Congo-Brazzaville: A young farmer makes the most of a floodplain (by Jean Pierre Ndinga-Ngoma for Farm Radio Weekly, in Congo-Brazzaville)

    | May 7, 2012

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    César Ibala is a young market gardener who lives in a wooden house in Pointe Noire. Most nearby houses are made of concrete. However, his furnishings are the same quality as those in the homes of government officials. He has a television, refrigerator, and fine wooden furniture. And he has achieved this standard of living by growing vegetables.

    Mr. Ibala farms on land owned by his brother. The plot is located on the Tchinouka River that runs through the city of Pointe-Noire. Each year, the plot is plagued by flooding. Every time it rains, Mr. Ibala and his family are up to their ankles in water. Most people prefer to sell land on mudflats or floodplains. For example, Mr. Boulingui is a Congolese farmer whose land is only five metres from the River Songolo. He explains, “In January 2007, following heavy rain, the waters invaded our house. The family has decided to sell the plot.”

    Mr. Ibala’s brother wanted to sell the land because of the continued flooding. But Mr. Ibala refused. He is convinced that wealth comes from the earth. He says, “The most profitable way to use the land is through farming.” He chose to continue growing vegetables. Now, he grows chicory, tomatoes, cabbage and other vegetables on his brother’s land. And the family welcomes the income.

    Unlike Mr. Ibala, many young people in Pointe-Noire dream of working for oil companies. They believe that social success comes from being associated with wealthy organizations. They think of agriculture as a dirty job reserved for the less literate. Even those who studied agronomy are considering a career switch.

    That’s the case for Alain Malonga. Mr. Malonga is a student at the public agricultural secondary school in Brazzaville. He dreams of moving to France to study economics. He explains, “After my diploma in agricultural technology, I will sell our land and go to France to learn a decent job … because farming doesn’t earn you a living here.”

    Mr. Ibala is confident and proud to work among people who are employed in so-called luxury trades. He earns a good living and his children attend the best schools. He explains: “By selling at least 500 kilograms of vegetables per month during the dry season, I end the month with nearly 300,000 CFA francs (about US $600). It is difficult to earn this amount as a government worker.” The minimum wage in Congo is 50,000 CFA francs per month (about $90 US).

    But Mr. Ibala faces some challenges. Because it is impractical to farm his plot during the October to June rainy season, he needs land elsewhere. Landowners in the city charge high rents. So he leases land more than five kilometres outside the city. He dreams of someday becoming a successful farmer and working large areas of land. However, that dream would only be possible, he says, “provided that the state and donors actively promote agriculture.”