Along the Mitumba Mountains in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, fields used to brim with food crops. Women and men grew bananas, maize, sorghum, rice, peas, , sweet potato, and taro – producing enough food for their families with a little extra to sell in the market.
Today, a different scene is common. One morning in a South Kivu village, seven men gather around nine in the morning. They play a local game of marbles, called sombi, and drink kasikisi, a local banana beer. By the end of the morning, they are drunk.
Similar scenes can be found across the traditional Bushi region of South Kivu. In Mushekere, a village just outside of the town of Bukavu, there are 279 married men. Only one of these men works the land alongside his wife. In the neighbouring village of Kanoshe, only three men spend a good part of the day in the fields with their wives.
Martin Nshagi is chief of the Kasha neighbourhood in Bukavu. He says that the men have abandoned their fields, discouraged by low profits. Over-cultivation and erosion have wrecked havoc on soil fertility and farm inputs are hard to come by. According to Mr. Nshagi, the result is that fewer and fewer people grow enough food for their families.
In the market, food prices have risen. Basic staples such as cassava, maize, and beans are now imported from other parts of the country. A 1.3 kilogram sack of beans that sold for 800 CDF (about $1.4 American dollars or 1.1 Euros) in April now costs 1,300 CDF (about $2.3 American dollars or 1.8 Euros).
More and more women are also putting down their farm tools. They say they cannot work the land alone, so have turned, instead, to digging fishponds or tending beehives. Sifa Kasole has taken up apiculture. She says it is much less labour intensive than farming. Once the beehive is built, all she has to do is dig around the hive from time to time to keep out ants and other bugs. Last year, Ms. Kasole’s hives produced over 200 kilograms of honey, earning her the equivalent of $1,000 American dollars (about 770 Euros).
In areas further inland, fish farming is growing in popularity. Raising tilapia is a profitable business. Local leaders are concerned, however, that lucrative activities such as beekeeping and fish farming cannot replace locally-produced food crops which are vital to local food security. Some crops that require heavy labour, such as sweet potato and cassava, have all but disappeared from the area.
Jean-Pierre Bahizire is president of a farming and beekeeping association in Mudaka. He says that men must be pushed into returning to the land to avoid a food catastrophe.