11 December 2002, Goma/Nairobi --Rehabilitation of small roads will shortly start in some parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

It is a vital step in bringing food to the hungry and boosting agricultural production, FAO said.

"The rehabilitation of more than 300 km of small roads close to Kinshasa, Kikwit, Mbanza Ngungu, Mvuazi, Kisangani and Goma will give people access to the main food markets in the region all year round", said Alexis Bonte, FAO's Emergency Coordinator for the eastern part of DRC.

Broken bridges and major damage on local roads will be repaired, FAO said. The project is part of FAO's campaign to improve food security and agricultural production in the rural areas. The roads will also improve access for humanitarian assistance.

The DRC is among the countries with the highest percentage of undernourished people worldwide - 73 percent of the population are undernourished in DRC, according to FAO. The number of chronically hungry people increased from around 12 million in 1990-92 to around 36 million in 1998-2000.

Roads are crucial for fighting hunger

"Farmers without access to local and regional markets cannot sell their products and earn their income. If food supply is reduced and doesn't reach the cities, prices often go up. This is why the rehabilitation of roads is so crucial for fighting hunger and malnutrition. Where farmers earn money, they will be able to diversify their diet and to pay for health care and education," Bonte said.

FAO will first focus on two roads (Ngungu and Kako Jomba Road) in North Kivu close to Goma, which link rural communities with big food markets. Roads will also be rehabilitated in Bandundi and Bas-Congo provinces, and at a later stage the Old Buta Road near Kisangani (Province Orientale) as well as the so-called Elephant Road, also near Kisangani.

"We have contracted Congolese companies that will build bridges along the roads, thus making them passable even during the rainy season", Bonte said.

The project also includes a food-for-work component operated in cooperation with the World Food Programme: people will receive food in exchange for work on the roads.

"The benefit for the local population does not end once the project is completed. We will hand over wheelbarrows, spades, shovels, hoes and crowbars to the people living along the roads, and they will be responsible for maintaining the roads," Bonte added.

At the end of the project, FAO will also give seeds and tools to help farmers restart or increase agricultural production.

When traders come to buy agricultural products, they will have to make a financial contribution to the local road maintenance committee.

Road work is expected to be completed by June 2003. By the next rainy season, which is expected to start in September 2003, farmers will be able to reach markets by using the rehabilitated roads.

The governments of Sweden and Italy have provided funds for these projects.

Victoria Engstrand-Neacsu,
Communication Officer, Kenya,
(+254) 2 272 91 60 / 272 51 28,

or Erwin Northoff,
Information Officer,
(+39) 06 5705 3105,