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Agriculture Seen as a Viable Alternative to Oil in the Congo Republic

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  • As a result of abundant oil revenues, the Republic of Congo has grown reliant on food imports and neglected local food production
  • An increase in food prices, coupled with a projected decline in oil revenue, has prompted authorities to put agriculture on their priority list
  • The World Bank has provided US$20 million to support an increase in local food production

BRAZZAVILLE, February 26, 2009— The Congolese economy is heavily dependent on oil. Oil-generated revenue accounts for nearly 76 percent of all revenue in the government’s budget, with the remaining revenue produced by subsistence agriculture, arts and crafts, and an industrial sector relying largely on hydrocarbons.

Oil accounts for 67 percent of GNP and 95 percent of exports. However, experts predict that the source of this windfall will be depleted by 2015. In anticipation of the decline in oil production and influence as a result of the emergence of new sources of energy and combustion such as civilian nuclear power and ethanol, the Congo has begun discussions on post-oil alternatives.

As a by-product of the oil windfall, the Republic of Congo has grown reliant on food imports, because it does not produce enough agricultural products to feed its population. The country is spending over CFAF 100 billion (about US $200 million) a year on food imports. Yet endowed with fertile land and water in abundance, the Congo has an environment conducive to agriculture. But despite this obvious fact, a large proportion of the vegetables displayed in markets around Brazzaville come from Kinshasa (DR Congo), on the other side of the Congo River, and from Cameroon. Onions, garlic, peanuts, and beef are imported from Chad.

In light of the food crisis that is becoming more evident in the country each day, it is essential to implement a program of intensive food cultivation to correct the situation. “In order to ensure that the country does not have to continue importing enormous amounts of food products, the Congolese authorities should invest a portion of the oil windfall in agricultural projects,” stated a staff member of the ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Accordingly, the Agricultural Development and Rural Roads Rehabilitation Project (ADRRP) was launched on December 17, 2008.

The objective of the project—the first to be funded by the World Bank in the agricultural sector in Congo since the 1990s—is to assist the Republic of Congo in increasing the ability of rural populations to raise their income through the use of improved agricultural technologies, the provision of market infrastructure, and the formulation and implementation of poverty-focused agricultural policies and expenditure programs.

The project is financed by a US$20 million grant from the International Development Association (IDA), with US$20 million in cofinancing from the Congolese Government (i.e., a total of US$40 million). It will be implemented over a five-year period in eight of the country’s ten administrative regions.

“Agricultural recovery and development transcend mere words. The creation of the Agriculture Support Fund (FSA) is a sure path toward achieving that end, the final objective being to achieve food self-sufficiency,” stated Emmanuel Mayoulou, Director-General of the FSA, which was established on December 28, 2008, with the mission of solving the problem of food deficits and volatility in agricultural product prices.

With the same objective in mind, the Congolese Government launched in the first half of 2008, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the National Food Security Program (PNSA). Designed to cover a five-year period, the PNSA is aimed at: (i) intensifying the production of food crops in each village, with support from Vietnamese and Chinese technicians; (ii) upgrading rural roads; and (iii) establishing structures for the marketing and distribution of inputs, etc.

The great interest shown and active mobilization efforts taken by the Congolese Government and its development partners to enhance the agricultural sector is proof of this sector’s importance as an alternative to oil. Indeed, agricultural sector development is among the objectives stated in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), which provides for an increase of public investment in agriculture and rural development in the interest of reducing poverty and helping achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving poverty and alleviating extreme hunger.

Insufficient local production

Agricultural production around Brazzaville is insufficient and seasonal, and the surfaces reserved for farming in Brazzaville are shrinking daily. In the northern part of the town, “houses are popping up in the spaces where gardens are cultivated, and this greatly reduces production,” François Rasolo, FAO representative in the Congo, said worriedly.

Food crops (mainly cassava, followed by yams, maize, peanuts, paddy, etc.) take up 75 percent of the cultivated surfaces, and the remaining surfaces are used for cultivating cash crops such as sugar cane, palm oil, cocoa, and coffee (the last two crops are, however, in sharp decline). Except in the case of cassava, the production of which has risen considerably in recent years, the trend for all food crops is generally downward. Small livestock (small ruminants, pigs, poultry) is also raised around homes, both in neighborhoods on the outskirts of Brazzaville and in rural areas. The system of production in the forest is based on slash-and-burn itinerant farming, with lengthy fallow periods.

The main constraints facing small producers are access to markets, the lack of capacity for storage and for marketing and processing produce, the problems of obtaining supplies of inputs and small agricultural equipment, and limited access to financial services and appropriate technologies.

The ADRRP is aimed at making up for these deficiencies through its four components, as follows:

The first component (US$4.71 million) will help strengthen the capacity the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Livestock to implement pro-poor policies and ensure efficient and effective management of investment programs in the sector.

The second component (US$15.94 million) will focus on the rehabilitation of rural roads and construction and rehabilitation of rural market infrastructure, in view of expanding the chance for rural farmers to earn income from their production and gain access to affordable agricultural inputs.

The third component (US$7.6 million) will help rural producers, especially subsistence-oriented farmers, raise their productivity and the income they generate from agriculture. Typical activities to be funded under this component would include the generation and dissemination of improved production technologies and market information, and the strengthening of the capacity of producer organizations.

The fourth component (US$4.7 million) will be devoted to ensuring the effective management and coordination of project activities, including through the establishment of four regional implementation units to support and coordinate field operations, prepare and consolidate work programs and annual budgets, and help focus on results.

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