News / Africa

In DRC, Some Tout Fertilizer as Agrarian Panacea

Muneman Rugema, 22, tills soil in Masisi, northwest of Goma, DRC, Dec. 19, 2008.
Muneman Rugema, 22, tills soil in Masisi, northwest of Goma, DRC, Dec. 19, 2008.
Nick Long
GOMA -- The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government has promised to abolish fertilizer taxes, which are among the highest in the region. Farmer’s groups have welcomed the pledge, saying that fertilizer helps to reduce poverty and resolve conflicts, and even improve domestic relations.

But regional fertilizer use is a controversial subject among some development experts. One agricultural project manager working for the Belgian government said that, in parts of the Congo where land is abundant, it makes more sense for farmers to cultivate virgin soil than to buy expensive supplements.

But he also admitted that had never been to the Kivu region.

High on a hillside in North Kivu, a chorus of farmers and tree planters in blue overalls and yellow safety helmets greet visitors from a fertilizer project supported by the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), a U.S.-based non-profit organization.
 
"We’re still young, we can keep up this kind of work all day," the chorus sings, extolling the virtues of tree-planting as a means to prevent erosion and provide charcoal and fertilizer in the form of leaves which are ploughed deep into the soil.

Down in the valley a smaller group promoting chemical fertilizer -- which was hardly used in the region until recently -- has assembled.

Female farmer Vea Khavumo tells onlookers she has shown eight of her neighbors how to use chemical fertilizer. One after another, members of the group explain that the correct mixture of chemical and organic fertilizer, along with improved seeds, can triple or quadruple yields of maize, rice, beans and potatoes.

Although the fertilizer costs around $1.30 a kilo, a tripled yield of crops, say IFDC workers, can mean a substantial increase in profits.

One farmer, Adrien Kangele, says the new methods promoted by IFDC could even help to resolve ethnic conflicts across the Kivu region.

"Fertilizer brings peace, because it enables more people to make a living from the soil in this densely-populated area," he says.

Sandra Kavira Kawisse, a trainer and agronomist in South Kivu, says fertilizer can even save people’s marriages. Just north of Goma, she says, many men had left their wives to seek work in the mines, leaving the women to farm by themselves. Many started using fertilizer and saw their rice yields triple.

"When the husbands noticed this, they said ‘oh, the women have become rich -- we left them and they have become rich,'" she says, adding that, since then, husbands are no longer ashamed to be seen working alongside their wives in the fields.

IFDC has also found that when the men work with women, rice yields further increase from an average of six tons per hectare to nine.

According to Dutch scientist Henk Breman, who designed the fertilizer project, DRC uses less chemical fertilizer per hectare than any other country in the world, averaging about 0.8 kilos per hectare per year, compared with the world average of about 110 kilos per hectare per year. In his view, Congolese fertilizer use is low for two reasons: lack of government policy and the influence of donors and international NGOs.

"There has been a period of about 20 years when donor support was dominated by policies that looked for other ways of developing agriculture than the intensive way elsewhere," he says. "I really accuse the donors and the international NGOs for part of the famine in Africa."

Edwige Mungwana Kavor, a local agronomist who works for U.S.-based Mercy Corps, warns of risks attached to chemical fertilizer, although she doesn't oppose its use as a supplement to organic matter.

There is a danger, she says, that land can become dependent on chemicals, such that it cannot produce without them, and that chemicals can leach into groundwater and cause toxic pollution.

While Breman agrees chemical fertilizers aren't completely free from risk, the right approach, he says, is to mix them with organic fertilizers.

"The risk of not using fertilizer is a thousand times bigger than the risk of using fertilizer," he says, explaining that, especially in a place like Kivu, such contingencies must be considered in context. "Go to a region like the Bukavu zone, you see whole mountains going into the lake -- erosion is unbelievably high by over-exploitation of land. The soil nutrient balance of this region is the most negative in the world."

For a province once known as the breadbasket of the Congo, though, it would seem that spreading the message of informed fertilization is worth the effort.

You May Like

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid