Donegal native Mary-Ellen McGroarty, South Sudan’s Country Director for the UN World Food Programme, has been described as one of Donegal’s finest ambassadors.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue issued the praise for McGroarty this week following his international development mission to the Horn of Africa.

The Donegal Minister said: “Under Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the World Food Programme is providing daily food support to over four million people, as well as leading many development projects to help local communities become more food secure. The work that Mary-Ellen and the World Food Programme does is truly inspirational, and I was glad to commit a 40 per cent increase in Ireland’s funding for the work of the World Food Programme while with her in South Sudan.”

Mary Ellen McGroarty of the WFP with Minister McConalogue. Photo: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Pointing out that the primary focus of his visit was to engage with the World Food Programme (WFP), as Ireland prepares for a new Strategic Partnership Agreement with WFP for 2025 to 2027, the Donegal Minister continued: “ I am proud to be the first Cabinet Minister from Ireland to visit South Sudan and the first Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to see how funding provided by my department is supporting communities on the ground. The people here in South Sudan are predominantly pastoralists who rely on agriculture to feed their families and for their income.”

Photo: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Reflecting on his visit to farm projects in Warrap State, South Sudan, the Minister McConalogue commented: “The stark realities of farming were evident while speaking with the community of farmers at Molboor cattle camp in Juba. Disease, low productivity, and traditional practices are impacting negatively on their ability to support themselves. WFP South Sudan, under the leadership of Country Director, and Donegal native, Mary-Ellen McGroarty, are supporting farmers to diversify their systems. It was a privilege to speak to farmers, particularly women farmers, in Alek who with support from WFP are growing vegetables all year round with the use of purpose-built ponds and climate-resistant crops such as cassava. This improves resilience and food security, thereby reducing the need for food assistance.”

Minister McConalogue also met with NGOs and UN representatives strengthening relations which began with South Sudan’s independence in 2011.

In its short 12-year history, South Sudan has been plagued by conflict and devastating weather events. Humanitarian assistance is required by 75% of its population, of which some 87% rely on agriculture, livestock, and forestry. This has been exacerbated by the arrival of over 600,000 refugees fleeing the conflict in Sudan. Ireland’s support to South Sudan is through the Government of Ireland’s International Development Programme which includes partnerships with NGOs and multilateral agencies such as WFP and FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation).