A ghost town during the day, Renk comes to life at night
Tucked in the extreme northern parts of South Sudan in the Upper Nile State is Renk Town.
For visitors, this town has one surprise: it ‘sleeps’ during the day and come to life at dusk.
Restaurants, tea places, shops, and street vendors are in full business at night; a sharp contrast compared to what you see during the day.
It is home to about 150, 000 agro-pastoralist community. Over 70 per cent of the population engages in agriculture. We later establish that daytime means a lot of work in the farmlands, thus the reason why Renk Town streets are deserted.
“I have no time to waste. This is where I spend my daytime so that at the end of the day I walk home with something,” a porter Ramadan Chol, says. He works at a warehouse for storage of agricultural produce in Renk.
“Many people especially those who have nothing to do can commit crime in the course of trying to meet their needs. That is why young people here in Renk abhor idleness,” he says.
The warehouses, fenced to maintain the standard and security of the stores by the World Food Programme (WFP), currently have more than 30,000 metric tons of agricultural products locally produced in Renk.
This is part of the 2021 produce with nearly 23,000 metric tons sold to the WFP, about 55 per cent of the 40,000 metric tons the agency had wanted to procure locally in Renk.
With the growing demand for sorghum as a result of the WFP’s local purchase, the majority of Renk County’s population has no time to waste during the day.
“I get money, my children are in school, I am saving some of the money for emergencies like a sickness I can use to treat my children. I am happy that farming is going well, WFP is buying produce from our farmers, and everyone is busy,” said Mary William, a tea seller near one of the warehouses.
Ms. Mary, 28, mother of a two-year-old girl earns between SSP8500 and SSP10,000, an equivalent of atleast $ 20 dollars daily.
“My advice to young South Sudanese is, let us not lose hope. Since there are chances to work in the garden or come do some work here in the warehouse, let’s work. WFP has offered us opportunities; first, if you are a farmer your produce will be bought locally here, and those who can work as porters get money to support themselves.”
“This is better than doing nothing at the end you start misbehaving and cause problems. We should work and help ourselves and our family members instead of destroying our country,” Mary. said.
Sadia Abdalrahman, 41, who harvested more than 5 tons of sorghum in 2021, says agriculture has become her habit due to its post benefits despite a lot of hard work required in the course of land preparation, planting, weeding, and harvesting.
Because of that, Sadia said in the past two years, May becomes the start of her busy schedule to prevent lagging behind as almost everyone in the county abandons other roles to work in the garden.
“The WFP has inspired me to love garden work because this is our main source of livelihood. You can pay your children’s school fees, take them to the hospital, and even you do not have to worry about what to eat because after all you when your product is bought,” says Sadia.
For people like Ayiik Deng, who has been smuggling sorghum and sesame to Sudan, loitering and sitting at tea places have become a past practice. He now focuses on his farm, and come to the market only Sundays or late evening to meet friends.
“Some years back, no one could buy the quantity of food which the WFP buys from us. Secondly, they come and buy it here in Renk. You do not have to smuggle it to Sudan,” says Deng.
The WFP’s in-house market has also resulted in security and peace in Renk. Potential hostile youth are engaged in agricultural production processes hence shunning violence.
“There is security in the county now because youth are busy with the WFP local procurement processes that have given almost everyone a chance to work and earn money,” Executive Director, and Acting Commissioner Anyang Agou Adop says.
“Some of the youth have become porters and others have chosen to work in the gardens instead of causing trouble. This has made youth desist from hostility. We are happy that the security situation is okay in the entire Renk County,’’ he adds.
This year, the WFP has planned to procure 40,000 metric tons of sorghum in Renk to feed the refugees, and internally displaced persons, and provide school feeding across South Sudan.
So far the food agency has got a quotation of 16,000 metric tons of the target. But some big farmers like Agro and Son Investment Company, the major sorghum producer in Renk have cut their production this year.