NRC spoke to locals in South Sudanese village Amothic that are surviving solely on tree leaves. Photo: Geno Teofilo/NRC

South Sudanese surviving on tree leaves

Tuva Raanes Bogsnes|Published 10. Apr 2017|Edited 07. Apr 2017
Children and others in a community visited by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in South Sudan are resorting to extreme coping techniques of eating leaves from trees as food runs out, even in crisis areas where famine has not been declared.

“Eating barely edible wild foods is a coping strategy for communities trying to survive a food crisis,” said NRC’s Country Director in South Sudan, Rehana Zawar. “The bitter leaves eaten by families we spoke to are from the Lalop tree, and have limited nutritional value. When families eat these leaves and little else, malnutrition quickly follows.”

NRC has emergency teams on the ground, and since the declaration of famine in parts of the country the organisation has helped support more than 100,000 people affected by the food crisis.

“Children are eating leaves off the trees,” said Bhakita Abuk Deng (47) in Amothic village. “Children are suffering because there is not enough food to eat. Some of the children have diarrhoea from eating the leaves,” she said, concerned for the health of her seven children.

“About 40 per cent of the people in Amothic are eating tree leaves. About half of the village are eating their seed stocks too,” said Deng Yel Piol (48) the village chief of Amothic. This is alarming, as Amothic is largely a farming community, and there will be few seeds to plant next growing season.

In this remote region of South Sudan, the food crisis has hit Amothic in Aweil Centre County hard. While famine has already been declared in Leer and Mayendit counties to the south, villages outside Aweil are also running out of food.

Formerly known as the state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, the counties which make up this region are currently in the ‘crisis’ phase or ‘emergency’ phase of food security; the latter is one level short of famine. This region previously was the site of a famine in 1998.

In areas where famine has already hit, some families have been eating wild water lilies, or seeds to survive. The consumption of seeds is especially alarming. Without seeds for cultivation, families will have nothing to plant for the next growing season. This could worsen the food crisis, and threaten to spread the famine to adjacent areas.

Across much of the country, household access to food and cash income has declined as conflict has disrupted planting, harvesting and other livelihood activities, according to food security experts, FEWSNET.

Families are fleeing the region in search of food, with many crossing into Sudan. Over 35,000 people have already fled South Sudan and crossed the border to Sudan this year, according to UNHCR.

“The problem here is hunger, and the lack of food,” said Deng Luol Mou (72) a market vendor. “This has caused many problems. It causes sickness. Some people become ill because there is no nutritious food to eat. If it continues like this, people will go to Sudan. But others that cannot go, the old and vulnerable, something worse can happen to them. They could die, because they have no food.”

“International donors need to provide more funding for emergency aid for South Sudan to stop the famine and food crisis escalating,” said Rehana Zawar. “We have a catastrophe occurring right before our eyes, and the time to act and stop this crisis from spreading is now.”

The aid appeal for South Sudan requires $1.6 billion to support people in need. So far only 18 per cent of the appeal has been funded.



Notes to editors:


  • South Sudan ranks among the countries with the highest levels of conflict-induced population displacement globally.
  • Over 1.6 million people are displaced inside the country, and more than 900,000 have fled to neighbouring countries since December 2013.
  • 6 million people - more than half South Sudan´s population - need humanitarian assistance.
  • Over 4.8 million people in South Sudan will face severe food shortages over the coming months, and the risk of a hunger catastrophe continues to threaten parts of the country.
  • See an explanation on food insecurity Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) levels.
  • NRC previously supported a food-for-assets programme in Amothic, which resulted building a new village access road, and improved food availability for community members. NRC is seeking additional funding to support the region.

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We have spokespersons in South Sudan and Kenya available for interview.

Contact person in Nairobi: Geno Teofilo  

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