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Farming in the Flood Waters – DRC’s Chinampa Gardens in Bentiu

Over the past four years, the inhabitants of Bentiu have faced an unrelenting battle against the disruptive effects of floods on their daily lives.

Posted on 26 Jul 2023

Many people have been forced to abandon their homes, leaving them homeless and in search of safer places. This has resulted in an increased reliance on humanitarian aid, further highlighting the pressing need for sustainable and innovative aid solutions. Considering this, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), with funds from USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), is exploring avenues for more effective and enduring sustainable support for the people of Bentiu, such as the use of Chinampa gardens to cultivate crops within the communities all year round.

Despite the lack of clarity surrounding the origins of chinampa agriculture in the Valley of Mexico, it is widely acknowledged that this practice was extensively employed throughout Mexico for several centuries preceding the ascendance of the Aztecs.

Chinampa gardens are raised flood-adaptive agriculture systems, consisting of elevated platforms, like island plots surrounded by water and connected to ditches. The gardens are constructed manually by digging canals, piling, heaping, and constructing soil structure.

A soil layer is developed in the form of a bed elevated with fertile organic and fish waste products, accompanied by mulching to increase moisture in the beds. With that, soil fertility is enhanced by the organic waste products mixed with local green vegetation, such as dry grasses, animal waste for manure, and mud. The heap is then fenced with timber poles and bamboo sticks to protect the garden from wind, pests, and erosion in case the water levels rise. 

In Rubkona, a group of farmers who were trained through the DRC project, Complimentary Action for Resilience Building (CARB), have adapted the use of chinampa gardens as a resilient and sustainable mechanism for climate adaptation.

With the rainy season approaching and the floodwaters showing no signs of drying up in Unity State, the farmers are confident that they will still be able to practice agriculture on their chinampa gardens despite the rains that are most likely to cause flooding in the state. 

This is the first time that we are seeing this system of farming in South Sudan. Despite the floods that have displaced us, we are still able to practice agriculture using this method. All we need to do is dig and build it at a higher level to prevent the water from washing it away. Last season, we were able to plant and harvest our vegetables, which gave us a good yield despite the floodwaters that covered this area.

/  Gatluak James, community leader in Bieh Chinampa garden group, Rubkona County

With a chinampa garden, the floodwaters that rise through capillarity to the crops reduce the need for additional irrigation in case of a dry season.

A considerable portion of fertile soil is generated in the aquatic components of the garden, greatly influencing soil productivity and making the garden very fertile.

The gardens can have up to seven crop rotations per year. Chinampas also provides ecosystem services, particularly gas exclusion and biodiversity diversification, offering recreational potential. This could help provide both food and ecosystem services. 

Complimentary Action for Resilience Building (CARB)

The Complimentary Action for Resilience Building (CARB) project is funded by USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA).

This project is currently implemented in South Sudan through a consortium with Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) as the led partner. Alongside NRC, other partners in the consortium include International Rescue Committee (IRC), ACTED, REACH and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).

The DRC is responsible for implementing the project in specific target areas within South Sudan. These include Unity state, specifically Rubkona and Guit counties, as well as WBEG state, which encompasses Wau and Jur River counties. These locations have been identified as priority areas for intervention by DRC.

The primary objective of this project is to address the pressing issue of food and nutrition security for communities that have been severely affected by conflict and are considered vulnerable.

The ultimate goal is to enhance the resilience of these communities, enabling them to better cope with and overcome future shocks and challenges.

Through the provision of support and the implementation of strategic measures, the project aims to ensure that these communities are equipped with the necessary tools to effectively handle any adversities they may encounter in the future.

Funded by;

United States Agency for International Development
United States Agency for International Development
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