KINSHASA – For some seven million Congolese living in Kinshasa the only meat and poultry they could buy to eat since the 1980s was frozen imports from Western countries, distributed locally by a few local businessmen.
That was, until a few months ago, when government stepped in to develop the country’s livestock farming industry. “The government cannot accept that (the) Congolese live on a meager diet composed mainly of frozen chicken and frozen fish imported under questionable conditions while the country has a tremendous food production potential,” says Norbert Bashengezi Katintima, minister of agriculture, fisheries and livestock.
In December 2009 with financial support from the African Development Bank (ADB), the government launched a large poultry project in N’Sele, a rural town in the western outskirts of Kinshasa, the country’s capital. The project, which is entirely government-run, received funding to the tune of eight million dollars.
In an interview with IPS, Juvenal Bahun, livestock advisor to minister Katintima, said that “the ministry has adopted a roadmap laying the groundwork for a serious country-wide fight against the food crisis and food insecurity.” For now, he added, the ADB-funded pig and poultry farming pilot project will only cover Kinshasa, Katanga (South Eastern Congo) and West Kasai (in the South West).
“This project also aims to improve food quality for the Congolese and support small farmers with technical and practical advice in agricultural production,” he said.
The challenge for the ministry of agriculture, fisheries and livestock will be to “get 15 percent of the national budget funded by poultry farming profits”; one of the goals within government’s strategic policy document released in November 2009.
Freddy Nkongolo, project coordinator on the N’Sele site – about 4,000 hectares – told IPS that the project is off to a promising start. “After three months of work, we’ve reached a weekly output of four batches of 12,000 chickens sold throughout the city of Kinshasa,” he said. “I think there is hope that within two years, poultry farming can actually contribute to funding the national budget. But I can’t estimate to what proportion.”
As a result, the project initially planned to last six months has been extended for an additional eight months by government due to its positive outcomes, according to Nkongolo.
“There’s been an obvious improvement of food quality. Approximately 1,800 chickens are sold every day across eight sites scattered around Kinshasa. This provides work to about 60 formerly unemployed people, (who are) paid on average 100 dollars per month,” said Nkongolo.
“Besides the quality aspect, the project also creates jobs for at least 120 people including more than 60 mothers,” said Mukosa Theodosius, a mother of three who works for the project as a sales representative in Matete county. Previously unemployed, she now earns the equivalent of about 90 dollars in Congolese francs.
Germaine Kitungwa, a chicken seller, says “she does good business with N’Sele chickens.” Indeed, while “an imported 160 gram frozen chicken is more or less five dollars, an N’Sele chicken of same weight costs only 3,000 Congolese francs, or about 3.5 dollars. Most mothers now prefer to buy those chicken to save money but also because it its fresher.”
According to Nkongolo, the low price of N’Sele chicken is a reflection of ADB policy to provide poor people access to food. The price is fixed by agreement between the ADB and the ministry and aims to stop imports of frozen meat, discourage importers and help them redirect their food industry investments with a focus on quality.
However, Nkongolo explained, prices could be adjusted within a few months but it will be in keeping with ADB policy to which government gave its consent. Thus, even if increased, the price will not be higher than that of frozen chickens, he says.
“The government’s vision is good. But the project’s sustainability is in question given the high level of government instability in the DRC since 1990. Whenever a minister is replaced, the new one does away with their predecessor’s programs,” Lokwa Eugene told IPS. Eugene lives near the N’Sele poultry farm.
Julie Mambueni, an economist resident of Kingasani, a county of Kinshasa, is equally skeptical. “The project is very good, but the country does not have a reliable management system,” she said. “The National Bank is dysfunctional and doesn’t grant credit. The ADB will remain the only source of financing, which is not obvious. The credit unions have become unviable, especially in Kinshasa. This is why the project will fail.”
For Stephanie Kapuko originally of North Kivu province in eastern DRC, and a temporary resident of Kingasani, “a 4,000 hectare concession is far from enough to implement an ambitious national plan. And the DRC is not just Kinshasa. The government should put in a little more effort to implement pilot projects in each of the 11 provinces of the country.”
“The country hasn’t had a coherent agricultural policy since the 1980s. This created a gap which businessmen took advantage of, sometimes even abused, by importing all kinds of foods including frozen chicken, turkey rumps, chicken wings, pig tails… all the by-products Westerners refuse to eat at home,” Jean Kalunga said indignantly. Kalunga is a lawyer and advocate for economic and social rights within Congolese civil society.
The activist told IPS that “it was time for the government to realise that the DRC had already become a dumping ground for businessmen exporting these commodities, supported in this by Western countries that allow this shameful commerce.”