Congo-Brazzaville: Farmers plant near watercourses to cope with dry weather (by John Ndinga-Ngoma, for Farm Radio Weekly)

| August 19, 2013

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It has been unusually dry in the past two years, but farmer Edouard Mbaya has found a solution. When it rains, he grows cassava and groundnuts in fields near Diosso, about twenty kilometres north of his home in Pointe-Noire, the economic capital of Congo-Brazzaville. But during the dry season between June and September, Mr. Mbaya does his farming on the banks of a creek.

Mr. Mbaya has had good yields with groundnuts in the past. He says: “At Diosso, I usually get a satisfactory harvest of three bags of groundnuts each year from a field sized 20 metres by 40 metres [under one-tenth of a hectare].” His cassava harvest is also good.

But last year, Mr. Mbaya’s groundnuts failed. He harvested only one bag.

He believes they failed because of the lack of rain. He explains: “It was very hot and there was little rain, especially in December after sowing. Then, when harvesting in February, I found that the groundnut seeds had rotted or had been eaten.”

Jean Pierre Makaya is a climate and weather scientist. He says that 2011 and 2012 were the warmest years on record for the region. The average monthly temperature was 27 degrees centigrade, compared to the usual 25 degrees. He believes that this upward trend will increase.

Mr. Makaya says there was even less rain in 2012 than in 2011. In the first quarter of 2012, only 243 millimetres of rain fell in ​​Pointe-Noire, less than half the 684 millimetres in the same period of 2011.

Like many other small-scale farmers in Pointe-Noire, Mr. Mbaya was shocked by these changes. He decided to grow his crops in wetter areas this year, near watercourses where possible. He explains: “At the edge of the river, there is water … That’s why, this year, I made my groundnut field beside the Songolo River. I have not found rotting seed pods.”

Ngoyo is a neighbourhood south of Pointe-Noire. Farmers there are also facing dry conditions. Farmer Mama Hélène says: “I only know how to grow eggplants, groundnuts and maize. On dry land, these crops don’t perform well because of water shortages and rising temperatures.” For this reason, she now farms on the banks of a river. She continues, “But it is not a sufficient solution, because there are not enough streams, and we must travel long distances.”

Marcelline Koutatouka is an agronomist. She agrees that changing weather patterns are a real problem for farmers in Pointe-Noire. She believes that managing water is the key. She says, “It is difficult to manage water, whether rivers or rain. There is no control of irrigation techniques. Farmers remain dependent on rainfall.”

Ms. Koutatouka proposes that farmers be made better aware of climate change. She said, “It is necessary to educate these farmers to adopt practices which help them cope better with the effects of the changing climate.”