U.N. airlifts seeds to South Sudan's conflict-hit farmers

By Chris Arsenault ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United Nations is sending up to 18 flights a day into South Sudan carrying seeds, tools and fishing equipment to allow desperate farmers to sow crops as the planting season begins in the conflict-ravaged country. More than 175,000 farming families in violence-hit Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states need seeds in order to plant this season, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Thursday, announcing the hasty airlift. "We have a small window," FAO official Karim Bah said in a statement. Renewed violence and rain mean it is no longer viable to ship aid to many parts of the country by truck, he said. Nearly 100 tonnes of supplies have been flown from Juba, the capital, to local airstrips in recent days, the FAO said. The world's newest state, which declared independence from Sudan in 2011, was plunged into conflict nearly 18 months ago between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels allied with his former deputy, Riek Machar. The conflict reopened ethnic fault lines between Kiir's Dinka people and Machar's forces, who are largely ethnic Nuer. The violence has left many farmers with depleted food stocks, and they have only a few weeks to plant crops for next year, the FAO said. South Sudan should be a major breadbasket, but a combination of politically inspired violence and a lack of investment has left at least 2.8 million people needing support, the FAO said. (Reporting By Chris Arsenault; Editing by Tim Pearce)