DRC: Small-scale miner turns to oranges for profitable, safer career

| June 24, 2019

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In the cold, high-altitude mountainous area of Nyabibwe, in DRC, Ajuwa Bertin and his two young brothers head to the family coffee plantation, hoe and machete in hand. Mr. Bertin is setting out to tend to his orange trees, which grow around his father’s coffee plants.

Mr. Bertin comes from a farming family, but he wasn’t always a farmer. At 30 years old, Mr. Bertin received his diploma in education. That was 11 years ago. But there were no jobs in education, so he joined the mining sector in Kalimbi, becoming a chisokoma, or small-scale miner. He mined cassiterite, a mineral composed of tin dioxide and which is mostly used in the manufacture of mobile phones, televisions, and other circuitry.

He didn’t last long in this job, though. A landslide killed a dozen workers in a mining area, including two of his school friends. Determined, the young man decided to find another job—one that was both profitable and safe. He decided to go back to agriculture.

Growing oranges seemed to be a good choice. He chose oranges because they are popular among miners, who enjoy the refreshing fruit. Demand is increasing among buyers in the cities of Goma and Bukavu, north and south of Nyabibwe.

They are also popular with families who want to eat a healthy diet. Solange Furaha is a 40-year-old housewife. She buys lots of oranges because she knows that the fruit is good for constipation and orange juice is a good drink for children.

Kwabene Richard is a nutritionist at the Birhala health centre. He says, “Oranges have numerous health benefits. They are rich in vitamin C, a source of energy, and stimulate the body’s immune system.”

Mr. Bertin planted orange trees around his father’s coffee plants. He maintains a seed sprouter and nursery, and transplants the orange seedlings himself. Thanks to his connections with agents at the national environmental service, he received good advice on agroforestry practice and fighting erosion. Planting the fruit trees around the coffee bushes prevents erosion and shades the bushes.

The new farmer also received advice on managing pests. He explains: “I learned from the environmental supervisor that soap foam or palm oil are useful for fighting against mealybugs and aphids, pests that spread orange tree diseases in the region. When I see a case, I remove the affected leaves and burn them in the fire, [and then] I sprinkle some palm oil on the unaffected leaves and the result is very satisfying.”

Mr. Bertin already has 100 orange trees in production on his farm. He produces nearly 800 kgs of fruit each harvest, which earns him 224,000 Congolese francs ($136 US). His reputation has earned him connections to city buyers who, unlike local buyers, advance him money before his oranges are ready for harvest.

Mamy Furahisha is a 42-year-old widow who has been selling oranges and other fruit for the last four years. She lives and works in Goma, a city north of Nyabibwe. To get a sufficient supply of oranges, she pays Mr. Bertin in advance for two 50-kg sacks of oranges. She pays when the orange trees flower, reserving the fruit that could otherwise be sold to other buyers. When the fruit is ripe, she collects it to sell in Goma.

Mr. Bertin regrets the death of his friends, the event which inspired him to start this new life. But he is delighted to maintain a profitable and sustainable business that is less dangerous than mining. His dream is to expand his plantation so that he can grow—and earn—more. He would like to set up a processing plant and provide employment to other youth from the area who are otherwise tempted to become a chisokoma.