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Crop farming gives hope to displaced people in DRC

How food security is helping women rise in the most difficult places.

In 2019 Chantal (45), her husband and 6 children fled conflict in Mbau in East Democratic Republic of Congo and sought refuge at her brother’s house in Mbingo Kinzaba.

“It did not matter that Ebola was wreaking havoc here in Mbingo. It was better than being hacked to death. Besides we trusted that the vaccine that we had taken would protect us against Ebola,” she narrates.

Chantal recalls how they were living like beggars, and becoming more and more a burden to their well-meaning host families. They hopelessly watched their boys and girls drop out of school, and resigned to seeing their little girls cry into early marriage. 

Now she is one of 1,400 families including displaced persons as well as their host families benefitting from a project improving livelihoods by helping affected communities grow fast maturing crops and look after small livestock across 3 health zones of Mabalako, Oicha and Buhovi.

About six in ten supported farmers are displaced persons living with host families. Many people here left big farms of cocoa trees, and many have not gone back home in years.

Home farming helps women progress

There are more women involved in farming than men.

“The women are more keen about farming than men are. Men are less patient with what they consider less profitable, as they do about vegetables,” says Chantal, the emerging woman leader.

She continues:

"Mothers are home makers. They look after the children, and it has been easy for us to realise the difference that the vegetables are making in the lives of our children."

"The vegetable gardens are more practical because they are much closer to home, allowing the mothers to keep watch over their children. But the children also see what we are doing, they learn and they will grow to become farmers."

Vegetables became an option after baseline conversations between community members, World Vision and Mavuno a local community based partner. Unlike vegetables, cocoa requires more space. Also, at the time, the food situation was humbling as families lived on cassava, rice and beans. With the coming of the project, they have added maize, cabbage, eggplant, carrots, spinach, and green pepper.

"Although life is becoming more and more expensive, I am able to keep my children in school."

"We had group dialogues about these vegetables. Some of us were sceptical, but others were much more willing to try them out."

"In the past, cabbages were a rare delicacy that came into our markets expensive and many of us ate cabbage only at parties."

"With this project we started growing cabbages in our own gardens, and we now wonder why it took us too long!"

"A cabbage the size of one kilo used to cost 1,000 Congolese Francs, but now with many of us growing the crop it goes for 200 Francs."

"Now people come from as far as Beni to buy our cabbage, and a small vegetable market has been born."

New hope for the future

Vegetables are creating a new hope for the communities that are eventually organising around these economic activities. To help with adoption of these new ideas, including effective farming methods, World Vision partnered with Mavuno.

Mavuno is known for popularising field farmer schools in the area. The farmer schools take on groups of 25 members per village and train them on how to make seedbeds, plant in lines use manure, as well as utilise bio pesticides. After seeing how this works at the farmer school gardens, they then go and apply the same knowledge back home. Chantal leads one such group.

Mavuno, supported by World Vision, with funding from the German Government negotiated pieces of land rented at 100,000 Congolese Francs ($50) per hectare as pilot plots.

“This is where they have been teaching us what to do. We have learnt how to grow new crops, the crop spacing, the importance of planting in straight lines, as well as the biological means of fighting pests.”

“I got 4kg of assorted vegetable seeds and harvested 300kg, from which I earned 90,000 Francs ($45)."

"I had never handled such amounts of money. In fact, I could not even sleep that night, fearing that thieves could come and steal my hard earned cash. It is rare for women to handle this amount of money. “

Beating the odds

This project is quite unique because the seeds are complimented with money to ensure the beneficiaries do not eat the seed provided, plus training.

"We are now part of associations where we are taught how to save and invest our money. We have learnt to rear pigs and rabbits. We have a lot of money now," says Chantal.

"Although life is becoming more and more expensive, I am able to keep my children in school. I used to pay 7,000 Congolese Francs per term for my primary school going children. Today we are paying 15,000 Francs per term, and from my crop-harvest sales I can pay in instalments and most certainly keep my boys and girls in school."

"Other than money, the vegetables have provided us the much needed vitamins; they help with blood generation in the body, and you can see we together with our children now look healthy," adds Chantal.

"I do not know when we will go back to our home in Mbau, because it is still insecure. For now, we will keep here, after all we are able to grow our own food to eat."

"In Mbau we used to grow cocoa for cash, the gardens were far from home, and it was largely a male dominated activity. Now we are earning from vegetables and they have become our new cocoa," shares Chantal.

"No one can steal from us this knowledge that we've received from World Vision... it's in my head. I will find money, buy seed and continue planting!"

"These vegetables bring money quickly!"

"When our children fall sick, we have money to take them to hospital. No one can steal from us this knowledge that we have received from World Vision, through a community based organisation Mavuno, supported by funds from the government of Germany. It is in my head. I will find money, buy seed and continue planting!"

"I was selected to be the president of our women’s Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) and I am enjoying the opportunity to help young women achieve economic independence."

"As a woman who earns my own money, I feel more confident to speak. I am independent and more willing to be involved in leadership structures, because the decision made could affect how I work."

The world’s most food-insecure populations, such as internally displaced persons like Chantal and her children, are hit hardest by the rise in food, fuel, and fertiliser prices. $44 can help a family build a future, by providing the skills and resources needed to secure their own long-term food sources.

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