Food Scarcity: Can Climate-Smart Agriculture Save the Democratic Republic of Congo?
I was born in the world’s most natural resource-rich country, with more than enough arable agricultural land to feed a third of the world’s population. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the second biggest African country in central Africa, with 93.2 million people. It’s also home to the world’s second-largest single block of forest, accounting for two-thirds of the Congo Basin forest area (NCFI, nd). Rainfall averages more than 1,200mm per year but regularly exceeds 2,000mm, and temperatures are very steady, with minimal seasonal variation in dry and rainy seasons. Agriculture employs nearly 70% of the population and contributes approximately 18% of GDP, making it the most important source of income and the single largest employer for most citizens (Mulimbi et al. 2019, USAID, 2021). Despite the abundance of agricultural land, about two-thirds of the population lives on less than $1 per day, with 70% facing some form of food insecurity. At the same time, 16 million citizens suffer from chronic malnutrition, and the country imports roughly one-quarter of its cereal consumption (Ulimwengu et al. 2009). To illustrate, Nord Kivu, a region in eastern DRC bordering Rwanda and Uganda, imports most of its foodstuffs, including rice, from neighboring two countries. I vividly remember crossing the borders each Saturday to Rwanda to buy food items because of the shortage in food production and the expensive available food in the market. In a nutshell, DR Congo is seriously depressed economically and dependent on subsistence agriculture.
Food Crops in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Food crops help residents solve social problems such as hunger and poverty while also generating income by selling products. In DRC, agriculture is primarily based on industrial farming. But we all know that the population cannot survive by consuming industrial plants because they need nutritious food to address hunger and malnutrition. Therefore, they produce food crops such as rice, maize, groundnuts, plantains, potatoes, beans, and cassava, the main crop produced by volume. The country has been producing large quantities of these food subsistences, but it did not exclude it from experiencing severe nutritional problems among its population.
Food Shortage and Insecurity: What’s the Reason?
Most Congolese reside in rural areas and depend on subsistence farming to feed their families. The majority of people who live in cities rely on imported food; as a result, food imports have reached an overwhelming rate of 70% in (2017). Cereals and vegetables are the most commonly imported consumables, with the majority of these commodities coming from China, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda. The heavy reliance on imported goods is due to a lack of good political leadership, social challenges such as wars, and a lack of support and exposure from the private sectors. The extreme susceptibility of agriculture to climate change also exacerbates food insecurity. Climate change already has a detrimental effect on rising temperatures, increased weather variability, shifting agroecosystem boundaries, invasive crops and pests, and more extreme weather patterns. Climate change lowers crop yields, the nutritional quality of major cereals, and livestock output on farms.
According to Tollens (2003), food insecurity in the DRC results from poverty-driven by civil war. The country has experienced more than 20 years of war, leading to massive migration from rural areas to cities and foreign countries. Women are the primary workforce in agriculture, they represent 69% of the farming labor force sector, and 77% live in rural areas (Mulimbi et al., 2019). However, these women face many challenges, such as sexual violence and assaults while going to farms. Insecurity in the nation impedes food productivity and leads to food insecurity because farmers are afraid to die or be victims of kidnapping and violence. They prefer to stay home or go to cities where it is safer and eat unhealthy food due to an unaffordable life in cities.
From Unsustainable to Sustainable Farming: Climate-Smart Agriculture
Congolese farmers practice unsustainable farming activities that have a toll on the environment and its species. Most farmers use slash and burn agriculture and implement monoculture farming practices. They clear forests by cutting down trees and burning them. It worsens deforestation because DR Congo has lost approximately 7 million hectares of trees between 2015 and 2019 (Peltier et al., 2014) due to expanding agricultural lands, construction, and cooking needs. In particular, Baluku, a local farmer, bought 6 hectares of forest land in 2017 from local leaders to expand his coffee, cacao, and rice farms. He cut down trees, burnt and cleared (Slash and burn to farm) the area for planting crops (Saambili, 2019). However, it negatively impacted the environment because it increased the hectares of cleared forests and the emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
(African Union Development Agency, 2021 )
This calls for immediate action. Congolese farmers should shift from slash and burn farming to climate-smart agriculture to address environmental and food issues. Climate-smart agriculture positively impacts people and the environment.
To ensure we are on the same page, by climate-smart agriculture, I mean a sustainable farming technique that increases productivity and resistance to the effects of climate change while reducing emissions where possible. It also fosters biodiversity and ecosystem biological processes below and above ground, leading to sustained and improved agricultural output and incredible water and nutrient usage efficiency. According to the World Bank Group (2021), Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is a systematic approach to managing landscapes (livestock, cropland, fisheries, and forests) that addresses the interconnected concerns of food security and increasing climate change.
Climate-smart farming is distinct in various aspects, despite its foundation in current knowledge, technologies, and ideals of sustainable agriculture. For starters, it explicitly focuses on solving climate change. Secondly, it addresses the synergies and trade-offs between adaptation, productivity, and mitigation in a systematic manner. Ultimately, Climate-smart agriculture intends to seize new funding opportunities to close the investment gap.
How Will Climate-Smart Agriculture Help Address Food Issues?
(Asafu-Adjaye & Tessema, 2019)
The Congolese population grows at an impeccable rate, increasing food demand within cities and rural areas. However, the food production is low because it does not meet people’s needs leading to food shortage, food insecurity, and related effects like malnutrition, anxiety, cognitive problems, anemia, etc. (Gundersen & Ziliak, 2015). The slash and burn farming neither helps farmers produce more crops nor protects the environment. This clarifies that climate-smart agriculture is a significant farming method that farmers can use to boost food production and mitigate food insecurity. Climate-smart agriculture will sustainably increase agricultural production, enhancing equitable increases in food security, agricultural output, and development. It will adapt and strengthen food systems to climate change and, where practicable, substantially reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture (Palombi & Sessa, 2013).
Since the country possesses unused extensive arable lands for agriculture, empowering Congolese farmers with climate-smart agriculture skills and techniques will help them boost food crops production. Just as diversifying the plantation using vegetable seeds will improve food security and responsible food consumption. And due to extreme insecurity in rural areas and lack of infrastructure, climate-smart agriculture can also be implemented in cities and peri-urban areas to significantly grow food and facilitate food trade among smallholders, vendors, and citizens. As a result, this will lead to the accessibility of nutritious food items, reduced food importation, fighting climate change caused by agriculture, increasing national economic growth, and reducing poverty. On the other hand, farmers can implement horticulture for vegetables and fruits production, agroforestry, and conservation agriculture for other food crops production. Therefore, the DRC government should invest in agriculture and support smallholders. To support these efforts, International organizations and individuals experienced in the field should also support farmers by offering them climate-smart farming skills and financial support when appropriate. Besides, it’s a matter of economic or governmental assistance and for all stakeholders who should participate in this by accepting the green agriculture mindset shift and being open to learning new eco-friendly agricultural practices that will solve food-related problems.
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Mulimbi W., Nalley, L., Dixon, B., Snell, H., & Huang, Q. (2019). Factors Influencing Adoption of Conservation Agriculture in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 51(4), 622-645. doi:10.1017/aae.2019.25
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Ulimwengu, John & Funes, Jose & Headey, Derek & You, Liangzhi, 2009. “Paving the way for development?: The impact of transport infrastructure on agricultural production and poverty reduction in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” IFPRI discussion papers 944, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Retrieved 11 November 2021, from <https://ideas.repec.org/p/fpr/ifprid/944.html>
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