Monday, 27 June 2016

Meet the African Giant

Meet the African GiantGiven the DRC’s considerable land mass – 227 million hectares - the country still sustain a system that provides an insufficient amount of crops. Most farmers are still subsistence or small-scale. A lack of manufacturing and packaging infrastructure hampers the country’s ability to move the value chain further on shore and seize huge profits and rewards for the farmers.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is sub Saharan Africa’s largest country. It is rich in commodities such as copper, cobalt, and gold, and has an energetic and young population. The African giant is positioned on the Equator (reaching from latitude 5°22’ in the north to latitude 13°30’ in the south); its territory almost corresponds with the Congo River’s catchment basin. The 4,700 km long river flows through the country from east to west, ending in the Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless, due to waterfalls and torrents between Kinshasa and Matadi, the country’s most significant seaport, the Congo River is only partially navigable.


Food for All
The DRC has the agricultural potential to feed the whole of Africa, but decoding that potential into reality will take concentrated and dedicated efforts on the part of policy makers. The DRC has indeed a vast unrealized agricultural capacity. Straddling the equator and spanning two tropical zones, its climate favors the cultivation of a wide range of tropical and even Mediterranean crops. More than half of the DRC's land is arable and appropriate for farming. Though, it is projected that only 1-2% of the nation's farmable territory has so far been under cultivation at any one time.


Coffee beans, potatoes and leeks can be produced in the high plains of the east and south. The cool temperatures and fertile soil of the Eastern Highlands favor the cultivation of tomatoes, sweet potatoes, yam, and pumpkins and even Mediterranean vegetables such as artichokes and asparagus. So high is the agricultural yield that it is not uncommon, when the rainy season is very long, to replant immediately after harvest and get a second crop during the same season. Subsistence farming dominates the sector, with food crops in tropical areas principally comprising corn, millet, cassava and rice. Most of the commercial crops such as coffee, cocoa, rubber, tea, palm oil and sugar cane are grown in plantations, with the production of tobacco and cotton largely in the hands of private small-hold farmers.


Since the 1960s, agriculture has been seriously neglected and at times was allocated as little as only 1 percent of the government's total budgetary spending. Moreover, the 1973-1974 nationalization or Zairianisation of most small and medium-size foreign-owned agricultural enterprises had a disastrous effect on production, which has not since recovered. Agricultural production has grown by an average of 2 % per year, consistently lagging population growth at an average annual 3%. Per capita agricultural production has also fallen far below levels achieved before independence.


Suffered a Setback
Agriculture has regrettably suffered from the notorious decline in the transportation infrastructure and in particular the road networks through which production is dispersed around the country. "We must have a good transport infrastructure," underlines the President of Democratic Republic of Congo, His Excellency Joseph Kabila. "Even today, we've got people who produce food and it's thrown away because they can't get it to the market area." Agricultural production further suffered from the steady shift of labor to the much more profitable mining sector. Intense population displacements as a result of instability both within and outside the DRC since the early nineties have also extremely disrupted production.


There was a time, when this country was an exporter of food, but it now grows too little to meet even the basic food needs of its own citizens. It is estimated that up to 60 percent of the active population has no choice but to undertake some form of subsistence farming on a micro level to meet their basic food needs. Fish could be a valuable source of food but this is another under-exploited sector with huge potential. The lakes in eastern and southern regions are a massive reserve of a variety of freshwater species, such as the tilapia. The River Congo is another significant source with major fishing ports in Kisangani and Mbandaka supplying the 6 million people living in Kinshasa. Things may improve tomorrow for this country; tomorrow it will have a chance to solve its problems that are upsetting it today. Tomorrow is another day!!


Timber Industry – Potential to Earn Export Earnings
The timber industry of the country has great potential for export earnings. The DRC has the second largest area of rainforest in the world. Around two thirds of the DRC's territory is covered by an equatorial forest 122 million acres in size. This represents around 6% of the world's and 60% of Africa's forest. Most of this forest remains intact mainly due to the lack of viable transportation infrastructure in the country's hinterland rather than as any thoughtful government conservation policy.


Subsequently, timber exploitation has been underdeveloped and undertaken by only around a dozen companies, primarily foreign-owned. Forests in the DRC cover approx. 145 million ha, of which 20 million ha are granted as timber concessions to about 60 companies. Only about a dozen companies are in operation. These 60 companies hold approximately half of the existing concessions (10 million ha) and produced a reported 300,000 m3 of timber in 2005. Most timber from the formal sector is transported by river to Kinshasa (Debroux et al., 2007). A large part of the formal timber production is exported directly in the form of logs and a smaller part is processed domestically into sawn wood.


Conclusion
Having said that, this country offers several investment opportunities in the agriculture sector form production to marketing, to create a chain of competitive value at the sub-region. With its exceptional agronomic potential and an area of unparalleled farmland in Africa, the DRC is able to feed 2 billion people. Read more...

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