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DRC Leader Says Country Can Cut Poverty Through Agriculture

DRC's Congo's Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo Mapon at the Finance ministry in Kinshasa (April 2012 file photo).
DRC's Congo's Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo Mapon at the Finance ministry in Kinshasa (April 2012 file photo).
KINSHASA - The new prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo says the country could halve its poverty rate in the next five years by exploiting its vast agricultural potential. Prime Minister Matata Ponyo Mapon made the claim in a speech to the parliament this week outlining his government’s agenda. But, there are few details yet as to how the DRC is going to meet this target.

In his first speech to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s new parliament, Ponyo said that if the agricultural sector could increase its growth rate to six percent, then the rate of absolute poverty in the country could be cut by 50 percent by 2017.

Agricultural growth could double

Ponyo suggests there is great potential to double agricultural growth, from three percent to six percent. He says the country is only farming seven million hectares of the 75 million hectares of arable land.

The new government has just been sworn into office and has not yet drawn up a budget, so there were no details in the prime minister’s speech Monday on how much funding will be allocated to agriculture.

Funding will have to be sharply increased, says Roger Kizungu, who works at the Congo’s National Institute for Agricultural Research. Kizungu says that the first condition for achieving six percent growth in agriculture is for the government to commit 10 percent of its budget to rural development. He says the Congo has already made that commitment, but in fact it is spending far less than that and less than two percent on agriculture.

Government versus donors

Rural development includes spending on rural roads. The poor state of the road network is one of the biggest obstacles facing Congo’s farmers.

Kizungu tells VOA the second condition for achieving six percent growth in agriculture is for donors to let the government shoulder its responsibilities. He says everyone agrees aid is needed, but that donors should not take over the state’s role, because the government would then wait for the donors to do everything.

He says donors have pledged that, if the government commits 10 percent of its budget to rural development, they would commit funds in the same proportion.

An opposition member of parliament, Martin Fayulu, questions whether agriculture really ranks high on the government’s list of spending priorities.

"The Ministry of Agriculture is ranked number 20 [in spending]. You see the place they have ranked agriculture. There is no consistency. This country was number one for palm oil in 1960s, and today Malaysia is exporting $20 billion every year in palm oil from the seeds they took from this country. What’s the proposal for palm oil for this country? Nothing."

Competing needs

A member of parliament with the ruling alliance, Patrick Muyaya, tells VOA that this government is making a priority of improving services for the Congolese people, but there are many competing needs.

"You know we have a lot of challenges in our country, but the first is to give solutions for health problems, school problems, water and power. That’s the needs our people have," he said.

In his speech, Prime Minister Ponyo told parliament that he would be watching closely the performance of all sectors, including the national electricity company. As he said this, there was a power cut - one of several during his speech.