Kinshasa — A disused cemetery in the heart of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been transformed into a profitable urban garden. Relying on compost they make themselves on the site, a small group of gardeners are enjoying plentiful returns.
IPS visited the eight-hectare site in the Kasa-Vubu commune, where market gardeners are growing a variety of vegetables, including amaranth, tomatoes, cabbage, spinach, and sorrel.
Antoine Musho, from the National Seed Service, explained that there are two rainy seasons in Kinshasa. But with strong demand for vegetables year-round in this city of more than ten million, the group in the Kasa-Vubu cemetery have made growing vegetables their main activity, even in the dry season. Access to water on the site comes from wells the farmers have dug every 300 metres.
There is a police station here responsible for security in this part of the commune. "The police have granted this space to the market gardeners so they can take care of it," Captain Denis Ngombo, the station commander, told IPS.
Despite the presence of the police, the gardeners keep their tools - hoes, rakes, watering cans - at home. At dawn each day, they come with bags and basins to wait for customers who come to buy vegetables. Others bring organic waste to the site to sell to the gardeners for compost.
Richard Biemo, an engineer from the National Service for Fertiliser and Related Inputs, told IPS that the soil in Kasa-Vubu is very sandy and that crops won't do well without fertiliser.
Biemo said the compost is essential for growing vegetables, which should be produced and harvested naturally, without using chemical fertilisers.
The gardeners learned to use compost from Cornellie Niongo, an agriculture technician from the National Service for Peri-urban Horticulture. "I've trained this group of gardeners since 2011. I encouraged them to always use this kind of fertiliser because it poses no health risks."
Adolphine Misenga supervises purchases of organic waste for making compost. She told IPS she buys dried cassava leaves and stalks, and shikwang (a popular dish of fermented cassava) from households and restaurants for around five dollars a cart-load.
She agreed that compost makes a huge contribution to the harvest here. Where previously the gardeners had to wait more than six weeks to harvest 10 tonnes of amaranth per hectare, since the composting started in 2011, they have been able to harvest 25 to 30 tonnes in just four weeks.
Nathalie Mayato, who has a dozen plant beds, told IPS that when she started out, she had to wait six or seven weeks to harvest and sell her produce.
"Now, four weeks is enough to bring several beds of amaranth to maturity, each worth 20 dollars. The compost has also allowed me to increase my tomato harvest, which has risen from one tonne between 2009 and 2011, to two and a half tonnes today," said Mayato.
She told IPS the Kasa-Vubu site is a "green gold mine" because it allows her to earn a good income.
Philémon Mulekita, who is in charge of the group's relations with the police, feels the same way. "I don't regret abandoning my former job, making business trips into the countryside, since my new work is more profitable," he said.
"Other than the buyers who come for our produce from the municipal markets around the city, we are also exporting around five tonnes of vegetables to Paris and Brussels every month," he told IPS.
But there is one cloud on the horizon. "The site is wanted by wealthy developers who want to build a shopping complex. But we're here for the moment, and we're taking advantage of the favour the police have done us to profit from our work," said Mulekita.