Relaunching agriculture in war-torn DR Congo, one field at a time (FAO)

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."

Untapped potential

"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, 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

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.

Top 10 donors to FAO's programme in DR Congo

UN Pooled Fund: US$29 142 654

Belgium: US$17 432 427

Central Emergency Response: US$Fund 12 850 344

European Commission: US$8 286 411

World Bank: US$5 400 000

Sweden: US$5 167 853

United States: US$2 826 000

Netherlands: US$2 450 000

Switzerland: US$2 339 035

UN Development Programme: US$1 935 824


Peter Lowrey

Information Officer, FAO

(+39) 06 570 52762

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