Urban farming in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is providing a livelihood for thousands of city dwellers, with vegetables bringing in good money for small growers and helping to alleviate high levels of malnutrition nationally, agricultural officials say.
The demand for vegetables and the high prices they command in DRC cities - up to US$4 per kilo - has pushed many jobless residents into becoming small-scale growers.
Most of the green spaces along the roadsides of the capital, Kinshasa, have been transformed into small farms. City farmers now grow 122 percent more produce than they did five years ago, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO is supporting gardeners in five main DRC cities with a $10.4 million urban horticulture project to increase their productivity and improve their farming skills.
"The programme, started as a response to mass urban migration following a five-year conflict in the eastern DRC, now assists local urban growers to produce 330,000 tons of vegetables annually," FAO said in a statement. "In addition to food, the programme has also helped provide employment and income for 16,000 small-scale market gardeners."
Sebastien Mbuku, previously a school teacher in Kinshasa, said teaching only paid the bills for one week of the month. Unable to make ends meet, he turned to farming amaranth – a leaf vegetable - and spinach on 16 square metres of land.
Mbuku said he can now afford to put meat on the table to feed his wife and five children, and cover school fees. “Working as a small vegetable grower has become like any other respected job,” Mbuku said.
The urban farmers sell 90 percent of what they produce in urban markets and supermarkets, according to FAO, helping to feed a swelling city population as Congolese leave the countryside in search of security.
"When production has doubled or tripled we can confidently says it’s had an impact on reducing malnutrition, as vegetables are available more cheaply on the market and people can eat them more frequently,” said Ndiaga Gueye, FAO's country director in the DRC.
Although the project has contributed to improving nutrition in urban areas, Gueye said there was still a lot of work to be done. “No one can sell the illusion that our project has eradicated malnutrition,” he said.
A 2009 survey by Programme National de Nutrition, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) showed alarmingly high levels of wasting among urban and rural children.
According to a Multiple Indicator Survey published by agencies in September 2010, 24 percent of children in the DRC under five are underweight; 43 percent are stunted; and 9 percent are wasted.
Photo: David Hecht/IRIN
|Kinshasa. Many city-dwellers are turning to urban farming to make a living (file photo)|
The burgeoning incomes of small vegetable growers, who sometimes earn 200 or 300 percent profits, have made them more attractive to micro-finance institutions like the DRC-based FINCA, which supports small-scale credit loans.
FINCA said 99.9 percent of the credit they have given to vegetable growers has been paid back in full and on time.
"At first I doubted the ability of vegetable growers to pay back credit,” said Dick Mabiala, a credit agent at FINCA. "But I changed my mind when a lady growing fruit and vegetables took a $300 credit and came back to deposit $1,000 worth of profits into her account. The woman was only using two hectares of land for her enterprise."
Farmers have seen their incomes increase dramatically. In Kinshasa and in the town of Lubumbashi, the average annual income of each farmer increased from around $500 in 2004 to $2,000 in 2010. In Likasi town, it rose from $700 to $3,500. There have been similar increases in other cities, according to the FAO statement.
Mabiala knew of vegetable growers who put themselves through college with the income they got farming. But after their studies, it was back to the land.
"After ending university studies they tell you they cannot look for an office job just for the prestige of wearing a clean shirt and tie, when they could be making $600-800," he said.