Privat Tiburce Massanga | October 29, 2012
In a hangar at the bus station in Pointe-Noire, Nkaya Mankou sits in silence. He’s about to get into a bush taxi. He will travel to Malélé, a community one hundred kilometres from the city of Pointe-Noire. There, he will look for land to farm – far away from his family.
Mr. Mankou is a vegetable farmer. To his family and friends, he is affectionately known as Papa Mankou. Since 1997, he has grown vegetables alongside other farmers by the “red river” on the outskirts of Pointe-Noire. But recently, he and the other farmers were asked to leave. The order came from the port authority of Pointe-Noire. The authority wants to expand the city’s port. The farmers received no compensation for the land they had farmed for over a decade. The land belonged to the port – a fact the farmers were not aware of. Now the farmers must seek land elsewhere.
Garden belts wind along the river banks of many Congolese cities. But these gardens tend to disappear when subdivisions are built. Today, urban farmers have little space. Those with land to cultivate are subject to the whims of landowners, who can increase the rent or sell the land at any time.
Hervé Dickoundou is department head at the Registry of Pointe-Noire. He says: “It is rare to see a farmer go to the land registry to ask for information on … their spaces, or to conduct the process of obtaining a land title to secure their land.” With no land title, urban farmers driven off land have no grounds to resist.
Antoine Malanda is a farmer in Brazzaville. Every year, urban development takes more of his field. Over the past two years, he has lost more than half the land he cultivates along the river Tsiémé. The land where he once grew crops is now filled with subdivisions. He says: “We have no more land. It has been taken over by houses and it adversely affects our harvests. I cannot diversify my crops or plant those crops that take time to grow … Our production doesn’t amount to much today.”
At 62 years of age, Papa Mankou is not ready to retire. Growing vegetables is the only way to support his large family. He explains: “I spent all my savings. I need to find land. But here in Pointe-Noire, you will find that all garden sites are transformed into sites for modern buildings.”
The legal procedures to retain urban farmland are lengthy. Papa Mankou believes that he cannot fight the authority that evicted him from his farm. Rather than seeking compensation, he sought a quick solution to his landlessness. He says: “I’ll follow friends who went far away to try their luck. Because here, we no longer have access to land for agriculture.”
In Malélé, the land is fertile; more farmers are arriving in search of land. Papa Mankou found a plot of land for his vegetable garden. But he needs land to grow other crops. He wants to grow pineapple and cassava, two flagship products of the Malélé area.