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

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border From Mexico

    In remote areas of the Sonoran Desert, which straddles the US-Mexico, thousands of migrants face arid desolation

    Video Recycling is Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    It's an ancient craft that stretches back millennia - but despite Lebanon’s trash crisis providing a lifeline, remaining glass blowers face an uncertain future

    Meet the Alleged Killer of Cambodia’s Kem Ley

    What little is known about former soldier, troublesome Buddhist monk and indebted gambler, raises more questions than answers

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora