At 6:30 in the morning, Marceline Zaninga is already hard at work in her field, which is dotted with green shoots. Using a hoe and a machete, she removes weeds growing around her plants.
Mrs. Zaninga is a 60-year-old widow. For the past 20 years, she has grown beans and maize on 5,000 square metres of farmland in Byahi, eight kilometres from Goma’s city centre in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Urban agriculture is an important source of income for women here. It is also key to keeping food prices down in this city of a million people.
Mrs. Zaninga stands up for a moment and looks at her crops, smiling excitedly. She is looking forward to harvesting in a few weeks.
She says, “I’m weeding, and this is the last time. In a little over a month, I will have sacks of maize and beans. I harvest beans two months after planting.”
Every two to three months, Ms. Zaninga harvests eight sacks of beans and six sacks of maize. She sells each 50-kilogram sack of beans to a wholesaler for 72,000 Congolese francs (US$45), and each sack of maize for 80,000 francs (US$50).
She keeps a sack of maize and a sack of beans from each harvest to feed her family. Mrs. Zaninga earns almost four million Congolese francs (US$2,500) per year. That is much more than some government employees.
She concludes, “My life depends on this field.” She pays school fees for her children and grandchildren, and has enough to hire nine women to work on her farm at harvest time.
Mrs. Zaninga’s daughter, Delight Vumiliya, grows onions and potatoes on a 3000 square metre plot near her mother’s field.
She says: “Thanks to Mom’s field, I now have my own field. At the end of every month, Mom gave me some money to support myself, and I always saved a little bit to put toward buying my own land. This is how I earn my living.”
She sometimes rents out her land to other farmers for a monthly fee of 46,400 Congolese francs (US$29).
In recent months, Fall armyworm has affected some nearby maize fields and both women are afraid their crops will be attacked.
They plan to pool their money to buy a four-hectare field in Byahi to increase production. This will also benefits retailers in Goma.
Aimerance Zabibu buys beans and maize from Mrs. Zaninga and sells them at the market in Goma.
She says, “I earn 16,000 Congolese francs [US$10] per bag and I can meet my family’s needs.”
Local authorities hope more women will get into urban agriculture to help stabilize or lower the price of maize, a popular staple in the DRC. Last year, a nationwide shortage led the government to import 1,120 tons of maize per month.
Kasangajo Alexis is an agronomist based in Goma. He believes that if 3% of the city’s population started farming, the price of maize and beans would go down. He says a sack of maize would be sold for just 56,000 Congolese francs (US$35), and a sack of beans for 60,800 Congolese francs (US$38), a decrease of about one-third.