Congo-Brazzaville: Growing cassava is not just for the sighted (Spore, Syfia International)

| November 15, 2010

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For Emerson Massa and his friends, growing cassava has brought not just income, but independence and a place in society. Mr. Massa is head of a local organization in Congo-Brazzaville called Viens et Vois, or “Come and See” in English. The organization supports income-generating activities for the blind and visually impaired.

Around thirty people from the organization decided to learn how to grow cassava. Over the past year, they cultivated two hectares of land in Nkouo, a village about 90 kilometres north of Brazzaville.

Mr. Massa declares, “Growing cassava is not just for the sighted!”

Mostly young people, they wanted to earn their own money. They did not want to be dependent on buying vegetables from the market. So they turned to farming. Many, like Mr. Massa, are educated but do not have jobs. The group attended a training course funded by the Mission Evangélique Braille. They learned farming techniques and how to farm without seeing.

Dieudonne Mbimi is one of the blind farmers. He says, “This experience has enabled us to leave the city and finally grow cassava.”

They sell some of their harvest in Brazzaville and keep the rest to eat. Mr. Massa says, “Forty percent of the money earned from selling the cassava belongs to the NGO, to fund other projects.”  He explains that the remaining 60% provides income for the new farmers. Each earns around 40,000 CFA francs, or 80 American dollars each month. The group intends to double the area they cultivate.

The farmers travel to the cassava field with sighted friends. Moukouyou is Secretary General of Viens et Vois. He says, “We are assisted by people who can see. For example, they warn us if there is a snake.” He adds, “These people volunteer their time and energy. They are sensitive to our cause and facilitate our work.”

Okoueke Armel, one of the sighted friends, confirms this. He often accompanies the young cassava farmers in their field. He says, “We work together well, because we are accustomed to it. We guide them.” Mr. Armel says he does this as a way of contributing to a worthwhile initiative.

Other community members support the new farmers as well. Eve-Evelyn buys their cassava. At first she was surprised that it was grown by blind people. She says, “This should be encouraged. I do not discuss the price too much. For me it is a way to support the initiative.”

The government has plans to support some organizations that work on agriculture and food security. It is possible that Viens et Vois will benefit. Meanwhile, Emerson Massa has just received a civil society award from Harubuntu, a competition for creators of hope and wealth in Africa. The award recognizes Africans who use their own initiative and values to create wealth and provide opportunities for self-development. Mr. Massa may not be able to see, but he certainly has a vision.