This photo essay is the first in a four part series by Bastiaan Huesken reporting on rural poverty, food insecurity and education in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is currently conducting an impact assessment of Projet Riz, a development project by Heineken International NV and the European Cooperative for Rural Development (Eucord) in the DRC. The project, focusing on smallholder rice farmers, has led Bastiaan to some of the most remote areas of country.
This article provides an overview of food insecurity in the country from the lingering impact of conflicts through investment issues to poor yields. The subsequent pieces will deal with these issues in more depth before looking at the problems of infrastructure in the DRC and finally the successes of Projet Riz.
In 2009 Bralima SARL – a subsidiary of Heineken International NV– and the European Cooperative for Rural Development (Eucord) launched Projet Riz, a development project targeting rural poverty, food insecurity and access to primary education in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Specifically, the project aims to improve smallholder farmers’ productive capacity and catalyse the commercialisation of rice production by facilitating workshops detailing modern farming techniques, improving access to agricultural inputs such and crucially, by integrating smallholder rice farmers into the Bralima brewery’s supply chain.
By Bastiaan Huesken, 5th July, 2012.
1. Physical Insecurity
Mines still surround the International Airport of Kisangani, a silent yet deadly reminder of the six day war between the Rwandan and Ugandan armies in 2000. Years of political instability and physical insecurity paralyzed agricultural and by extension economic activity in the DRC.
2. The Desperate Demand for Affordable Rice
Rice constitutes one of the staple foods for many millions of Congolese, in particular the ever increasing number of urban Congolese consume large amounts of the starch. Continuous physical insecurity and political instability have meant however that local agricultural and infrastructural capacity is insufficient to provide for national demand of rice (and other agricultural products). Producers and consumers alike suffer under this status quo as producers cannot produce rice for the price that consumers can afford.
3. Beyond the Capacity of the State
The DRC’s agricultural sector was not always in the state it is now. Pictured above is a laboratory at Yangambi. Yangambi was the premiere agricultural, ecological and biological research center in Sub-Saharan Africa between the 1930’s and 1960’s and the faculty of agronomy of the University of Kisangani was based in Yangambi. A lack of running water and electricity meant that it had to be relocated to Kisangani however. Both running water and electricity were available but neglect and theft of the copper wires mean that this is no longer the case. The research center now stands as a testament to the lack of capacity and commitment towards and investment on the part of the national government in (re)launching agricultural production in the DRC. Enter Projet Riz.
4. Sourcing Rice Locally
Bralima uses locally sourced rice to produce an array of their products, including Primus beer. Prior to 2009 the brewery exclusively used imported rice, now 90% of all rice used by Bralima is locally sourced. In sourcing rice locally the brewery fulfills several crucial and previously unfulfilled roles, in particular providing an outlet for rice farmers’ production, thereby stimulating the cultivation of rice.
5. Increasing Smallholder Rice Farmers’ Productivity
Simultaneously, the project works to increase smallholder rice farmers’ productivity. The project aims to do so by facilitating access to agricultural inputs – in particular high yield seed varieties – and by organizing workshops detailing modern methods of rice production.
6. Working with Local NGOs
Bralima and Eucord work together with local NGO’s focused on agriculture to achieve this goal. These local partners are tasked with, among others, enlisting field extension agents – vulgalisateurs. Field extension agents are themselves smallholder farmers living in target areas and provide the local partners with constant contact to the project’s target population. Together, the field extension agents and agronomists working for the local partners set up demonstration sites and organize workshops aimed at demonstrating modern methods of rice cultivation and most importantly, the efficacy hereof.