1. Democratic Republic of the Congo: Farmers learn rainy season techniques from across the border (Syfia Grands Lacs)

| April 12, 2010

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One year ago, Jérôme Bihinda lived in a house made of reeds and straw. Today, he lives in a brick house. He owes the upgrade to tomatoes.

Mr. Bihinda is a Congolese farmer in Bukavu, a city on the Rwandan border. He learned to grow tomatoes from his Rwandan neighbours. These fruits allow many farmers in Bukavu to earn a good livelihood.

Tomatoes are not a new crop for farmers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But they used to grow them during the dry season only. Because they didn’t produce very much, traders were not interested.

Farmers got the idea to grow tomatoes in the rainy season from their neighbours in Cyangugu, Rwanda. André Kabehe is one of the Congolese farmers who crosses the border regularly. He noticed that the soil in Cyangugu is the same as the soil in Bukavu. So he and other farmers decided to give rainy season tomato farming a try.

Growing tomatoes in the rainy season requires a new set of skills. For example, farmers must go to their fields when it rains to spray their tomatoes with pesticides to keep diseases and insects away. They purchase the pesticides in Rwanda. To manage the pests without poisoning the consumer, they must handle the pesticides with care.

The increased tomato production has drawn traders to Bukavu. Every day, farmers pack tomatoes of various sizes into 20-litre containers. Trucks make weekly rounds to pick up the fruit. Some are destined for the large market in South Kivu. Others are sold at markets in surrounding villages.

Though Congo’s new tomato farmers enjoy good incomes, struggles remain. If supply lines fail, farmers are in trouble. Last December, roads were very muddy following the rains. Trucks were not able to pick up the tomatoes. Many farmers watched their produce rot. Another problem is difficulty purchasing the right pesticides. Because they are not sold in local shops, farmers must travel to Rwanda to buy them.