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Aid for Africa Endowment Scholar Returns from Tracking Malnutrition and Hunger in South Sudan

Lauer met with women in groups to discuss food habits and taboos.

In July the Aid for Africa blog highlighted Jacqueline Lauer, the Aid for Africa Endowment Scholar at Tufts University’s Friedman School, who conducted research this summer in South Sudan with Action Against Hunger. Lauer was trying to identify factors that contribute to malnutrition in two rural counties of Warrap State—some of the most underdeveloped areas of this young country.  She recently returned to Boston to present her findings.

Lauer lived in the region from late May through early August, conducting household surveys of family and community food habits. With the help of local translators she talked with almost 150 women individually and conducted about 20 focus groups of six to eight women in each.  “I found it interesting that the women were more forthcoming in groups, than one-on-one,” Lauer said. “We were able to talk about food taboos and cultural beliefs openly.”

Children were monitored for growth in Warrap State.

Lauer said that during the “hunger season,” which occurs from May through August–the months immediately before the harvest–rains are heavy and food supplies are generally lower. During this period, people depend more on wild foods to supplement their diets, but children are less at risk because cow’s milk is available for them.   “After planting, the cattle are moved from the villages to areas with more grazing area and water,” Lauer said.  It is during these dry-season months–March through May—that children are most vulnerable to malnutrition, possibly because children do not have access to milk. 

The communities in these rural areas of South Sudan historically were pastoralists, Lauer said.  Decades of war have made them more sedentary but still kept men away from their homes. As a result women have been doing much of the farming. “Men still see their role as protector. As peace continues, they will hopefully start laying down their arms and picking up plows,“she said.

Join us in congratulating Jackie on this successful project.

According to Lauer, better seeds, plows, and fertilizers will be critical to increasing harvests and reducing food insecurity during the hunger season.  “It might also be good practice to talk with families about leaving a cow or two behind to supplement the diets of children during the months following planting,” she said. 

Lauer is now working as a research assistant at the Feinstein International Center, a financial supporter of the Warrap project, to research livelihoods and conflict in the Jonglei region of South Sudan.  “I am just helping with literature review at this point, but I wouldn’t mind following up with work on the ground,” she said. “I’d love the chance to go back.”

Aid for Africa believes that development efforts must be studied and improved if they are going to be effective.  The Aid for Africa Endowment for Food and Sustainable Agriculture supports graduate students who seek to advance the well-being of people in Africa through scientific research.

View a summary presentation of the study

Read the July blog post