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Reinforcing Sustainable Livestock Productivity in DR Congo

The agricultural sector occupies a predominant place in the Democratic Republic of Congo economy. The DRC has approximately 135 million hectares of arable land, of which only 10% is developed. The violent conflicts and insecurity that have beset the country have adversely affected the performance of the, agricultural sector. DRC provides an exemplar of the ways in which prolonged conflict, human rights violations and the related negative health, economic and social consequences can impact communities. Violence against civilians is used as a ‘deliberate and strategic tactic in war’, to destroy or expel populations and pillage land and livestock. This situation has been aggravated by limited access to land and markets. Thus, the peasant population suffers from extreme poverty and an alarming nutritional status with high incidence of food insecurity.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) population is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa and second largest in Africa with about 90 million inhabitants. The DRC has 37 kilometres of coastline and a geography characterised by a vast central basin low-lying plateau rising to volcanoes and mountains in the east. More than half the country is covered by dense tropical rainforest. The country is traversed by numerous rivers with the Congo River being the largest.

Agriculture represents one of the largest employment options for citizens of the DRC and is a major contributor to the countries GDP. Still, domestic food production is insufficient to meet the country’s needs, and many basic food products have to be imported. In Congo, agricultural production comprised of cropping activities (79%), fisheries (12%), and livestock production (9%). Close to 66% of the total agricultural land is devoted to pasture and 34% to crop land. Congo’s agricultural sector employs around 60 percent of its total labor force and accounts for 43 percent of the country’s GDP. Out of DRC’s total land area, 9.9 percent is used for agricultural purposes, with 3 percent of this area classified as arable land. However, the largest gap between the contribution to value added and employment appears to be in agriculture. This indicates that agriculture has the lowest productivity in the DRC’s economy. As a result of government’s efforts since 1987, agricultural production has increased due to “abolishing state marketing boards, freeing prices, launching new agricultural credit institutions and closing down most state farms”. The Niari Valley in the south is a notable agricultural area.

Based on the study carried out within ECOWAS Commission and SWAC/OECD in 2008 indicate that growing annually by 4%, the demand for animal products in the Sahel and West Africa should increase more than 250% by 2025. At that period, the animal product supply growth rate is at 2%. This increase, although significant, does not satisfy demand. This shows the imbalance between supply and demand will continue and worsen in the 2020s.

The livestock sector is largely undeveloped with majority of farmers focus on small livestock, like poultry, swine, cavies (i.e., Guinea pigs) and rabbits. Livestock sector populations have suffered significantly since the civil war, when many farms were looted and the animals stolen. Families keep livestock to accumulate household reserves that are strongly invested in children’s education. As an important source of dietary protein, consumption and sale of wild animals (‘bushmeat’), including some primates, is widespread. This has been fuelled partly by poor living conditions and the rise in the number of internally-displaced people (IDPs) fleeing regional conflicts.

In an effort to increase the availability of meat in rural areas, the government instituted a lend-lease system. Farmers would be lent animals by the state with the requirement to pay back the same number of animals at a later date. By 1980, around 22,000 animals were on loan and by 1990, the number of cattle and poultry in the country had quadrupled in the thirty years since independence, though the number of sheep and goats had risen by a more modest amount. Annual production of meat was 27,000 metric tonnes in 2000.

The DRC produces only 2.3% of its national potential in beef and imports 200,000 tons of meat annually to meet demand. For instance, in Kinshasa, there is a great potential for demand of eggs and chicken due to the large population of about 12 million inhabitants. According to statistics from the ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, in 2014, about 420,000 tons of chicken and about 30,000 tons of eggs (and egg derivatives) were imported to Kinshasa. Costs of imported products in the market are often cheaper than locally produced ones. As at 2016, animal husbandry index for Democratic Republic of the Congo was 106.4 index. Animal husbandry index of Democratic Republic of the Congo increased from 79.1 index in 1967 to 106.4 index in 2016 growing at an average annual rate of 0.63%.

Livestock production is being hindered by a number of factors such as animal diseases and lack of feed resources, particularly in the dry season. Lack of feed or forages were unrelated to a particular livestock species. Livestock holdings depended on animal diversity, location, land size available and respondents’ education level. The potential introduction of improved forages is challenged by their dry-season tolerance, compatibility with cropping on small farms; and people’s readiness to cultivate forages.

However, DRC boasts 90 million hectares of pasture that can support 40 million heads of cattle and produce 1.5 million tonnes of beef every year. Experts such as Pyame Mushagalusa of the National Agricultural Study and Research Institute (INERA), DRC says the DR Congo has high forage production potential high diversity of forage species, diverse agro-ecological zones and high demand for forages.

Creating more sustainable livestock production systems will drive crop–livestock integration impact on sustainable job creation for young people, economic development and reduction in food crisis. The Ministry of Agriculture in DRC should adopt:

  • Farmers’ needs technology evolution and knowledge generation;
  • Distributing technologies for increased system productivity;
  • Scaling up of farmers’ ability to enrich their diets with resources obtained from more productive and diverse crop-livestock systems;
  • Creation and increased proportion of animal source foods in local diets;
  • Household diet diversification, through promotion of bio-fortified crops, e.g. protein-rich maize, orange-fleshed sweet potato, soybean or zinc- and iron-rich beans;
  • Post-harvest processing and value addition initiatives; and
  • Improving linkages to commercial value chains.

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