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DRC: Farmers confront dangerous impact of deforestation (Global Press Journal)

On a routine afternoon last December, a half-dozen loggers in Katwa, a village in Lubero territory in eastern DRC, swung and sang in the forest as nearby herders guarded sheep and goats. Chainsaws brayed. Axes chopped. Trees thudded to the ground.

On the surface, the loggers are just making a living. But as they denude this forest, they’re also speeding up climate change and hobbling farmers and others whose livelihoods are tied to the weather.

It is a scene repeated throughout this vast country. Once known as “the second lung of the planet” for its massive rainforests, DRC finds itself increasingly devastated by deforestation.

Kasereka Kopokopo is a 38-year-old farmer. He says the changing climate in and around Katwa has erased once-predictable growing seasons. This has blunted crop production, which has driven up food prices. His land used to produce 100 kilograms of beans each season. Now, it yields just 30 kilograms.

Mr. Kopokopo says, “The lengthening of both wet and dry seasons has created a lot of confusion. We don’t know when planting season is anymore.”

Forests blanket nearly 50% of DRC. The continent’s most biologically diverse country, DRC also holds more than half of Africa’s tropical forest. These forests are home to 1,150 species of birds, as well as more than 3,200 types of animals that can only be found in DRC—from okapi (a relative of the giraffe) to bonobos (a type of chimpanzee).

Deforestation has surged over the past 25 years. The country’s forests shrank by more than 300,000 hectares per year, and that figure is rising, according to a report by the non-profit International Tropical Timber Technical Association.
Wildfires and slash-and-burn farming are among the culprits, along with charcoal production, cattle-raising, and small-scale—often illegal—logging.

Twenty years ago, Lubero territory, in North Kivu province, was known for its forests and woodlands. Farms and fields have replaced some of those areas, while some sections of forest are now studded with row after row of tree stumps.
Small-scale loggers invaded the area, and timber prices shot up from $2 to $5 to between $10 and $100. This drew even more loggers. And the more timber’s value climbed, the more trees in the forest fell.

Deforestation ensued, which meant trees were no longer around to absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas known as a major contributor to climate change. Emissions of greenhouse gases grew over the past decade as deforestation went virtually unchecked, despite DRC’s regulations, says ecologist Kasereka Wasakundi.

Deforestation may account for as much as 70% of the disruption of DRC’s growing seasons, Mr. Wasakundi says.
The wet seasons used to run from February to March and August to October, says agronomist Kakule Kwiravusa Jérémie. “They can now be very dry months. There is no distinction between the wet and the dry seasons anymore.”

Bean and maize crops have suffered the most. Marceline Kavira, 37, grows beans, cassava, and apples. She says she used to grow 45 kilograms of beans per season, but in each of the last two years, she harvested only six kilograms.
This means consumers pay more for staples. Muhindo Mboghoto Ezéchias, 30, a schoolteacher, says 1.5 kilograms of beans used to cost 600 Congolese francs ($0.30 US). Now they cost between 1,500 francs and 2,500 francs ($0.74 – $1.23 US), “depending on the whims of the seasons.”

Loggers, meanwhile, are ambivalent. A former farmer, Musubaho Wandavakuti, 37, says logging allows him to provide for his wife and four children. But it comes at a price.

Mr. Wandavakuti says, “We think [logging] is beneficial. We make a living from charcoal, planks, and firewood. This is our life.”

Nonetheless, he adds, “The felling of trees may lead us to desertification, lack of air to breathe, and loss of vegetation and animals.”

Mr. Kopokopo owns nearly a half-hectare in Katwa, although he has additional fields elsewhere, where he grows crops such as cassava. That allows him to stay in farming. Even so, he says, he and other farmers feel helpless.
He adds, “We need the help of agronomists to learn how to adjust to the disruption of growing seasons before the situation gets even worse.”

This story is adapted from an article written by Merveille Kavira Luneghe and published by Global Press Journal titled “Farmers Confront Dangerous Impact of Deforestation.” To read the full story, go to: https://globalpressjournal.com/africa/democratic-republic-of-congo/farmers-confront-falling-yields-deforestation-speeds-climate-change/ [1]

Photo: Charles Kasereka, in red, and Richard Kakome saw through a tree on a hill in Lubero territory. Credit: Merveille Kavira Luneghe, GPJ DRC.