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Food & Hunger

This ‘Super Bean’ Is Feeding and Empowering South Sudanese Refugees

A tasty new, GMO-free ‘super bean’ is being distributed to South Sudanese refugees in Uganda, offering displaced agricultural workers a highly efficient source of nutrition and the potential for self-sufficiency.

Called the NABE15, the bean was developed as a drought and disease resistant, high-yielding supplement to the traditional staple foods of Uganda by Colombia’s International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). Now, in partnership with the Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the beans are being distributed to the more than 1 million South Sudanese refugees living in Uganda.

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Uganda has been welcoming refugees from South Sudan for the last four years as violent civil conflict continues to displace civilians in shocking numbers. With a liberal refugee program that grants access to healthcare, education, and freedom of movement, Uganda has accepted more than one-quarter of the more than 4 million displaced South Sudanese fleeing violence.

However, food insecurity has plagued the recently-resettled refugee population. Budget shortfalls for the UNHCR and WFP has slowed the distribution of healthy food in adequate amounts to refugee camps. Reuters reported that some refugees even risked venturing back into South Sudan in order to harvest their abandoned farms in the face of massive food shortages.

Government and agricultural officials are therefore optimistic about the effects the wide-scale distribution of the NABE15 could have on combating hunger among the vulnerable refugee population. With a short maturation period and high average yield, the bean could provide hundreds of thousands of families with a way to grow their own nutritious food.

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This strategy is in line with Uganda’s unique policy of granting refugees plots of arable land upon their arrival, in the hopes that farming their own food will lead to self-sufficiency. As more and more refugees arrive in the country, Uganda has had to shrink the size of the plots they distribute, making the high-yielding NABE15 all the more attractive as a way to make the most of the land.

The drought-resistant quality of NABE15 also make it a particularly attractive crop in a region prone to frequent periods of light rains, which could likely be exacerbated by climate change.

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Though the number of refugees entering Uganda has been declining over the past few months, it is expected that over 1.8 million South Sudanese will settle in Uganda by the end of 2018, making the urgency of finding innovative solutions to hunger all the more imperative.

The FAO seems to be confident that empowering refugees to farm their own food is an important part of this equation, with AP reporting that the agency plans to distribute 21 tons of NABE15 seeds throughout refugee populations in Uganda.