At 11 million head, cattle outnumber people in South Sudan and are central to the country’s economy and society. Now, 13 months of civil war have disrupted traditional migration routes and disease patterns in a way that has sparked fresh cycles of violence and jeopardized the country's broader social cohesion.
South Sudan’s cattle are in danger of becoming “no longer resilient, no longer economically viable, not a viable way of life,” Sue Lautze, country head of the Food and Agriculture Organization, told IRIN.
According to FAO, as a result of widespread displacement of livestock, “tribal conflicts, cattle raids, and disease outbreaks have all intensified on an unprecedented scale, threatening the national herd and tearing at the social, political, and economic fabric of South Sudan.”
Twenty-five-year-old pastoralist John Mabil, who also works as a teacher, is already bearing the impact.
“Right now, I am doomed,” he said from Juba.
His journey began from his home in Bor, capital of Jonglei state. Conflict forced him to flee first to neigbouring Lakes State, then to Juba, and then to Kakuma, a refugee camp in northern Kenya.
In the camp, he hatched a plan: he would sell a handful of his 25 cattle to pay for a university education in Uganda. Armed with the degree, he would return to a better job in a peaceful South Sudan and use his remaining cows as a down payment on a dowry. He would marry, start a family and, in time, forget the war.
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