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DR Congo perfects the horticultural metropolis

DRC's urbanites are producing 330,000 tons of amaranth, cabbage, tomatoes, and other vegetables annually (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
DRC's urbanites are producing 330,000 tons of amaranth, cabbage, tomatoes, and other vegetables annually
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

In the past decade, the cities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have swollen with an influx of the displaced and the hopeful. With urban populations growing by as much as 50 per cent in ten years, vegetable farms in and around cities have become a nutritional necessity. In five of the country's largest cities, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has helped structure the growth of this sector through its ten-year-old Growing Greener Cities programme.

With support from this project, DRC's famously resourceful urbanites have risen to the opportunity, feeding not just their families, but the entire cities of Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Mbanza-Ngungu, Kisangani and Likasi. FAO's programme for urban and peri-urban horticulture (UPH) has lessened chronic malnutrition and contributed to a surplus worth over US$400 million. Growers working with the programme are now producing 330,000 tons of amaranth, cabbage, tomatoes, and other vegetables annually, a 122 per cent increase from just five years ago.

Urban magnets

The project dates back to 2000, when it began in the mega-city of Kinshasa and mining capital of Lubumbashi. Both cities were expanding as rural people fled five years of warfare in the country's east. Many of the new arrivals were skilled farmers, but feeding the city was a new challenge. Growers operated on vacant lots without titles or permission. Good seed of a wide variety of vegetables was scarce; lack of irrigation restricted the growing season; and bank loans were unavailable. Citywide, fruit and vegetable consumption was still less than half of the FAO/WHO minimum recommended intake.

"Some of the greatest challenges the project faced in DRC were to alleviate urban food and nutrition insecurity, improve the livelihoods and dietary diversity of slum-dwellers, and help build more resilient cities," says Ndiaga Gueye, FAO representative in the country.

Return of a national system

FAO's programme has lessened chronic malnutrition and contributed to a surplus worth over US$400 million (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
FAO's programme has lessened chronic malnutrition and contributed to a surplus worth over US$400 million
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Most of these small urban farmers operated outside of official support and regulation. Central to FAO's programme was a mission to restart the mostly defunct National Support Service for Urban and Peri-urban Horticulture (SENAHUP), founded at the start of the war. "SENAHUP was created in 1996, during a very turbulent time for the DRC, and its range was limited to Kinshasa," Gueye says. "The strengthening of SENAHUP is one of the major positive outcomes of the project, and it reflects the political and institutional commitment to UPH." The service now has decentralised offices all over the country.

Working with the revived SENAHUP, FAO introduced initiatives to power a horticultural boom. It helped create a municipal consultation committee in each city to survey market gardens, register growers' groups, and obtain secure titles to land. These 'regularised' gardens became sites for improving water management and intensifying the production of a more diverse range of vegetables. The project also disbursed more than US$1 million in credit through NGO micro-loans, which have been used for some of the most basic horticultural needs. For instance, this micro-credit has meant that 80 per cent of women in Lubumbashi now own farm tools.

Securing five factors

The first phase of the project was a testing ground for the set of strategies that has become central to FAO's Growing Greener Cities programme, which has now expanded to ten cities in Africa and the Americas. Within DRC, this was extended to three other cities in the second phase, which began in 2004. It became known as the 'Three-S' approach: building secure access to land and water for horticulture; secure high quality horticultural produce; and secure 'ownership' of UPH by stakeholders in the sector.

With the start of its third phase in 2008, the project began helping to create horticultural development plans for every Congolese province, and municipal consultation committees in every provincial capital. To ensure that this ambitious process bears fruit for the long term, the project has expanded its guiding principles to a 'Five-S' approach, adding two new strategies: to secure increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, and to secure capitalisation of the methodologies and technologies developed over the past decade.

Keeping up with a world of cities

80% of women in Lubumbashi now own farm tools (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
80% of women in Lubumbashi now own farm tools
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

For the future, Gueye believes that one 'S' will be most important. "The strategy 'secure ownership of UPH by stakeholders' has fostered the emergence of micro-enterprises and dynamic agro-dealers," he says. "Input supply markets are in place in most cities, and the project has encouraged growers to form producer associations, which help them to reduce the cost of inputs and services along the value chain." Gueye trusts that this self-organisation will carry urban horticulture forward from its first impressive flowering.

In one final legacy, the project has brought together all municipal UPH advisers for regular consultations and has sponsored regional dialogue on UPH with other African countries. Lessons learned in DRC are being applied in Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, Madagascar and Rwanda.

"Cities in the developing world are growing on an unprecedented scale," Gueye says, "accompanied by high levels of poverty, unemployment and food insecurity. Urbanisation seems to be an irreversible process, and its scale and speed is the challenge that makes UHP different from more rural-based agriculture." While the size of DRC's urban horticulture boom may be an impressive success, it will need to become the norm across the developing world if urban growers are to keep up with urban needs.

Written by: T. Paul Cox

Date published: November 2011

 

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