- Agriculture supports two-thirds of the population in war-ravaged Congo Kinshasa (DRC), but as peace is returning to most of the country, the sector is partly in ruins. With nearly 80 percent of the population trapped in extreme poverty and more than 70 percent undernourished, the first and most important aim in rebuilding the country is reviving the agricultural sector.
Years of conflict have left over four million dead in Congo Kinshasa, with an estimated 1,200 continuing to die every day from violence, disease and malnutrition. More than 1.7 million people remain displaced, and an additional 1.7 million have recently returned to their war-ravaged communities and are trying to re-establish their homes and livelihoods.
The Congolese government, in cooperation with UN agencies, therefore decided to put great emphasis on the revitalisation of the country's agricultural sector when making their 2006 Action Plan. The plan basically outlines the fundamental priorities of humanitarian organisations and UN agencies tackling the ongoing crisis in the vast country. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is now appealing for US$ 50 million for an agricultural rehabilitation programme within the overall plan.
Agriculture has suffered tremendously during the war, according to FAO's Anne Bauer. "Instability in rural areas has led to an almost total breakdown of the food security situation," Ms Bauer said. "Access to fields remains unsafe, especially for women. Rural feeder roads are almost non-existent, which hinders commercialisation and distribution of local products, and the inferior quality of seed stocks and lack of basic tools make agricultural work difficult."
But, as the country prepares for its first elections in 45 years, hope may be on the horizon, FAO maintains. "After years of war, mismanagement and widespread chronic poverty, these elections are an unprecedented opportunity for the Congolese to establish a legitimate authority committed to poverty reduction and food security," noted Ms Bauer.
This year's Action Plan is the first of its kind. FAO's proposed activities were to address malnutrition, support families affected by HIV/AIDS, assist in the reintegration of returnees as well as ex-combatants and promote the coordination of emergency agriculture operations, including distribution of seeds and tools and seed multiplication, and the strengthening of food security information, the UN agency explains.
Other projected activities within the action plan were seeking to rehabilitate infrastructure, including rural roads, support a rapid response capacity through pre-positioning of strategic stocks of agricultural inputs, and promote marketing of agricultural products.
Longer-term development initiatives in Congo Kinshasa by FAO included work to eradicate cassava mosaic, a disease that has contributed to the 20 percent decline in cassava production in the country over the past 10 years. The UN agency is also providing assistance in preparing a new forestry code for the country and is working to rehabilitate agricultural research centres and strengthen the Kinshasa Ministry of Agriculture's policy-making capacities, according to spokeswoman Teresa Buerkle.
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