The Congolese people have suffered at the hands of exploitative leaders and civil war for decades. Beginning with the regime of King Leopold of Belgium (1885-1908), continuing in the post-independence dictatorship of Mobutu SeseSeko (1965-1997), and fiinally in the brutal civil war period of conflict and insecurity, the Congolese people have experienced one of the most tragic histories of modern time. Hope was renewed with the democratic elections of 2006, and there was optimism that the DRC would use its abundant natural resources to achieve prosperity and growth.
Sadly, persistent regional conflict in the East, lack of physical infrastructure and poor governance have shattered many of these hopes. With stagnant agricultural production and underdeveloped food systems, the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation estimates that 44 of the over 70 million citizens remain undernourished. Food for the Hungry (FH) is working in South Kivu and Katanga provinces in Eastern DRC, which continues to be severely affected by recent conflicts. In these regions, 40-50% of the children are chronically stunted by malnourishment. Internal displacement and large refugee returns have placed additional demands on the already scarce resources of these communities.
Much of this hunger and poverty can be linked to the treatment and status of women in society. For example only 18% of women in South Kivu and 10% in Katanga provinces are consulted in basic household decisions. More disturbingly, 53% of women in South Kivu and 63% in Katanga report having been physically abused.
Following Christian principles, FH seeks to improve the status of women and in so doing to combat gender violence and also improve family nutrition. To this end, FH is partnering with Search for Common Ground to integrate women into agricultural and nutrition programmes. The new gender-integrated model ensures better inclusion at all levels, eventually benefiting over 90,000 farmers through a volunteer cascade training approach (one volunteer woman farmer trains 8-10 others and so on).
Many doubted that a volunteer-based model would work in the Congo. FH’s volunteer mother leaders have proved them wrong by becoming some of the most dynamic and motivated development actors in their communities. Dramatic positive behavior change has been observed in the first 18 months. Because of such success, FH is expanding this model, which builds the capacity and social standing of women in their communities, to reach over 50,000 mothers of under-age-two children. Men will also be influenced through the training of community leaders.
Photo: Mother leaders working in the communal maize fields planted with seed saved from last year’s harvest
Hard Red Winter Wheat donated by US Government is transported to the DRC, where it is sold in the local markets by FH. In the short-term, this helps to stabilize local grain prices where there is a shortage. The money that is raised from the sales is used directly to fund the FH programme. In the longer-term, one of the principal aims of the programme is to achieve local sufficiency and sustainability in grain production.
Photo: miller grinding flour in DRC
FH’s work in the DRC
FH has a large team working long-term on a variety of community development issues in the DRC. Please take a look at our website to find out more: FH and the World Food Crisis
See also our recent blog, DRC – Sustainable progress after 6 years of working with returned refugees