He's Raising Hope in Southern Sudan by Boosting Crop Yields - and Women's Rights

Article excerpt

As southern Sudan heads toward independence, Driuni Jakani works to promote peace, small farming, and the rights of women.

Driuni Jakani aims to transform his rural community in southern Sudan from postwar devastation to economic growth and prosperity.

He's already made a promising start.

In January, southern Sudanese voted in a referendum in favor of becoming an independent nation.

People like Mr. Jakani will be vital to the success of Africa's newest country. "Right now, because of the war years, there are a lot of international organizations here," Jakani says. "But over time, they will move out. And so we need to be ready to serve our own communities ourselves."

Jakani was born in a remote village in Western Equatoria State, in southern Sudan. In 1983, when he was 9 years old, war resumed between the government in the predominantly Muslim north of Sudan and rebels in the mainly Christian and animist south. The war, which continued until 2005, devastated the south and resulted in the deaths of 2 million civilians.

Jakani joined the southern rebels after being forced to witness the rape of one of his sisters by a Sudanese government soldier. "After that I figured you must have a gun to protect your family from others who have a gun," he says.

But he never liked being in the military. So when negotiations to end the civil war began to show promise, he left the army and went to study in neighboring Uganda.

When peace finally came, he returned to southern Sudan to work for one of the many international organizations coming in to support postwar reconstruction.

In 2006, a teacher in Western Equatoria introduced Jakani to five very bright orphans who were struggling to stay in school. Undeterred by his own limited personal finances, Jakani invested what little he had in a local poultry farm to generate enough income to support the young students.

For two years he worked hard and learned a lot from his foreign colleagues.

By late 2008 he decided he could have more impact in his community if he started his own group. Today Lacha Community and Economic Development (LCED) has 10 employees and has been recognized as a Community-Based Organization of Excellence by the local branch of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Its mission is threefold: to support peace, agriculture, and gender equality.

"Let me tell you why we need all three," says Jakani, leaning forward to talk about issues he is clearly passionate about.

"Without peace, we can't do anything," he begins. "As long as our population is traumatized by war, we can't even think about development.

"Agriculture is key because more than 90 percent of those in our community make their livelihoods from agriculture. …