Imagine: A land still scarred by years of conflict turning to its very roots for a chance at healing, for an opportunity to grow and thrive.
That is exactly the sort of vision that is being cast for the country of South Sudan, which will be just six months old on January 9. Decades of civil war and ethnic violence have left their marks on its people. But after formally declaring its independence in 2011, the nation has begun, slowly, to march towards hope, and out of despair.
There are several sources for this newfound optimism, but one of the most important is the country's agricultural resources. To date, South Sudan's only industry to speak of is in oil. But its large swaths of fertile land have people inside and outside of the country believing that South Sudan has the potential to become "one of the breadbaskets of Africa".
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said as much in December at a development and investment conference for South Sudan in Washington, D.C.
Around the same time, the Guardian reported that USAID will guarantee $7 million in bank loans to the country's spindly agricultural sector. Some of that money will be reserved for individuals who run small farms.
More importantly, however, it's the people on the ground in South Sudan – both churches and citizens themselves – who are starting to buy in to this vision.
Robin Denney worked as an agricultural consultant with the Episcopal Church of Sudan and said this vision makes a lot of practical sense, if only because so many Sudanese farm to put food on their own tables.
"Probably 95 percent of South Sudanese are subsistence farmers or livestock keepers who get everything for themselves," she said.
Denney, who recently returned to the States, visited 25 of the 26 dioceses in South Sudan, conducting agricultural assessments and talking with the bishops about their vision for agriculture, programs, and what assets were already on the ground.
"It is an incredibly diverse country," she said. "In some areas you have only livestock keepers, and in other areas you have only farmers who don't keep livestock."