Relaunching agriculture in war-torn DR Congo, one field at a time
How soon should agriculture resume after a disaster?
In places like Katanga and North Kivu provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the question poses a real challenge to governments, aid agencies and donors. Their first instinct is to save lives, not livelihoods.
Five years after the Second Congo War officially came to an end, peace remains precarious, especially in eastern parts of the country. Hundreds of thousands of people are still homeless, and undernutrition affects 70 percent of the population.
Still, despite the crisis-like situation that pervades, increasing numbers of Congolese farmers are trying to pick up the pieces and get back to their fields.
“People tell us, 'we'll take World Food Programme rations, but we want to produce our own food,'" notes Clément Vangu-Lutete, Assistant FAO Representative to DR Congo.
Speaking as a donor, Alain Gallez, development officer at the Belgian embassy in Kinshasa, warns of the dangers if displaced persons become dependent on food rations. "If you put them in a position of dependency it will be harder for them to recover when peace comes," he says. "And if you feed the displaced you undercut the local farmers, who will have no buyers for their surplus."
"Agriculture has the undeniable potential to produce enough food in Congo and even reserves for times of catastrophe," states Thomas Kembola Kejuni, DR Congo’s Acting Deputy Minister for Agriculture.
But out of 6.7 million hectares of arable land in the country, only some 1.1 million ha are currently under permanent crops. Too many farmers had to flee the land due to violence.
Now they’re coming back. As of mid-2008, 450 000 internally displaced persons had returned home to Katanga province, many with the intention of resuming farming and fishing. North Kivu still has a staggering 846 000 displaced persons internally.
With support from donors like Belgium and other partners (see list at right), FAO is helping them bring the land under production again.
Over 200 FAO emergency programme staff work out of 34 offices around the country, spending endless days travelling over degraded and often dangerous roads to deliver seeds, tools and livestock, oversee operations, and train and encourage farmers and fishers as part of FAO’s US$50 million programme in the country. Another 60 FAO staff work in the Kinshasa office on development activities worth another US$25 million.
Between 2005 and 2008, the programme assisted 370 663 households, reaching about 1.9 million of the most vulnerable men, women and children in the country.
Many times, the trick to getting these people back working the land and feeding themselves is to think big, but act small.
"Big companies won't come in, so the only way to relaunch agriculture is to start with small farmers, which is why the EU supports small-scale agriculture," according to Patrick Houben, agriculture and food security projects officer at the Delegation of the European Commission, which is helping fund FAO’s efforts.
The stories contained in this package highlight the lives of some of the beneficiaries of this work. The protagonists have all struggled with loss and hardship and, with a bit of help, have managed to get back on their feet. Click on the links to the right to learn their stories.
Top 10 donors to FAO's programme in DR Congo
UN Pooled Fund: US$29 142 654
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