Vulnerable, but growing stronger every day
Lubumbashi, Katanga – If you drew a circle 100 kilometres in diameter around this humming mining city you would encompass a thriving horticulture sector that not only feeds the city but has given thousands of disadvantaged Congolese a chance to make a living.
Peace returned to southern Katanga about three years ago just as the price soared for the copper, cobalt and other minerals from the province's many mines. With a booming economy and influx of people, demand for fresh vegetables increased.
Marie Kalunga, a 52-year-old widow with four children, fled fighting in northern Katanga two years ago. Her husband, who was already ill, died during their flight.
"When we arrived we found this community that welcomed us. The chief gave me a small parcel of land and with that I got started. I knew how to farm already. It's my life," she says.
"Before I had nothing. Now I make US$300 a year," she says. She is ambitious and saves what money she can so she can buy at least a bit of fertilizer for her maize crop.
Ms Kalunga stands talking to her visitors surrounded by 40 well-watered hectares of vegetable gardens in Kamilombe, 15 kilometres west of Lubumbashi. Demand for vegetables is so high some buyers drive out to the village to buy right from the fields. For example, the Chinese community, working in the mining sector, buys large quantities of green vegetables like cabbage for their cuisine, sending a van three times a week to Kamilombe.
The van can just make it over a shaky colonial-era bridge that guards the entrance to the village. Unfortunately heavy trucks that could carry produce in bulk can't use the bridge. But FAO's emergency project has funds for shoring up the bridge foundations and upgrading the track that runs from the main road. Then business should really pick up.
FAO spreads its limited resources among the greatest number of vulnerable people. In another horticulture project in Katuba, a poor neighbourhood of Lubumbashi, the Organization assists 500 members of the Women's Association for Integated Development with seeds, tools and training.
Association president Rebecca Tshidibi, a well-spoken 24-year-old social worker, explains how she founded the group to motivate neighbourhood women living with the AIDS virus. "They had nothing to live for," she says, and market gardening became a focus and livelihood for them. Now 160 of the women, who are getting retroviral treatment, can feel part of the community. And 40 hectares of beautiful gardens enrich the neighbourhood.
"I am making US$800 a year growing vegetables," says Françoise Kubiangana, an association member standing next to her backyard garden. "With my earnings, we added a room to the house and had money to pay for school fees and food."
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