Hosting a huge influx of southerners who have returned from the north since Sudan's civil war ended six years ago, Northern Bahr El-Ghazal State depends heavily on aid to feed its people.
United States-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Refugees International estimates that more than 400,000 people or one third of the state's population have returned since 2004, placing a huge burden on its social services.
About 40 per cent of the state's population rely on handouts from the World Food
Programme (WFP) and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), according to Southern Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC) State Director Gar Gar Adim.
"We have an influx of returnees who came from North Sudan," said State Secretary-General Kuot Kuot. "The issue of returnees is one of the most challenging scenarios we have as a state."
Since 2010 alone, the state has received an estimated 86,530 returnees from the north, with some 90 per cent of them depending on food aid, said Director Adim.
"We are the leading state in terms of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the south," Northern Bahr El-Ghazal State Governor Gen. Paul Malong Awan said. "Right now, about 65,000 IDPs are on the waiting list to come into the state from Khartoum."
With such a large number of people needing food, some must wait for their rations to arrive.
Before returnee Nyanjok Jurwer Ngor recently left Khartoum to return home, she was promised assistance by the Southern Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC) in the state, but none has been forthcoming.
"We arrived here empty-handed," complained the mother of five, showing the ration card she was given by the SSRRC before leaving Khartoum. "They promised to provide assistance during our initial resettlement phase ... Life is so difficult right now."
Promising to look into claims like Ms. Ngor's, SSRC Director Adim added that his office and the WFP were only providing food rations for three months to returnees.
WFP head in the state Jayoung Lee said his office was busy distributing food to thousands of people who had returned from the north.
He noted that the WFP had provided food aid to some 58,000 returnees and 4,000 IDPs who fled Kiir Adem north of the state capital Aweil following an aerial bombardment in November 2010.
"Right now our focus is very much on the returnees," Mr. Lee said. "We provided returnees with a three-month general food distribution package consisting of sorghum, beans and vegetable oils."
But Governor Malong disagreed with the short time span for food assistance. "Three months is not enough for those people and it would be good if they were assisted up to August, a time of new harvest in the region."
The WFP, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other donor agencies are trying to avert dependence on food aid in Northern Bahr El-Ghazal by training farmers, building key agricultural assets and storage facilities, creating access to markets and constructing roads.
"This year we plan to invest much more on food for recovery activities to upgrade the skills of the people that would enable them to increase their agricultural production and to enhance their food security ...," Ms. Lee said.
Measures were also in place to reduce poverty at the state level, according to Secretary-General Kuot. All five state counties were now connected through a road and bridge network, creating access to markets for local farmers.
"As a government, we have invested a lot in rebuilding the state infrastructure, which was totally destroyed during the war," he said. "We are ... working with our people and other partners, including the UN and other donors, to develop our state."
Acting State Minister for Agriculture Albino Madhan Anei Atem said they were offering seeds and training for farmers.
"We have arable and vast fertile lands with huge animal resources. Now what we need is to mobilize people to go back to farming," said Mr. Atem, who also serves as State Minister of Animal Resources and Fisheries.
He noted that negative cultural practices, such as using animals only for dowries, were changing. "Now the local community are considering their cattle resources as a source of income and are selling and buying cattle like other commodities in the market. This is a very important development, given the huge animal resource we have throughout the state."
Governor Malong said they were encouraging people to cultivate their land and produce enough food to consume or sell in the market. "As a government we are working for the prevalence of peace and stability in the state so that people can cultivate their own food."
Such efforts are good news for returnees who would eventually like to support themselves, like Ms. Ngor. "I don't (want) to live on handouts forever. I would like to work and assist myself if the government provides plots and seeds for us," the returnee said.
In addition to Northern Bahr El-Ghazal, other states suffering severe food insecurity include Eastern Equatoria, Warrap, Lakes and Jonglei.
According to a 2010 FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission, 890,000 people (9.7 per cent of total population) in Southern Sudan are currently severely food insecure and an additional 2.4 million people (26 per cent) are moderately food insecure.
But the assessment also noted that food security in Southern Sudan had markedly improved since the civil war ended six years ago and that crop-growing conditions in 2010 had been generally good. The April/May rainy season had started on time with rainfall levels normal to above normal, and generally well distributed in most parts of the region.
According to the WFP, the number of people expected to need food aid in 2011 is 1.4 million and at worst-case scenario 2.7 million. The huge majority of these dependents will be returnees from the north and those internally displaced by insecurity.
A January 2011 FAO/WFP press release singled out rebel activities, tribal armed conflicts and sustained tensions over borders as having a negative impact on farming and husbandry activities.