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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs