Sustainable Agriculture

A new future for corn farmers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Small harvests lead to little income and big hunger

By any measure, families living in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are among the poorest of the poor we help. Today, the DRC is ranked among the least developed countries in the world – second only to Niger.

For the past thirty years, HIDA has been working with rural farmers in Equateur, the DRC’s poorest province, where 94% of its 1.5 million inhabitants live in poverty and most survive only on subsistence agriculture.

Despite their best efforts, without access to seeds, tools, and knowledge about improved agricultural techniques, farming families in the remote region of Ubangi in the Equateur province can typically harvest only two or maybe three 120kg sacks of corn twice a year. This is not nearly enough to consistently feed a family or earn the income they need to move beyond basic survival.

Because of the poverty they face, families are often forced to sell a majority of their meager corn harvests to local merchants – sometimes earning as little as $5 for a product that currently fetches $55 in Kinshasa. Alone, farmers are simply too poor to afford the costs of transporting their small quantities of corn to Kinshasa even though the potential profits would be life-changing for them.

The solution

In 2012, HIDA set out to help farmers address these challenges by using a two-step approach that would help them increase their harvests from year to year and sell their surpluses for fair market value in Kinshasa.

In the first phase, assistance is provided in the form of seeds, tools, training, technical support, and low-interest loans that enable families to grow substantially more corn for home consumption, storage, and sale. In the second phase, after the corn is harvested, farming families are provided with assistance to arrange for a portion of their yields to be transported and sold in Kinshasa, where the selling price is significantly higher.

The results

In 2014, HIDA helped 500 farming families from the rural villages of Bogalengba, Gbatikombo, Bogwka, Ngakola, and Bozagbaswa to grow 4.5 times more corn during the main harvesting season than they were able to before participating in training and receiving other support. This is a significant accomplishment: delayed rains in the spring meant that the planting season this year was a difficult one, but by using good quality seeds and improved agricultural techniques, farmers were able to still enjoy good harvests. As a result, farmers earned an average of $165 from the season’s corn harvest (versus their previous maximum potential earnings of about $42), and more than tripled the amount of corn they had available for consumption after the harvest.

A new future

If resources such as draft animals or knowledge about composting are not made available, maintaining an agricultural livelihood can prove difficult or impossible. By providing access to knowledge and resources, a sense of control is gained by the people living in areas susceptible to unpredictable weather patterns.

HOPE International Development Agency works with the rural poor in developing countries to identify the best cultivation practices for generating higher and more reliable yields in a sustainable manner.

Though 2014 was a successful year in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it was also a particularly challenging one. A difficult growing season, fear caused by the Ebola crisis that swept West Africa, and the loss of a third of the corn produced in a tragic transportation accident have all tested the resiliency of farmers.

However, the difficult year has not dampened the commitment of farmers in Ubangi-Mongala to work to help themselves. Farmers are better equipped than ever with the knowledge and the skills they need to move beyond basic survival and build their own sustainable farming enterprises. Today, farmers are also better connected through an established network of farming associations that allow them to learn from and share with their peers, while also working together to increase their collective gains. This past year’s undeniable successes suggest that these farmers will not only overcome the challenges they have faced, they will triumph.