The people of southern Sudan, who have endured civil war and famine for 13 years, may be about to find an unlikely savior: the pig.
For the first time, the squeally porkers are being introduced by international aid agencies in a strategy to overcome war-caused food shortages among isolated communities in this region.
When the first little piggies came to one such town, the people went hog wild. They had not seen swine in 60 years. Only a few seniors remembered the peal of an oink.
The town of Yambio in the southwestern corner of Sudan was chosen as a testing trough to see if the pigs would be accepted into the community and not wilt from the sub-Saharan heat.
The initial problem for aid workers was how to find suitable piggies to bring to this new market. They eventually found a pig farmer in neighboring Central African Republic - 300 miles away. A local trader arranged a convoy of seven bicycles to carry the pigs along muddy jungle roads.
"One of the cyclists would be assigned food to carry for the piglets, and then six other riders on the other bicycles would be assigned to carry two pigs in boxes," said Anne Ito, a project worker with the the Catholic Relief Service in Yambio. The first two piglets arrived in May and caused something of a sensation.
Why pigs? Isn't Sudan Muslim and therefore religiously averse to pork?
Only northern Sudan is Muslim, while the pig experiment is being done in the Christian and animist south. The two halves of the country have more than food differences between them: The south has been fending off attacks by the Islamic fundamentalist government and that 13-year war has resulted in shortages of food.
"The war has cut a lot of traditional trading routes," says Sally Burnheim of the United Nations' Operation Lifeline Sudan. "Fighting has blocked the movement of cattle from the north into south Sudan. And other sources of meat such as deer, monkeys, and small rodents have been killed by soldiers."
The pigs so far aren't being taken everywhere. The Catholic Relief Service aid agency is focusing on fertile areas of south Sudan where there is enough fresh produce so that the pigs won't scarf down the entire villages' food supply.
During the long civil war, famine has contributed to many of the estimated 1 million deaths. The UN has prevented many famines by transporting millions of tons of food into the region. But officials say the ultimate solution is for the Sudanese to become more self-sufficient.
The pig projects are seen by the international aid agencies as one way of helping these war-torn people support themselves.
"The idea of introducing pigs is certainly unusual and innovative," says Ms. Burnheim.
"We're also working on projects involving fish-farming and rabbit-rearing among communities as a way of encouraging people to provide for themselves," she adds.