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Country profile - Democratic Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo

This vast, fertile, mineral-rich land has tremendous potential for agricultural and economic growth, but this is dwarfed by many development challenges. Having only recently emerged from a brutal civil war, the resurgence of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is nothing short of a disaster. It has put an end to a precarious period of peace and wiped away any likelihood of the country properly emerging from the shadows of a conflict that cost 5 million lives.

Poverty and food insecurity in DRC is rife. After peace was declared in 2003, the UN reported that up to 1,200 people-a-day were dying from malnutrition and preventable diseases. Even prior to the latest civil disturbances in the North and South Kivu regions in the east of the country, life expectancy for adults was just 42 years and two-thirds of the population was malnourished.

Overview

DRC is one of the largest countries in the world: this central African state is roughly the size of Western Europe but only one per cent of land is under cultivation. The country hosts half of all of Africa's forests and has significant deposits of gold and the highly-prized mineral coltan. Most of the country's natural resources and people are found in the southern grasslands, while the northern and central regions are largely forested. Farming is predominantly low-input and subsistence-based, with little commercial activity, particularly in the wake of the civil war.

Over two-thirds of Congolese live and work in rural areas (©FAO/G Napolitano)
Over two-thirds of Congolese live and work in rural areas
©FAO/G Napolitano

About 70 per cent of the population live in rural areas, and around 40 million people depend on farming for their livelihoods. Despite this, agriculture contributed some 45 per cent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2006 - down over ten per cent on 1997. Important food crops are plantain, maize, cassava, groundnut and rice. Cash crops, usually grown on plantations by smallholders, include coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, cotton and rubber. Palm oil products and quinquina (a bitter, alcoholic drink containing quinine) are also produced for domestic and export markets.

The livestock sector is largely undeveloped, with small numbers of cattle, pigs, goats and chickens. Livestock populations have suffered significantly since the civil war, when many farms were looted and the animals stolen. As an important source of dietary protein, consumption and sale of wild animals ('bushmeat'), including some primates, is widespread. This has been fuelled partly by poor living conditions and the rise in the number of internally-displaced people (IDPs) fleeing regional conflicts. The country hosts over one million IDPs, and recent tensions have uprooted a further 250,000, raising fears of a looming humanitarian disaster.

With the Congo River and its many major tributaries, and four of the continent's Great Lakes on its eastern border, DRC's fisheries sector holds great potential. But the fledgling industry also suffered during the war, when many fish farmers abandoned their ponds. Natural threats exist too: fish populations in Lake Kivu were devastated by lava flows from Mount Nyiragongo in 2002. The country's seaport at Banama in the southwest has potential to be developed for commercial sea fishing.

Farming: an unsupported sector

Despite being an agricultural exporter prior to independence in 1960, farming in DRC has been through long periods of stagnation and decline. Currently, the sector is growing at two per cent per year, but this is slower than the increase in population. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), has blamed the government's lack of support for agriculture for continuing food insecurity in the country.

Agriculture in DRC has suffered from decades of under-investment (©FAO/G Napolitano)
Agriculture in DRC has suffered from decades of under-investment
©FAO/G Napolitano

Many farmers have struggled to gain access to credit and there has been a prolonged lack of both public and private investment in agriculture, as well as in the country's energy and transport infrastructure. Many roads in both rural and urban areas have fallen into disrepair and energy provision in the countryside is extremely limited, while the lucrative mining industry has drawn agricultural labour away from the fields and into the mines. These factors, combined with the destabilising effects of war, have also contributed to widespread hunger. Recent global food price rises have hit the import-dependent DRC hard.

Despite a wealth of underexploited forests, fisheries and farmland, it is likely that conflict, inadequate government support for farming and ongoing instability will ensure that this potential remains untapped. Without security and stability, foreign investment will continue to be hampered and infrastructure projects will not see the light of day. DRC has greater potential than many of its African neighbours to lift its population out of extreme poverty, but its agriculture sector needs wholesale reform, with the support of the government and the private sector. Before any of this can be achieved, however, the country must first find peace.

Statistical information
  • Country: Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Capital: Kinshasa
  • Area: 2,345,410 sq km
  • Population: 66,514,504 (July 2008 est.)
  • Population growth rate: 3.2% (2008 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 52.22 years
  • Ethnic groups: over 200 African ethnic groups, of which the majority are Bantu; the four largest tribes - Mongo, Luba, Kongo (all Bantu), and the Mangbetu-Azande (Hamitic) make up about 45% of the population
  • Languages: French (official), Lingala (a lingua franca trade language), Kingwana (a dialect of Kiswahili), Kikongo, Tshiluba
  • Inflation: 16.7% (2007 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$19.03 billion (2007 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$300 (2007 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 55%; industry: 11%; services: 34% (2000 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 2.86%; permanent crops: 0.47%; other: 96.67% (2005)
  • Major industries: mining (diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, coltan, zinc), mineral processing, consumer products (including textiles, footwear, cigarettes, processed foods and beverages), cement, commercial ship repair
  • Agricultural products: coffee, sugar, palm oil, rubber, tea, quinine, cassava, palm oil, bananas, root crops, maize, fruits, wood products
  • Natural resources: cobalt, copper, niobium, tantalum/coltan, petroleum, industrial and gem diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin, uranium, coal, hydropower, timber
  • Export commodities: diamonds, copper, crude oil, coffee, cobalt
  • Export partners: Belgium 22.8%, China 20.9%, Brazil 12.1%, US 9.5%, Finland 8.8%, France 6.6%, Zambia 5.8% (2007)

Date published: January 2009

 

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