Democratic Republic of the Congo: economic support for isolated residents of South Kivu
People living on the remote and war-torn Hauts Plateaux and Moyens Plateaux in South Kivu depend on farming and stockbreeding for survival. Very few humanitarian organizations work there and access is particularly difficult. The ICRC helps by vaccinating cattle and supporting local farmers.
In southern South Kivu, the Mitumba mountain range towers over Lake Tanganyika. The plateaux behind them rise as high as 3,000 metres and span the territories of Mwenga, Uvira and Fizi. Prairies stretch out above the lake for as far as the eye can see, making it an ideal area for stockbreeding and farming. In fact, 80% of the stockbreeding in South Kivu is done here. Traditionally, these two activities have played a key socio-economic role.
Over the last 15 years, however, one military operation after the other and constantly poor security conditions have had a major impact on the landlocked Moyens Plateaux and Hauts Plateaux, weakening the rural economy and affecting the day-to-day lives of thousands of families.
One result has been that the region has grown even more isolated from veterinary services than before, and the care they now have for their animals is rudimentary and insufficient. In the Minembwe area, for example, some stockbreeders have had no veterinary care in over 10 years. " I don't remember there being any vaccination campaign here since 1997, " says Pascal, a family father and owner of a few head of cattle. " That was the year war broke out. " The limited veterinary medicines available are sold at prices that the stockbreeders can't afford. The result has been a sharp decline in the number of cattle over the last few years, which has caused worrying levels of poverty among the population.
A logistical challenge
In October last year, the ICRC worked alongsi de South Kivu's Provincial Inspection Service for Agriculture, Fishing and Stockbreeding on a campaign to vaccinate cattle against contagious bovine peripneumonia. Known by the locals as " ruhaha " , this is one of the principal threats to cattle health in the region, afflicting hundreds of animals every month.
Through to the end of January, joint teams from the ICRC and the Inspection Service travelled through the Hauts Plateaux, vaccinating all cattle over the age of six months. The campaign posed a great logistical challenge, since most places were inaccessible by road. A lot of the materials had to be transported on foot, and it was no easy task to keep the vaccines at the low temperatures required for their preservation.
The stockbreeders played their part by building enclosures and passages to channel the flow of animals, as well as making symbolic contributions to the vaccination costs. Over 120,000 cattle were vaccinated, which will help support the 100,000 people who depend on them for a living.
The conflict in South Kivu has also made it difficult for stockbreeders to find fodder for their cattle. " We have had one war after another, so it hasn't been easy to get to the fields, and we've lost many animals as a result, " recalls a community leader. " When we have been able to access them, we weren't able to stay long enough, because of the security risks. In 1997 and 2001, many animals starved to death. "
Combining several economic activities
" Over the last few years, things have also got worse for farming families – the other major part of the population living on South Kivu's plateaux, " explains Veronika Tal viste, who coordinates ICRC economic security programmes in the region. " Agriculture is fundamental for the food security of families living on the Hauts Plateaux, but many have seen their market and agricultural crops affected by disease, particularly by cassava mosaic. " For this reason, the ICRC has initiated a programme to distribute mosaic-resistant cassava cuttings, which has helped almost 2,000 people.
For both stockbreeders and farmers, having several sources of income has become essential to supporting their families. While most households are making a living from one dominant economic activity, many are faced with no option but to combine several different activities in order to cover health, education and clothing costs. " In the Fizi region on Lake Tanganyika, for example, we're supporting fish-breeding associations by supplying them with fishing tackle and artificially-bred young fish, " says Francine Roy, head of the ICRC office in Uvira.
Finally, trade between the communities affected by the recent violence is essential for the regional economy. There is real interdependence between stockbreeders and farmers, who must sell their surplus in order to buy the things they need. That is why the ICRC endeavours to help both communities.