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Urban horticulture in DRC reaps $400 mln for small growers

City malnutrition drops as more affordable fruit and vegetables available

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
Market forces work with cabbages too.
10 June 2011, Rome - An FAO urban horticulture programme in the five main cities of the Democratic Republic of Congo has taken a bite out of chronic malnutrition levels in urban areas and created a surplus with a market value of over $400 million.

The programme, started as a response to mass urban migration following a five-year conflict in the eastern DRC, now assists local urban growers to produce 330 000 tons of vegetables annually.

This compares to 148 000 in 2005/2006, an increase of 122 percent over a short period of five years. Less than 10 percent of the vegetables produced by the project are consumed by beneficiaries. The remainder, constituting more than 250 000 tons of produce, is sold in urban markets and supermarkets, for up to $4 a kilo for the major vegetables produced: tomatoes, sweet peppers and onions.

Around 11.5 million people live in the five cities concerned -- Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Mbanza-Ngungu, Kisangani and Likasi -- out of the DRC's total population of around 68 million.

Greens a-plenty

Production levels reached through implementation of the $10.4 million FAO urban horticulture programme, financed by Belgium and implemented by the Ministry of Rural Development since 2000 with strong support from municipal committees, translate to around 28.6 kilos of vegetables a year per city-dweller.

"This programme has increased per capita daily intake of micronutrients: different types of greens, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots  and other vegetables, and as such is enormous help in the fight against malnutrition, especially amongst children and breast-feeding women in cities," said Remi Nono-Womdim, FAO Agricultural Officer.

An estimated half of children in the DRC are chronically undernourished.

60 000 jobs

As well as food, the programme has also helped provide employment and income for 16 000 small-scale market gardeners, all linked in to the programme and to 60 000 people more that form the links in the horticulture chain from field to table.

The FAO project in the DRC is a flagship model of how to help cities grow their own nutrients and micro-nutrients to keep pace with growing demand. The global number of urban dwellers is now higher than those living in rural areas. With the fastest growing cities situated in the developing world, vegetable growing in towns, cities, suburbs and shanty towns is essential to improving nutrition and food security in poor countries.

Lubumbashi, the second largest city in the DRC, has grown by 50 percent in just ten years to 1.5 million people, and thanks to the FAO project, local vegetable production has kept pace. Today market gardens all around the city produce around 60 000 tons of vegetables a year employing 7 800 small scale market gardeners.

Rural migrants bring skills

FAO began its work in the DRC starting with a baseline study on the obstacles to urban and peri-urban horticulture. The study found the main ones were a lack of secure tenure over land, limited access to water, low yields due to poor quality seed and lack of appropriate production techniques and of cheap credit for growers.

Other constraints included the limited number of trained personnel within the Ministry of Rural Development and the lack of post-harvest technologies and market facilities that forced growers to sell directly from their fields at lower prices.

"It helped that many of the new city dwellers were rural immigrants who already had basic knowledge of crop production," said Nono-Womdim. There were also sizeable areas of fertile land available, especially around Lubumbashi.

FAO's approach

The first thing FAO did was to put in place institutional structures to link FAO, government and local authorities with horticulturists and farmers' groups.

The UN agency has also supplied new varieties and also invested in repairing irrigation infrastructure and flood control works which had a side benefit of providing safe and clean water for the communities.  

Farmers have seen their incomes increase dramatically. On average, in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi for example, annual income of each farmer has increased from around $500 in 2004 to $2000 in 2010 and in Likasi it rose from $700 to $3 500. There have been similar increases in other cities.

To ensure the safety and quality of produce for the consumer, FAO introduced Integrated Production and Protection Management, which helps reduce the need to rely on synthetic pesticides. 

More to do

There is still more work to do and the DRC's National Service for Urban and Peri-urban Horticulture is preparing to take up the challenges ahead.

"The great thing is we have shown this goal can be reached, what we need to do now is scale-up production in the DRC and in other parts of Africa," said Nono-Womdim.