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DRC: boosting production for farmers recovering from displacement

13-02-2008 Feature

Displaced families who return to their fields often find their harvests deliberately destroyed, or the fields abandoned and overgrown with weeds. The ICRC is helping returning farmers to recover their fields and increase production with a new variety of cassava plant, as well as providing them with training in planting and maintenance.

  ©ICRC/B. Barrett/cd-e-00678    
  Mapendo outside her home in the village of Karasi tells how she had to flee repeatedly because of fighting in the area.    

  ©ICRC/B. Barrett    
  Munyabungo Chibumbiro, the president of ADEMU, one of the ten associations that have received a new type of cassava plant from the ICRC.    

" It happens regularly, " says 23-year-old Mapendo, " armed groups come and we are forced to flee. Then we return, but are forced to flee again when they come back. The last time, we stayed away for a long time. " The mother of three children tells how they fled in 2002 and only returned in 2006.

" When they come to the villages, " she adds, " they loot property, beat people, rape women and destroy our harvests. When we came back in 2006, we found our house burned and all our property looted. " She and her family are now living in a small hut that is part of a compound belonging to relatives.

" When we were displaced, " she says, " the hardships were enormous. We had to run away and spend nights without shelter. It rained on us and our children. We had no food or water. We depended on the generosity of others. "

 New cassava plant to improve economic situation  

Mapendo is now a member of ADEMU, one of ten associations in the village of Karasi in South Kivu that are being supplied by the ICRC with a new variety of cassava plant as well as training in planting and maintenance. " Our only means of survival are our fields of cassava. I live from that, " explains Mapendo. " I am being trained with the others in the association. We are learning new methods of working the fields and we expect to produce more than before and improve our economic situation. "

" Whenever there is a conflict, " explains ICRC agronomist Murhabazi Byamungu Cosmas, " people are displaced and fields are abandoned. They become overgrown with weeds, and crops die out. When villagers come back, the harvest is often very poor and they remain impoverished. People think only of the direct effects of the conflict but the long-term consequences of war, even after stability has returned, are often just as devestating. "

 More resistant varieties  

In addition, says Cosmas, the type of cassava plant traditionally grown by local farmers is very susceptible to what is called the “mosaic” disease, which often destroys the whole crop. The ICRC is providing the associations with two more resistant varieties to plant in communal fields. 

While the cassava leaves and roots are harvested as food, the stems are replanted for the following season. At the next harvest, 70% of the stems will be distributed as cuttings within the respective associations, and the remaining 30% will be returned to the ICRC for distribution to other farmers'associations in the area. 

" The type of cassava we traditionally planted is very susceptible to mosaic disease, " explains 45-year-old Munyabungo Chibumbiro, the President of ADEMU. " Once it is attacked it will not produce anything, but the new kind provided by the ICRC is very tolerant. "


 New methods promise better results  

" Traditionally we used to burn the fields and then plant the cuttings in a disorderly manner, but the ICRC has taught us new methods which will give good results. " The ICRC agronomist has shown the farmers how to build mo unds for the plants and allow proper irrigation on the steep hillsides, as well as how to adequately space the mounds and limit the number of cuttings in each mound to increase the production of the plants.

The ten associations represent a total of 350 families. Each association also received hoes, machetes, axes, files to sharpen the tools and plastic sheeting for the harvest. Cosmas adds that the ICRC will be using a similar system to distribute peanut seeds as a secondary crop in time for the next planting season in February.

" The training we have received from the ICRC is very important, but we will not keep it to ourselves, " concludes Munyabungo Chibumbiro. " We will show these useful methods to others, so they can apply them and benefit from them as well. "

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