Kisangani is the capital of the Eastern-Province of Congo. The city, situated by “the bend in the river”, was totally isolated from the outside world until just a few years ago. Since the war of the early 2000s ended, supplies have gradually improved. The city gets its food from the far surroundings: there is irregular transport by ship from Kinshasa and transport by truck from the east is starting. Meat such as monkeys and antelope (semi-smoked or semi-roasted ) is available at the market. This meat has to come from afar since the animals in the immediate surroundings have all been taken and killed. Local meat from domestic goats, pigs and chickens is very expensive because so few animals are being raised.
Growing crops, except for cassava, and raising animals for food is not traditional practice in equatorial regions. People live from hunting, fishing and nomadic farming after burning down forests. Due to the increase in population around Kisangani this traditional form of food supplies is now totally insufficient. Fish is very expensive because it has to come from farther and farther upstream. The region around Kisangani has been over fished and the breeding grounds and spawning habitats of the fish have been destroyed.
The main source of starch is the omnipresent cassava. This however is a very poor and simple food. Cassava contains virtually no protein. The local population, the Bakumu, grow basically only cassava. Rice arrives from the inland by bicycle. Due to lack of transportation, the rice is scarcely available and thus very expensive. People have created farmland in and around the city. They grow corn, bananas, beans and soy. The soil however is poor and quickly exhausted.
The people are poor, the needs are great. Together with the Academics of the Faculty of Science, from the Kisangani University, with whom we have been working for over twenty years, we can do something about the food supply. We want to encourage the people to grow their own crops on a larger scale and to breed animals and fish. Together with a score of professors and assistants we can teach the community how to fertilize naturally. In Africa, because of transportation, artificial fertilizer is far too expensive. We also want to give the people seeds and food crops that are more suited to their needs. The faculty members have been busy with this for years. They also grow improved varieties of bananas with more modern methods in the lab. In addition fruit trees like the Treculia with protein rich seeds, avocado, pineapple and natural oil palms are planted extensively.
We want to stimulate the raising of small livestock, rabbits, pigs, and fish by giving the people baby rabbits, piglets and fish fry. Up until now there was not much rearing of rabbits in Kisangani. Pigs have to be kept inside a fence so that their feces can be used as manure on the fields. To us this practice is obvious, but not in tropical Africa. Fish farming in Ngene Ngene, with ponds that cover nearly two hectares, has been pursued by creating multiple ponds in and around the city. The project delivers fish fry.
In Djubu Djubu, a swampy valley in the middle of the city, rice fields have been established. This is a success: irrigated fields render three times the amount of rice as compared to dry fields. The growing of rice and rearing of fish in the same ponds is now done by the people. There is special attention towards nature preservation, for example: in the nature reserve in Masako (2000 ha of primary forest) and on the islands of Kongolo and Mbiye (1000 ha of primary forest), etc. Concerning this matter, we have contacted the local authorities. Our project also focuses on the education of the children in the different villages around Kisangani. The school teachers visit the project and together with the students they make a demonstration field. The children learn how to compost and fertilize. We also get the adults of the villages involved in growing different crops and rearing pigs in fenced in areas.
The Congolese professors and assistants of the Faculty of Science monitor the projects and function as councilors. They follow up on the farming and livestock rearing and help solve any problems. In order to get around they use a few of the project’s motorcycles and a SUV.
The agro-forestry-project field forestry) of the Faculty of Science in Kisangani has been running for about 20 years now. It originated in 1998 from the UTC project 14 (University Technical Cooperation, 1976-1990). This collaborative project “Conservation of Nature” was known as one of the best in what was then Zaire. A large number of scholars obtained their doctorate from Belgian Universities and then returned to Kisangani to become professors at the local university. We founded a good team in Kisangani with which we still work together now. We have developed this project with them.
In 1995 we obtained a 3H (Health, Hunger and Humanity) Grant Rotary International project ($108,000.00 over the course of 4 years). In 1998 we established out of what was then the University Center of Limburg (UCL), a network for Rural Development, with the help of the Flemish InterUniversity Board (FIB) and the Directors of the General Developing Cooperation (DGDC), 300.000 Euros over a 5 year period (1998-2002).
In 1999 we founded the Kisangani non-profit organization in Belgium in order to continuously support this project.
In Kisangani we work together with the ngo Adikis, founded by the Faculty of Science. There is also a new generation of academics who work on the project.
The traditional cyclic or itinerant agriculture after deforestation and burning is still the main method of food production in the tropics. This temporary rotation of crops, interspersed with long periods (from 8 to 10 years) of fallow lands with restoration of soil fertility by natural vegetation, which spontaneously arises after the crops, guaranteed for many generations stable food production in most tropical areas. Since the last decades, however, because of socioeconomic reasons, mainly demographic, there is a profound change of the traditional production process. The population is increasing, mainly around the roads and in the major centers, because of the very intense use of the available land the soil degrades and evolves into savannah and steppe (sahelizering). These grasslands are lost to agriculture, even spontaneous natural vegetation so that the soil could recover no longer occurs.
In tropical Africa, the annual population growth is 3%. The population of Congo is already approaching 60 million. There remains barely enough arable land to enable a traditional itinerant agriculture with long fallow periods, as is already the case in many surrounding countries. In order to meet the growing food needs in the tropical areas, increasingly more forest will need to be cut down, so the tropical rainforest will be in real danger in the near future. The exploitation of the forest for foreign timber industry and for the extraction of firewood for the local population exacerbates this whole issue, though this is not the only cause of deforestation.
