Congo-Brazzaville: Women of Pointe-Noire grow maize behind their houses (by Blanche Simona Ngokoumounga for Farm Radio Weekly)

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Blanche Rosalie leads a double life. She works as a teacher in the morning but is transformed into a farmer in the afternoon. She digs and rakes the soil in her small plot of land and sows maize, harvesting enough to fill a 60-kilogram bag.

Ms. Rosalie is one of the many women in the city of Pointe-Noire who have been inspired by the high cost of maize to grow small plots of the staple food behind their houses.

Before she started to grow her own, Ms. Rosalie traded maize on a small scale. She needed the income to meet some basic family needs, such as buying soap or ensuring that her children eat breakfast regularly. But the business offered poor returns.

Ms. Rosalie purchased 60-kilogram bags of maize from farmers for 10,000 Central African francs ($21 US). She cooked the maize and sold it as a snack. But her profits were insignificant, only 2,000 francs ($4.20 US) on each bag of maize she bought, cooked and sold.

But this changed when she discovered that the ground under her feet was fertile. Ms. Rosalie decided to try growing her own maize to cook and sell.

Encouraged by the initial results, Ms. Rosalie planted a larger area this year, and enjoyed a good harvest. She now earns more from her maize garden than she did from trading. Her costs are low. A small bottle of seeds costs 400 francs (84 US cents). She pays a further 300 francs (63 US cents) for firewood to cook the maize.

She says, “Yesterday I made 5000 francs ($10.50 US). I earned a lot from the barbequed cobs. The neighbours also buy maize fresh from my garden.” By the end of her harvest, Ms. Rosalie had earned a profit of 20,000 francs ($42 US).

Pierrette Ngatala is a nurse who loves to eat Ms. Rosalie’s maize. She explains: “It is fresh and sweet maize, and cheap. I bought four cobs for 100 francs (21 US cents) direct from Rosalie’s garden, whereas it’s twice as expensive at the market. Also, the maize that comes from the villages is often hard and [has] lost its freshness.”

Ms. Ngatala plans to grow maize in her own garden next season. She says: “So far I have planted sorrel, groundnuts and cassava in my garden. I intend to add maize to that, as it is good to eat with cassava leaves and peanuts.”

The Department of Agriculture in Pointe-Noire plans to help farmers who establish co-operatives. Aurélie Niambi is head of the Department of Agricultural Production and Plant Protection. She hopes to educate women on the importance of forming co-ops. She says, “We can then give them free seeds, but as long as they are scattered and limit themselves to their [individual] gardens, it will be difficult to help them.”

Ms. Rosalie has a clear vision for the future. The teacher-farmer plans to rent a plot of land to grow a larger volume of maize, to make even more money.