Eastern Africa

Youth-led revolution in DR Congo’s vegetable seed and farming

Vegetable farming in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is essential for food security and income. Vegetables are vital in the local diet, providing essential nutrition.

However, vegetable farmers face numerous challenges in maintaining and increasing their yields. For these reasons, the Accelerated Innovation Delivery Initiative for the Great Lakes Region (AID-I GLR) Project is contributing to overcoming these obstacles through innovative agricultural practices and technologies. The youth play a pivotal role in this ongoing transformation.

South Kivu’s farmers struggle with unpredictable climates, poor soils, and limited access to quality inputs such as improved seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. Traditional farming generally results in low yields and greater vulnerability to pests and diseases. To counter these problems, the AID-I GLR Project has introduced improved agricultural technologies and practices that have the potential to positively transform vegetable farming in the region.

The use of disease-resistant, high-yield seeds has seen farmers significantly increase their harvests, while the adoption of biofertilizers and biopesticides has improved soil and plant health, reduced costs, and minimized environmental impact. Additionally, techniques such as biodegradable plastic mulching and eco-friendly irrigation systems have enhanced water efficiency and boosted yields.

First-generation seeds of various crops—including amaranth, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, onions, and cabbages—have been game-changers in South Kivu’s vegetable production. These seeds have higher disease resistance, yields, and quality. Consequently, farmers are reporting impressive results, such as doubled harvests and significant rises in income.

Youth groups—under the supervision of Rikolto (a scaling partner in DRC) and innovation developer the World Vegetable Center—have been instrumental in local seed production. These young entrepreneurs have established seed farms in different territories, including Kashusha, Katana, and Nyangezi. They are cultivating crops such as eggplants, amaranth, and tomatoes, with plans to expand to more sites.

Bienfait Amani, a 31-year-old seed producer and farmer in Nyangezi, attributes his success to the improved seeds and agricultural practices introduced by the project. He explains, “Thanks to the amaranth and eggplant seeds, market connections, and good agricultural practices learned from Rikolto and World Vegetable Center experts, my harvest has doubled, reaching up to a ton per month for both crops. I no longer have disease problems and have become a reference person in the area,” he reveals. “Every week, I have regular income from sales. On a 1250-square-meter plot, I earn 448,000 [Congolese] francs [USD 160] per month from amaranth and 580,000 francs [USD 208] from eggplants, compared to less than 280,000 francs [USD 100] for both crops before.”

Bienfait has already amassed a working capital of more than 3.4 million francs (USD 1228) after just four months. He has also leased new land, expanding his total cultivated area to 2.1 hectares, and bought a second-hand motorbike worth around 1.4 million francs [USD 500] for transporting vegetables and fertilizer.

Laince Baguma, a farmer aged 28 from Kabare, highlights the benefits of quick composting and biopesticides. “Traditionally, pest and disease control has always been a challenge for our vegetable crops,” he observes. “But thanks to training by the project, we now use quick-composting.” These are biofertilizers produced in 15 days compared to traditional composting which takes 3 to 5 months. Laince continues, “We also use biopesticides made from local plants. These are just as effective as chemical products sold on the market, but better for the environment and cheaper. In my 500-square-meter cabbage field, these innovations have saved me 168,000 francs[USD 60] that I would have otherwise spent on buying chemical products.”

The project has also supported the introduction of biodegradable plastic mulching that helps conserve moisture, reduce weeds, and improve soil temperature, leading to cleaner plants and fewer pathogens. Farmers quickly adopted this practice for its numerous benefits.

The Money Maker Max pump is another project-introduced innovation. This revolutionary pedal-powered eco-irrigation system can irrigate up to 2 hectares per day, reducing irrigation costs by a dramatic 95%. Easy to use and effective, it has a significant impact on water management and agricultural yields. Thanks to its playful pedals, suitable for all ages, pumping water becomes not only very easy, but also pleasurable.

“This type of equipment was unknown in our area, and its performance led us to nickname it ‘Muujiza’ [miracle],” says Mama M’Kalebo Sifa, an 82-year-old farmer in Walungu. “With the Money Maker Max pump, we irrigate our fields more efficiently, which has significantly increased our yields and profits,” she continues.

The pump was first introduced on trial basis as a prototype through the ‘Rent to try and buy’ commercial principle. From daily rentals, these pumps have become sources of income for producers and farmer organizations that have since acquired their own pumps.

23 March 2024: First trial of using the Money Maker Max pump for irrigation in Nyangezi, Walungu territory.

The construction of dedicated vegetable markets and zero-energy cooling chambers has reduced postharvest losses to single digits (less than 10%), down from the previous 35–45%. Farmers like Jeanine M’Magore, 30, have benefited from better prices and longer storage, thus improving their finances.

“The access to the vegetable market and cold rooms has been a blessing for us,” Jeanine enthuses. “Before, we had to sell our harvests quickly before they spoiled, often forcing us to accept low prices. Now, we can store our vegetables longer and sell them when prices are better. Plus, we have a place to sell them directly. This has really improved our financial situation.”

Technological innovations have dramatically increased yields and incomes. Demonstration fields showed a 45% increase in farmers’ incomes due to higher yields from these technologies. For the first time, farmers like Prince Bobo, a 32-year-old entrepreneur and CEO of AgroEcole, have produced cabbages, each weighing between 5 and 8 kilos, thanks to innovative practices and high-quality seeds. “We have also implemented effective soil fertility management and irrigation techniques that have significantly improved our crop growth,” Prince explains.

The adoption rate of quality seeds, biofertilizers, biopesticides, plastic mulching, and irrigation pumps has been high among the farmers targeted by the project in South Kivu. While initial costs are a concern for some, this high adoption demonstrates that profitable farming is achievable and that these gains will be sustained even after the project ends.

Dieudonné Murhula, 28, a member of the ADCOKA cooperative in Kabare, notes, “We are convinced by these innovations, but some farmers still hesitate due to the initial cost.”

The project’s progress shows that with continued support and innovation, a sustainable and prosperous future for vegetable farmers in the region is within reach. With Bukavu’s daily consumption of more than 94 tons of fruits and vegetables but only 4 tons locally produced, the future is bright, and the potential for further growth is enormous, matched by a ready-made market.

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