Nelly Bassily | January 11, 2010
Music fills the air outside the village of Ngouha II in southern Republic of Congo. In this atmosphere of song, farmers are hard at work. They haul stone, wood, and soil to the site of a broken bridge. The bridge has been broken for some time.
While the bridge lay in ruins, no vehicles could pass. Farmers struggled to get their produce to market. But today, they are determined to fix the bridge with their own hands.
Pierre Ngoro is the village chief. He insists: “If we do not do it ourselves, nobody will come to our aid.” Agricultural produce would rot in the field, he says.
Pierre Mavinda is a local farmer working on the bridge. He explains that, last harvest season, farmers had to carry produce to market on their heads. Squash, peanuts, taro, cassava, fruit, vegetables – all were transported this way, Mr. Mavinda recalls. Next season, they will be able to transport their goods via truck.
A few dozen kilometres away, villagers from Ndiba had the same idea. Soft spots and crevasses had made the local farm road impassable. Armed with hoes and shovels, village youth are fixing these problems. Mpandzou Armand is one of the youth. He explains that farmers provide them with meals. On top of that, the young workers ask each passing vehicle for five dollars.
Poor road conditions are a problem for farmers in many parts of the Republic of Congo. Just as they are a problem for farmers in many other parts of Africa. Without good roads, some villages are isolated. Farmers are unable to sell surplus food in nearby markets. Farmers who grow mostly cash crops can be stuck with produce that rots before it can be sold.
Gilbert Koumba squats by his banana harvest. He waits for a train at the Les Saras station. The train was supposed to pick up his bananas a week ago, laments Mr. Koumba. He is afraid of losing his produce. Since a major bridge was broken, the train is the only means of transport from this area.
In areas such as these, local labour is not enough to fix roads and bridges. Fortunately, external funding has been secured. The International Fund for Agricultural Development plans to construct 400 kilometres of rural roads. Dominique Keng heads this initiative. He explains that it will focus on bottlenecks such as bridges and swamps. The priority is enabling farmers to get produce to market.
Another rural road initiative is jointly funded by the Congolese government and the International Development Association. In four years, this project has constructed more than 1,300 kilometres of rural roads. Irene Mboukou-Kimbatsa oversees the effort. She says this progress is small compared to the needs.