Kinshasa — The Association for Integrated Rural Development is one of a number of rural organisations on the periphery of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which are strengthening the city's food security while demonstrating how to maximise sustainable use of agricultural land.
Joseph Ngandungala, an agricultural engineer and one of the association's twenty-odd members, guided IPS through a tour of ADRIM's 25 hectare plot in Mbenkana, a settlement just west of Kinshasa.
The site was purchased from the local chief for 300 dollars in 2005. Ngandungala explained that the project encompasses livestock and aquaculture as well as agriculture. Eight hectares are given over to cassava, dwarf palms, pineapples and bananas. The grunting of pigs can be heard from another section and seven fish ponds are partly concealed by the healthy plantains growing up around them.
"Our objective is to contribute significantly to the food security of our people and to improve the living conditions of smallholder farmers in this area," ADRIM president Justin Katumbue told IPS.
Since ADRIM began its project here on the outskirts of Kinshasa, the crop varieties planted have been carefully chosen to achieve these ends. Five hundred pineapple stems were brought from Kisangani, in northeastern DRC, back in 2008, Katumbue said. They have done well, and he expects the association will harvest around four tonnes of pineapple in November from the two hectares planted with this year's crop.
The Kinshasa office of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has offered practical support, providing agricultural equipment and cuttings of a disease-resistant, high-yield variety of cassava known as Matuzolele.
"Since switching to this variety of cassava in 2008, we've harvested 10 to 15 tonnes per hectare," said Elisabeth Mafuantala.
She told IPS that before the introduction of Matuzolele, the yields from another variety called Diaki ranged between four and seven tonnes per hectare. In 2011, the ADRIM project produced nearly 27 tonnes of cassava from a little over 2.5 hectares - worth about 1,200 dollars.
"Our harvest is made into fufu or shikwang (popular cassava dishes) or cassava chips sold in the city's markets," said Mafuantala.
Gerry Mantoto Manitu, director general of another local NGO, Agriculture Association for Development, believes that ADRIM has succeeded in putting in place a participatory approach to using these rural areas with the involvement of local farmers.
Josephy Muamba, a veterinarian specialising in small livestock, told IPS, "We launched our piggery with seven pigs in 2008, with two male and five female pigs again provided by FAO. Now we have 26 pigs, as the demand for their meat has increased... a kilo of pork sells for 10,200 FC (11 dollars)."
The aquaculture operation has also been growing steadily, expanding from an initial seven ponds dug in 2009 to 15 ponds today, covering an area of four hectares. Earlier in the year, 70 kilos of mature tilapia fish were harvested and sold for around 2.5 dollars per kilo in the local market.
Beyond these productive activities, ADRIM is popularising the planting of acacia trees. Katumbue explained: "Mbenkana is presently a degraded site due to the deforestation of hillsides where there was once untouched forest."
"By growing acacias, we want to reconstitute this forest to allow residents to fertilise the soil with the trees' leaves, as well as produce charcoal and honey," he told IPS.
Gilbert Mayimona, one of the Mbenkana farmers, welcomes ADRIM's initiatives. He said that five hundred dollars of income from the project which has been allocated to the village committee has allowed members of the committee to organise themselves to sustain their development projects.
"We are aware of our responsibilities and by involving ourselves in the development programme of our country thanks to this project, our way of life is really improving," he told IPS.
Beyond these productive activities, ADRIM is popularising certain methods of planting acacias, because according to Katumbue, "Mbenkana is at the moment a degraded site because of the deforestation that its hillsides have suffered, where once there was primary forest.
"With the cultivation of acacias, we want to restore this forest, to allow residents to fertilise the soil with its leaves, to produce charcoal and also honey," he told IPS.