Congo-Brazzaville: On an island of fishers, the only farmer earns more money than most

| August 25, 2014

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It is ten o’clock in the morning. On l’île aux raphias, an island in the majestic Congo River, a fishing village is bustling with activity.

A patch of fine white sand hugs the outskirts of the settlement. Silhouetted against the verdant greenery beyond the sand, a man is almost shouting into his phone: “Hello! Yes, it is me, Célestin, on the phone! Yes. I have tomato, chili and okra plants that will be ready for harvest in two days! How much? And when will you arrive?”

The man with the phone is Célestin Botando. Both fisherman and market gardener, the father of seven is trying to acquaint potential customers with the produce available from his two hectares of vegetables.

Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. Botando is the only farmer in this island fishing community. His tomato, okra and chilli plants grow and mature quickly, and his produce is highly valued in the Brazzaville markets.

He explains, “I ​​chose these plants for reasons of both time and space.” Mr. Botando has only a few months to work his land. During the dry season, the river waters retreat and expose a large tract of land. When the rains return, the island is mostly flooded.

Mr. Botando says, “I can only practice farming between May and September. But that’s enough for me to make a profit.”

For the last two years, he has farmed during the day and fished at night. He is proud of his double life. He lives this way in order to earn enough to pay his children’s school fees and meet the needs of his family in Kinshasa.

Mr. Botando had found it difficult to make ends meet as a fisher because the fish catch drops at the onset of the dry season. But his vegetable sales now offset the seasonal decrease in his income.

He feels fortunate to have an alternative activity during the dry season. He can sell a basket of okra for 10,000 Central African francs [about $20 US], and is able to harvest enough to sell at least 15 baskets a week.

Bonaventure Okombi is the head of the fishing village. He says: “[Mr. Botando] has an advantage in not having to clear his land. He made his fields on land that the river left him. We are proud of his initiative. Maybe it will inspire other fishermen to better occupy themselves at this time of the year.”

Mr. Botando’s niece, Bibi Ilunga, has been helping him since the beginning of the current growing season. She says: “We only have problems when irrigating. We need motorized pumps to make life easier … Can you imagine? We have to water all these plants by hand, morning and evening, and walk quite a way to the river to get the water.”

Ms. Ilunga is disappointed that farming is only an option in the dry season, noting that vegetables bring in more money than fishing. She would prefer it if the farming was year round.

The additional income from his farm helped Mr. Botando to set up a shop which sells goods such as kerosene, soap and canned foods. His only worry is that immigrants from the DRC like himself might be expelled from Congo-Brazzaville. But, he says with a smile, “If we’re not expelled, I think next year I will have more productive fields than these ones here.”