The importance of livestock to livelihoods in South Sudan

How important is livestock currently to livelihoods in South Sudan? How has changed the volumes traded and what the causes are of this? The current Helpdesk report answers these and other important questions about the state of knowledge about the livestock markets in South Sudan.

South Sudan© VSF Germany

A report by Andy Catley

In South Sudan agro-pastoralism is the main livelihood system in rural areas. Although agropastoralism involves both livestock rearing and crop production, a household’s financial capital is held in the form of livestock. Livestock also supply milk and other foods, and are sold to purchase cereals for food and meet other domestic needs. Poorer households aim to build their herds; this is the key and economically logical strategy for building their financial capital. Due to the seasonality of food production, milk is a critical food at specific times of year, when other foods e.g. cereals, are not readily available. Milk is an especially important food for young children, and pregnant and lactating mothers. Livestock is also important in South Sudan’s pastoralist and agrarian areas.

In addition to the role of livestock as financial capital and food, traditional social support systems in South Sudan are based on livestock transactions. In particular, the use of livestock as bridewealth creates social networks, with reciprocal assistance in times of hardship. An individual’s vulnerability depends heavily on their social connectedness, and social connections are created and maintained through livestock exchanges. This critical role of livestock in South Sudan is difficult to quantify, but has huge significance in communities facing crises such as protracted conflict and market failures.

Information on trends in livestock points to a decline in livestock among wealthier and middlewealth households as a result of targeted raiding during the recent conflict. Consequently, affected households have shifted into a category of poor households i.e. there are now higher numbers of poor households in South Sudan, with relatively few animals. From an economic perspective, agro-pastoralism is associated with the ownership of at least three Tropical Livestock Units (TLU) per capita, equivalent to about four cattle or 30 sheep or goats per person. However, using a Food Security and Nutrition Monitoring Bulletin from May 2018 (World Food Programme, 2018), average livestock ownership in South Sudan was estimated at only to 0.87 Tropical Livestock Units per capita. This low level of livestock ownership is broadly consistent with the recent categorization of 5.4 million people in South Sudan as severely food insecure (Integrated Phase Classification3, 4 and 5).

At the same time, South Sudan’s oil wealth up to 2015 and conflict since 2013 seems to have a created a class of “super-rich” elites with very large herds of livestock. In addition to problems such as conflict and market access, the critical livelihood issue for many households is the extent to which they can rebuild their herds or access livestock products, especially milk. For the millions of poorer herding households who still rely on livestock or with aspirations to rebuild their herds, the danger is that within aid circles, livestock is viewed as the domain of the rich, rather than the critical financial asset of the poor.



You can read the detailed report HERE



Catley, A. (2018). Livestock and livelihoods in South Sudan. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies, © DFID - Crown copyright 2018.

Is part of series

K4D Helpdesk Report;485 & 508