food / travel

How Rwandan Shops And Congolese Farms Bump Up Agriculture Output

"This support encourages many farmers to put more effort into improving their output techniques"
"This support encourages many farmers to put more effort into improving their output techniques"
Fidèle Mutchungu

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.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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