Enhancing Food Security in South Sudan: The Role of Public Food Stocks and Cereal Imports

With its history of political unrest and armed conflict combined with periodic droughts, widespread poverty, and low levels of food production per capita, South Sudan faces a particularly daunting food security situation. At present, Africa’s newest country relies on private sector cereal imports from Uganda for 30-50 percent of its total cereal supply.

In an IFPRI seminar last week, researchers Paul A. Dorosh, Shahidur Rashid, Abigail Childs, and Joanna van Asselt presented a study of the issue. “Enhancing Food Security in South Sudan: The Role of Public Food Stocks and Cereal Imports” explores the role of public food stocks and private sector cereal imports in increasing food security through targeted distribution of food to insecure households throughout the country. (View the full presentation.)

To assess the sensitivity of South Sudan’s cereal demand and prices to production and international price shocks, the authors use partial equilibrium model simulations in which domestic prices equal import parity prices and adjust to clear markets. Their simulations reveal that reductions in import flows would result in a major increase in domestic prices, thus causing increased hardship for poor consumers.

The authors went on to address an important related problem: Given that there are market failures that prevent the poorest households from benefiting from trade, how can South Sudan maintain large enough food stocks to provide safety nets for insecure households and to stimulate production incentives?

While providing emergency food aid is a popular strategy, it is does not sustainably increase food security. A more sustainable solution would be a National Food Security Reserve (NSFR) system with a small national food security stock. According to the authors, this system could alleviate the effects of market failure by providing food as a part of emergency relief and safety net operations while still allowing the country to build capacity.

The study’s authors also strongly emphasized the importance of promoting the private sector, in terms of both domestic trade and imports. Past experiences with NFSR systems have shown that poorly designed reserves not only fail in promoting food security, but can directly harm market development and production incentives. The authors explained that instead of displacing the private sector or distorting it, the NFSR system as they envision it – one with strong private sector involvement - would contribute to market development in the medium and long run.

In light of South Sudan’s significant administrative constraints and recent political conflicts, is it realistic to promote a NFSR system that requires significant resources and extensive research? Yes, say the authors. They remain hopeful that the country of South Sudan can reach a level of stability at which it can realistically reconsider a NFSR system that would not only supply insecure households with food, but that would also allow and promote a thriving private sector and import trade. 

Photo credit:Flickr: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam