Darfur on the Move: Going Home

 Women harvest okra from the community vegetable garden in Angime, West Darfur. Photo credit © UNDP Sudan 2014

Having fled from conflict and instability, Eida Adam Abbaker finally returned home to Angime in West Darfur in 2012. Eida has since become one of the key community members working in Angime’s vegetable garden. In the past, her income stemmed mainly from firewood collection and charcoal production, work which was not only arduous and time consuming, but also unsustainable and harmful for the environment. “Now we grow vegetables and sell in the market in the village and markets in Chad. Not only has my income increased but my lifestyle has changed too,” she states, carrying a full load of fresh okra. “I feel happy that I can feed my children with fresh vegetables which have lots of nutrition too. “

Despite continued conflict and displacement in several areas of Darfur, West Darfur has enjoyed relative stability in recent years and witnesses voluntary returns of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees. As of November 2013, the Humanitarian Aid Commission and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed a total of 50, 952 returnees to West Darfur State.

 A woman arranges her products at the Angime market. Photo credit © UNDP Sudan 2014

These spontaneous return processes are typically assisted only through short-term humanitarian support, yet they also require additional medium- to long-term recovery assistance to become sustainable.  Therefore, in 2013 with the support from Greece, UNDP launched a pilot project aimed at supporting IDPs and refugees in their process of return. The pilot targeted four return locations in West Darfur with activities that were aimed at re-establishing critical community infrastructures such as markets, water pumps and grinding mills alongside shared income-generating activities.  The interventions were identified in close consultation with the Community Development Committees in each village, which now ensure regular maintenance and solid financial management of these communal assets.

The village of Angime is located 28 km southwest of Geneina town, in West Darfur. During the conflict the entire population was displaced to Chad and the village was abandoned in its entirety. In 2011, people slowly started to return to Angime, and with the onset of the UNDP supported pilot project in 2013, the community jointly decided to prioritise the establishment of a community vegetable garden.  The garden was planted near a wadi which runs along the border between Sudan and Chad. Today, the garden produces okra, cucumber, tomatoes and mulukhiya not only for consumption by the people in Angime, but also to sell at local markets on either side of the border.  One year on, people are hoping to expand the garden by growing water melons and a diverse range of vegetables.

These gardens are set up to be managed by the community itself, and some of the benefits from selling vegetables are saved for maintenance of the garden treadle pump. It is not only the producers who benefit from the garden in Angime, nomads also come regularly to collect weeds for their animals. Recognising that safety may become an issue, the community has organised itself to protect the garden and the treadle pump. One of the ways in which they do this is to invite people from the neighbouring village across the border in Chad to come to work in the garden and thereby maintain good relationships with them. Some of these people are originally from Angime, but who were displaced during conflict. By giving opportunities to work in the garden, the refugees can already start the process of reintegrating to their community of origin as many are expressing interests to return to Angime.

 The meat section of the market in Angime. Photo credit © UNDP Sudan 2014

With a market that is again up and running on a weekly basis, the life of the community and its people has changed. Fresh vegetables from the garden, meat, and other daily necessities are sold. Hawa Gamr Mohamed is one of the women who sells her fruit and vegetables at the market and she notes that: “We used to travel to Chad to buy foods and daily necessities. Now we can buy and sell products in the village.” The market not only provides an opportunity to buy and sell goods locally, with farmers and nomads setting up stands side-by-side, it also provides the surrounding communities opportunities to meet, interact and trade across past divides.

According to Arbab Omer Isag, a community leader in Angime, about 30 new households returned to the village in 2013 with more people planning to return in 2014. He believes that the village has begun to prosper again, with the market revitalised and more people eager to return. With people from other villages also coming to the market, community leaders are even thinking to request the local authorities to change public transportation routes to stop in Angime to accommodate the demands for movements of people and goods. Recently, about 1200 people have returned to two villages near Angime and these people are now coming to the Angime market on a regular basis. Arbab proudly revealed that “This formerly abandoned village is now becoming a hub for the return villages in this area just as it was before.”

Although the conflict is far from over and past months have seen an upsurge in armed fighting and insecurity, providing lasting solutions in areas where the security situation allows for safe return remains a key priority for those who wish to see the region of Darfur embark on a prosperous path towards recovery and development. Therefore, UNDP is scaling up the project in 2014 through funding support from UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery and the State of Qatar. The project will now support more than 19,300 returnees and over 4,800 nomads in nine villages located mainly in Beida locality in West Darfur. In these villages, the aim is to restore and improve community livelihood assets, both at infrastructure and human capability level using an area-focused approach by targeting clusters of villages in order to promote sustainable livelihoods and communities’ integration through markets and value chains. Further, the project will promote environmentally sustainable natural resource management through livelihood diversification and conflict resolution mechanisms.  These are key elements also of the Darfur Development Strategy’s Economic Recovery Pillar, and reinforce the importance of sustainable economic livelihoods and durable solutions for returnees, for the overall stability in the region.

UNDPs work on livelihoods recovery in Darfur would not have been possible without the generous contributions of USAID/OFDA, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Greece and the Darfur Community Peace and Stability Fund.