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Marketing Darfur: can trade bring peace and stability to a troubled region?

Press release   •   May 23, 2016 16:08 BST

Darfurian farmers celebrate after a new dam brings them a bumper sorghum crop.

Ancient camel routes, markets and dams are being rehabilitated in order to rebuild a society broken by more than a decade of civil war in the Sudanese state of North Darfur.

Development charity Practical Action has been working on a number of projects in the troubled region for more than 25 years, during which traditional community structures have been shattered.

Three elements of the charity’s work have been so successful in bringing together communities that the work is now being funded by the Darfur Community Peace and Stability Fund, a multi-donor trust fund managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Barren land revived:

Deforestation and climate change, which has brought short bursts of intense rainfall in the region, have broken huge the dams traditionally used to capture water and caused farm land to become increasingly barren, leaving thousands of farmers' livelihoods under severe threat.

Practical Action has brought neighbouring communities together to create dam management committees. The committees ensure dams are invested in, and managed, by those who will benefit from them. 

Already, The Seil Gideim Dam has been constructed and is now benefitting more than 10,000 people, but last month, with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of financial backing from UNEP, the charity started reconstruction on the largest dam yet – set to bring together dozens of communities and water to a further 10,000 people over more than 1,000 hectares of land.

Ancient routes reopened

For centuries nomadic herdsman drove cattle and camels through Darfur and lived peacefully alongside farmers who lived off the land.

However, during the unrest long-standing bonds between farmers and the pastoralist tribes were undermined. Pastoralists stopped using the migratory routes due to conflict and farmers started planting crops on them. Then when the conflict eased and the pastoralists returned to the routes crops were ruined and fighting broke out between the two groups.

The work of Practical Action is simple and reflects self-governing systems of justice traditionally used in Darfur. Project officers set up peace and stability committees which bring leading members of opposed groups together and get them to agree on where animals should be allowed to walk and feed.

Since 2011, the charity has installed nearly 200km of migratory routes and set up 20 shared water points. So far more than 20,000 people have benefitted from the project, with more set to do so after the UNDP committed further spending in the latest phase of the project.

Abandoned markets resurrected

As part of the newest phase of the project, which started five years ago, Practical Action have been reopening markets closed down during the conflict.

The markets provide the region with an economic boost and encourage a return to traditional forms of trading, which have supported the economy of the region for generations.

Importantly, they also bring community leaders from all sides of the conflict together in one place and offer a valuable opportunity to expand the peace and stability committees, discuss matters which are still causing inter-tribal conflict and, where possible, reach new agreements.

Project leader Awadalla Hamid Mohammed said: “More productive farming and the return of traditional trading routes and markets signifies a return to normality and provides a huge opportunity to rebuild trust between communities. 

"Markets have always provided a place to trade, but they also enable people to build friendships and alliances, swap information and generally network. When they stopped, communities became more isolated, which led to less understanding and a break-down of relationships. Now we believe they can be vital agents of change."

Practical Action uses technology to challenge poverty in developing countries.

Our strength is our approach. We find out what people are doing and help them to do it better. Through technology we enable poor communities to build on their skills and knowledge to produce sustainable and practical solutions - transforming their lives forever and protecting the world around them.

By doing this each year we help around a million people break out of the cycle of poverty ... for good. 

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