Nelly Bassily | February 18, 2008
Bizimungu Dieudonne arrived in Zimbabwe five years ago with a sack of maize strapped to his bicycle. He was fleeing the civil war in Burundi. Like thousands of others escaping violence in their home countries, he was welcomed into the Tongogara refugee camp.In Burundi, Mr. Dieudonne was a tailor. But in the camp, there was no work for him. When his single sack of maize was gone, he depended on food rations supplied by the United Nations. When an agricultural training program offered him a chance at self-sufficiency, he was eager to start. Mr. Dieudonne now grows his own maize and looks forward to learning about other crops.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees notes that there are fewer armed conflicts in Africa than there were 20 years ago. However, those conflicts that persist – in countries such as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Sudan –
have kept people away from their homes for years. That is why the UN has begun to focus on agricultural training for refugees. Refugees learn to grow food for their families, and to sell crops for profit.
The majority of refugees in the Maratane camp in Mozambique come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They don’t know when it will be safe to return home. But in the meantime, families have been offered loans to buy laying hens, both to supplement food rations and provide income. Over time, the UN hopes that every household in the camp will raise chickens.
Mendes Munguambe is the head of the UN’s field office at the Meheba refugee settlement in Zambia. Most people at the Meheba settlement had fled from Angola. Though many Angolans have returned to their native country, thousands have chosen to stay. Mr. Munguambe says that as long as refugees are living in this settlement, the UN wants the community to be self-sufficient.
Those who remain have been encouraged to join an agricultural cooperative. The cooperative will allow farmers to share their skills and resources. It will also be run commercially, allowing the refugees to sell food on a large scale to the nearby mining village.
Not all refugees in Africa have the opportunity to farm or operate small businesses. Some countries forbid refugees from carrying out any such economic activities. But for those who are able, farming can offer pride and independence in an otherwise tumultuous time.