Urban farming more profitable than white-collar jobs for many Congolese

Linked on our blogs with Global Urbanist GU. – Published on The Global Urbanist Environment, Source IRINnews, June 28, 2011.

Green space throughout Kinshasa and other Congolese cities are being transformed into lucrative small urban farming enterprises that are doing a lot to raise incomes and lower malnutrition for urban residents.

Urban farming in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is providing a livelihood for thousands of city dwellers, with vegetables bringing in good money for small growers and helping to alleviate high levels of malnutrition nationally, say agricultural officials.

The demand for vegetables and the high prices they command in DRC cities – up to 4 US dollars per kilo – has pushed many jobless residents into becoming small-scale growers.

Most of the green spaces along the roadsides of the capital, Kinshasa, have been transformed into small farms. City farmers now grow 122 per cent more produce than they did five years ago, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The FAO is supporting gardeners in five DRC cities with a 10.4 million US dollar urban horticulture project to increase their productivity and improve their farming skills.

“The programme, started as a response to mass urban migration following a five-year conflict in the eastern DRC, now assists local urban growers to produce 330,000 tons of vegetables annually,” FAO said in a statement. “In addition to food, the programme has also helped provide employment and income for 16,000 small-scale market gardeners.”

Sebastien Mbuku, previously a school teacher in Kinshasa, said teaching only paid the bills for one week of the month. Unable to make his ends meet, he turned to farming amaranth–a leaf vegetable–and spinach on 16 square metres of land.

Mbuku said he can now afford to put meat on the table to feed his wife and five children, and cover school fees. “Working as a small vegetable grower has become like any other respected job,” Mbuku said.

Reduced malnutrition? … //

… Microfinance:

The burgeoning incomes of small vegetable growers, who sometimes earn 200 or 300 per cent profits, have made them more attractive to microfinance institutions like the DRC-based FINCA, which supports small-scale credit loans.

FINCA said 99.9 per cent of the credit they have given to vegetable growers has been paid back in full and on time.

“At first I doubted the ability of vegetable growers to pay back credit,” said Dick Mabiala, a credit agent at FINCA. “But I changed my mind when a lady growing fruit and vegetables took a $300 credit and came back to deposit $1,000 worth of profits into her account. The woman was only using two hectares of land for her enterprise.”

Farmers have seen their incomes increase dramatically. In Kinshasa and in the town of Lubumbashi the average annual income of each farmer increased from around $500 in 2004 to $2,000 in 2010. In Likasi town it rose from $700 to $3,500. There have been similar increases in other cities, according to the FAO statement.

Mabiala knew of vegetable growers who put themselves through college with the income they got faarming. But after their studies it was back to the land.

“After ending university studies they tell you they cannot look for an office job just for the prestige of wearing a clean shirt and tie, when they could be making $600-800,” he said. (full text).

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