other chores e.g., collecting firewood and water and farming activities, pounding begins again for the preparation of the evening meal. However at times the whole grain is boiled for the evening meal (Bollila). The girls in the family spend their time assisting their mothers with the women's work ' If a women is unlucky enough to bear only boys she could be pounding until they marry', one woman explained. If there is a chance to send someone to school the boys will go, as the girls cannot be released from their heavy burden of duties.

As the general ration is targeted at women this involves one or two days spent at the distribution site. This takes them away from their household and care duties which predictably fall onto the shoulders of the girls in the family. Even so, the women expressed satisfaction that they were responsible for collection of the food. At present the women said that food from the general ration distribution is not traded for other commodities as 'everything has been put into the ground so there is nothing else to eat'. In good times some of the ration may be traded for salt or sugar. This was confirmed by a trip to the very spartan market in which there was no sign of relief food.

A brief visit to the local school revealed a clear majority of boys attending. It also revealed other obstacles to education, most importantly the lack of qualified motivated teachers. Children were enthusiastically turning up for school and staying there even though no teachers were present. Children take great pride in going to school and it is seen by the community as a normalising factor, particularly post conflict and while living in the midst of such insecurity. Another factor which reduces the attendance of girls at school is that they require uniforms to attend school and are embarrassed to turn up with out appropriate clothing.


Commodities generally distributed

Cereals: Maize Sorghum Wheat.

Acceptability: Maize and Sorghum are normally cultivated. Wheat will be eaten if there is nothing else available.

WFP found that the majority of women prefer to receive grain in its unmilled form. Advantages include:

  • Long term storage is better
  • During airdrops unmilled grain survives better than milled (particularly in the wet).
  • Better able to budget with unmilled grain as the preparation is so labour intensive that women will not prepare more than required so that it lasts longer.
  • Various products coming from the stages of pounding are utilised in differing ways e.g. the chaff form maize may be set aside and used in brewing or preserved and put away for hard times.

However, some women preferred to receive milled cereals, particularly in the dry season when much time is spent on water collection. The reason given was the large amount of time spent pounding the grain to prepare the daily meal interfered with other activities.


Pulses: Yell peas, split green peas and brown lentils

Acceptability: good

Most appropriate methods of preparation are not generally understood by beneficiaries . For example, in the case of brown lentils it is important to understand that skins should not be discarded while soaking prior to cooking reduces cooking time.



Acceptability: Highly valued

Culturally preferred oil: ground nut, sesame, and shea butter oil.

Source: A.Hudacek Nutrition Assessment Mission Sudan EMOP 5826.01, WFP, Southern Sudan, Nov'98.


Young Girl pounding grain in Bararud

Although provision of a small amount of milled grain as part of the general ration at particular times of year may help reduce women's work load, this article is not advocating a change in WFP policy on the distribution of unmilled cereals as part of the general ration. The intention is rather to highlight the considerable amount of time taken in the pounding of unmilled grains. This has consequences, on among other things, girls' education prospects. Women are the managers of food in the home and are therefore best placed to determine the value of introducing local level milling facilities. The consensus among the women interviewed was that a mill would be a very beneficial resource and would reduce the time spent by women and girls engaged in food preparation. This saved time would free girls for other important activities, in particular education.

A way forward

Women's groups in other locations are attempting to tackle the problem. In Mapel, the women are supported by SCF in soap making, vegetable garden production and tailoring. These activities generate income and the women's association already has plans for what to do once they generate enough cash. Some of the ideas are as follows:

Primary school in Bararud, predominantly boys attending

Obviously it will take quite a time to get enough funds to realise all these objectives. To get the ball rolling, outside funding may be necessary. The community sees the purchase of a grinding mill as a key step in reducing the workload for women and releasing girls for education.

Resources used in writing this article: A. Hudacek Nutrition Assessment Mission Sudan EMOP 5826.01, WFP, Southern Sudan, Nov'98. An Introduction to the Food Economies of Southern Sudan, WFP/SCF(UK), WFP FEAU '98. The Wild Food Database, C Gullick,FEAU, WFP Nairobi/Lokichokio.

Show footnotes

*This article was written with help from Fiona O'Reilly who was on a field trip in south Sudan

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Reference this page

Betty Kidan Muni (). Food Preparation an Obstacle to Education. Field Exchange 7, July 1999. p2.



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