BUKAVU – For the past two years, agricultural production has been increasing in the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And at least part of the credit goes to shopkeepers across the border in Rwanda.
The neighboring store owners have been providing Congolese farmers with phytosanitary seeds and products that help avert crop diseases. Then, these same shopkeepers have been buying the harvest that ends up coming back on the markets of Bukavu in the form of flour and other products, which have seen a resulting drop in prices.
It is a virtuous circle, where the Rwandese shopkeepers are convinced that in this border region, farmers can boost their productivity if they had better access to more modern agricultural procedures and products.
So in exchange for their help, farmers sell their produce, especially corn and manioc, to the Rwandans. "They take it to their country to be treated and transformed, before sending back the flour to Bukavu and many other places in neat bags of 25 or 50 kilograms," explains Mashii Mwagalwa, who owns a farm 33 kilometers south of Bukavu.
This support encourages many farmers to put more effort into improving their output techniques, which often have been neglected in the last few years. They are now reaping the benefits of their efforts. "I can pay for my two children to go to school thanks to my farming that is financed by a Rwandan businessman," says Serge Mashanga. The phytosanitary products are supplied on credit, refundable after harvest.
"I'm going to add another two hectares to my land," the farmer says.
Protecting smallest farmers
Because they work hand-in-hand with these traders, local farmers with smaller output are starting to develop better procedures for their size. "Before they came, my wife and I couldn't manage huge agricultural projects," explains Baudouin Luminino.
He says that the tested phytosanitary products help protect the crops and boost production. "Some of us have gone to Rwandan businessmen to negotiate for certain varieties of cereal seeds that can have a huge return potential," he explains.
The aim is also to reduce the waste caused by transportation and tariffs at the border that farmers have had to pay whenever they go to Rwanda to buy seeds or to sell their harvest.
Several farmers acknowledge the usefulness of this aid. Without it, they admit they wouldn't be competitive enough on the markets due to their meagre production. They are also encouraged by the interest that the Rwandese traders have taken in their work.
For Rwandan sellers, production by their own country's farmers is not sufficient. "We needed to resort to the harvest of farmers from South Kivu and transform them in order to supply us with enough flour," says one. In fact, according to Riziki Estella, a farmer, this exchange is what enabled him to open warehouses to stock manioc and corn flour in Bukavu. As a result, the price of local flour dropped in the town. A bag of 25 kilograms of corn flour now costs between $14 and $16. Two years ago, it was $20 or $22. Meanwhile, the price of manioc flour has been cut in half.