Our country director in DRC, Jose Barahona (right), sent round some interesting impressions from a recent visit to the Eastern Congo.
South Kivu in Eastern Congo is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Africa and I am convinced that one day this area will be one of the world’s top tourist destinations. The day DRC is calm and stable, the millions of tourists fed up with queuing for hours at the Sagrada Familia, walking through herds of people in Venice, or having to book a year in advance to walk around in Yosemite…. They will come here.
I was visiting a programme funded by DFID that combines livelihoods and protection, an idea that came out of the brilliant mind of Joanna Trevor (Programmes Manager in DRC at the time of designing the project). The livelihoods component is pretty much business as usual: we identify cooperatives, provide them advice to increase productivity, improved seeds, better ways to sale their products… etc. The place was here:
The members of the cooperative I visited today were indeed quite happy with this way of working: they have better seeds for onions; they are able to grow two crops of onions a year (quite an achievement since an onion plant takes six months from seed to harvest); they have a larger, heavier onion. They also have a place to store them and they send someone to Bukavu to negotiate the price and sell a whole truck of onions each time. Before our intervention, they had worse seeds that gave them a smaller (lighter) onion, one crop per year and each farmer would sell at a very low price to the first intermediary passing by. Yes, I recognize this is not innovative, but… it works! We worked out the numbers together with the farmers and they calculated that now with two crops per year, heavier onions and better prices, they are making three times the money they were making three years ago. Not bad!
I know we are expected to ‘innovate to achieve impact at scale’. I know we should increase our advocacy, supporting these cooperatives to work together with other similar coops across Congo to put pressure on the Congolese Government to implement the Maputo declaration to spend at least 10% of the budget in agriculture…. But hey! Supporting cooperatives in the traditional way, when properly done, works and people are happy with it.
I love to spend time walking across fields, talking with proud farmers, everything green and growing around us. Smell the wet soil; the
mountains on the horizon… I can’t deny I enjoy it more than when I visit our latrines in crowded camps to check if our system against bad smell really works… and confirm that sometimes it doesn’t.
Other impressions from the visit:
Corruption: The protection group explained that in the roads around the area there are eight army checkpoints. Everyone passing is forced to pay US$0.80 each time they pass through a checkpoint. If they have to pass a couple of these, a farmer going from home to their field and back ends up paying US$3.20 a day. Farmers can’t afford that kind of drain, so the protection group negotiated with the army and now there are “only” four check points and they “only” have to pay US$0.30 each time they cross one. Sometimes we say the Congolese state has no presence, but it is not true. It does have a presence but is always to extract money from people, never to provide services.
The risks of working in Congo: On Sunday morning there was an incident in a house close to our office in Bukavu. It ended up with 8 hours of shooting involving Kalashnikovs and heavy artillery. Our colleagues spent the whole morning laying on the floor. By the end, several bullets had entered our office. This reminded me how volatile situations are in areas where there are so many guns, how much our colleagues working in conflict zones risk every day.