I recently traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to visit food assistance programs implemented by USAID’s Office of Food for Peace. My first impression of the Congo was the same feeling I had in Uganda when visiting projects there last year – why in countries so lush and ripe for agriculture were people so food insecure? Food insecurity is a complex issue, and for the DRC it includes key issues such as low productivity, lack of market access and infrastructure, ongoing conflict and poor nutrition practices.
As a country struggling to pull itself out of conflict, the DRC is a challenging environment to work in. Never mind the logistical challenges for our partners and staff: little infrastructure in program areas; communities cut off by rains, conflict or other factors at certain times of year; and monitoring difficulties due to USAID staff being based on the opposite side of the country from the projects.
Despite these challenges, I was amazed at the ability of USAID’s partners to have as much positive impact as they have had on food security. This was particularly apparent in the visits where development assistance had ended the previous year, but the lasting impact of programs was still very visible.
I visited two communities previously supported by Food for the Hungry (FH) – Kamalenge and Kateba – which continue to benefit from initiatives started under FH’s previous program.
In Kamalenge, the water management committee responsibly manages the use of water from the community water pump installed by FH, by creating a fee-based system for maintenance. Under this system, households pay 100 francs a month per household and adhere to a strict usage schedule, ensuring each household has access to the water and the water source does not run dry.
Nearby, a women’s goat breeding group is still working, giving goats to households in the community and selling the extra goats. This income is helping with children’s school fees. In the coming year, with additional proceeds, the 25 members of the goat breeding group hope to start a pharmacy in the village for community members.
In Kateba, I met a mother care group who continue to teach health and nutrition messages to new mothers and child caretakers in their community. Using songs and flipcharts to teach the messages introduced by FH, women are improving their household’s health and nutrition, all with their own food resources. They were proud to declare the village free of malnutrition as a result of these efforts.
The seed multiplication station in Emilingombre made a lasting impression on me. This station resulted directly from the difficulties they had in their first development food aid program procuring improved seeds and cuttings of disease resistant varieties of cassava, bananas, and other crops. This challenge resulted in FH creating a seed multiplication station within its new beneficiary communities so farmers had more direct access to seeds and seedlings. Using seeds and seedlings developed on demonstration plots from their previous program, they have built a 22 hectare station and nursery, which the communities will maintain with Food for Work during the life of the program. Eventually, the station will be self-sustained by the community to provide plant seeds and tree seedlings of multiple varieties. The tree seedlings will also help reforest nearby areas.
These small examples are reflective of a holistic set of activities USAID partners are implementing to address food security from all angles. I left DRC impressed by our partners’ ability to operate and communities to thrive in such a challenging environment. I am eager to see the gains they will make in the coming years.