So, solutions are being sought.
The project aims to promote integrated farming by introducing the population to new green fertilization methods with hedges of Leucaena, Flemingia, Acacia and Calliandra between crops (agro-forestry or forestry field). In particular, the bush-shaped legumes with small leaves of natural vegetation are the most appropriate to restore the soil. Their roots contain nodules containing bacteria that convert nitrogen from the air so that the plants can use that in places where the soil no longer contains natural nitrates. If the leaves end up on the ground, by natural shedding or pruning this decomposed plant material can be converted into nitrates. Bushes with fine long lasting leaves are optimal because the conversion can happen quickly. This is a bacterial process in which nitrates restore soil fertility.
It is our intention to help all village communities plant these hedges and follow up with their pruning. Timely pruning of the hedges and weeding is necessary.
Growing vegetables with composting and fertilizer
These agro-forestry methods put nitrogen in the soil. We want to set up an integrated production system. The use of plant and animal agricultural waste ensures recycling of nutrients and enhances the fertility of poor soils. In this manner composting in several bamboo bins has been applied.
Once the garden beds have been enriched enough, we proceed to the planting of crops such as tomatoes, celery, eggplant, amaranth and chives. We also want to encourage the planting of more protein-rich food crops, such as soybean, Vinja-beans, groundnuts, maize, etc. Crop rotation is applied to prevent crop diseases from popping up as a result of constantly growing the same crops in the same place.
We strive for integrated farming, which combines crops and cultivation: the waste of crops feed the animals; the animals provide manure to enrich the soil with elements such as phosphorus as the forestry field soil can only supply nitrogen.
Between the nursery beds we planted various fruit trees, such as the Treculia, a forest tree with very high protein seeds,"cola" trees, avocado and papaya. This allows us to fight malnutrition and reforest the area.
On vacant lots around the city and on the island Mbiye local tree species including Albizia, Acacia, Miletia and Delonix are planted. They can serve to enrich the soill and as firewood.
Bananas are the staple food for about all tropical populations. This also applies in the Congo. In addition to the dessert banana there is also the Plantain banana or cooking banana.
So far we have planted more than 20,000 banana shoots on the faculty, in Ngene Ngene, Simi Simi in Masako and especially on the island Mbiye. Since January 2000, an average of three tons of bananas has been harvested annually.
The in vitro cultivation of banana shoots cannot meet the demand of the city. This culture is based on meristem cells (cells from the growing point) that are cultured in petri dishes with artificial soil. In this way, hundreds of plants can be obtained. This is done in the laboratory in Kisangani.
An exchange of selected materials with other stations in Africa and elsewhere, allows for obtaining improved varieties. This work is done in collaboration with INIBAP (International Network for the Improvement of Bananas and Plantains) at the KULeuven.
In the middle of the city, between the student homes and residential area, lies the marshy valley of Djubu Djubu with an area of 6 hectares, of which 3 hectares are cultivated with rice. This belongs half to the university, the other half to other communities.
Irrigated rice yields three times more than rice grown dry. This method of rice cultivation is very successful and is now being applied to many marshlands in and around the city.
The rice-fish farming together with (Rizi-Piscicultuur) provides the following benefits:
Production of fish and rice in the same field, with the same labor force;
The fish eat algae, insects and parasites e.g. mosquito larvae (malaria);
The pollen of rice flowers and plankton around the wilted plant material is food for the fish;
The marshes are cultivated;
Preventing theft with cast nets;
Joint management and guidance.
This method of growing rice is now used in Djubu Djubu. Twenty ponds of 20m by 50m have been manually excavated. The project provides the people with boots because the danger of bilharzia is great (liver and bladder infection caused by a suction worm Schistosoma that occurs in fresh water).
In Congo, it is highly unusual to grow fowl in pens, let alone to feed these animals. However, this would be a solution in the cities. Eggs are hatched.
It is the intention to sell better kinds of chicks to the population. Local bare-neck hens are crossed with larger breeds from the east of the country. This form of breeding is hard for the population to grasp. The local chickens rummage around and thus don’t need to be fed.
Small game in Kisangani: Rabbits
The forest around Kisangani is increasingly threatened. The pressure of hunting the wildlife is so high that it no longer exists in a radius of a hundred miles around the city. However the locals like to eat a lot of small game. Therefore the breeding of the cane rat (Tryonomys swinderianus) was begun. Because this breeding is not sufficient to meet the needs (1 to 2 young per year) we started breeding rabbits. Raising rabbits is virtually unknown to the population of Kisangani. The animals live in homemade cages of bamboo. This process is mainly taught in schools but also to villagers. Many families who make (bamboo) pens according to our examples receive some rabbits to start the breeding process. At one time, there was a high mortality rate with the rabbits due to lack of medication. At this time medication is regularly supplied from the east of the country (imported from Uganda) and the small animals are vaccinated.
Breeding pigs, which started in 2002, has been very rewarding and has added a new perspectives. We have more than 100 animals in the stables at the faculty and about 50 in other locations. Here we teach the people to put pigs in pens so they can recover the manure in order to enrich the fields. Families who build pig pens from local materials get a fertilized sow to start pig farming themselves.
In 2007 a pig plague struck Kisangani. Because of strict precautions the pigs of the Faculty and Masako were not affected.
The fish farming station in Ngene Ngene dates back to the colonial period. The ponds were however dilapidated and overgrown. In the 80’s we began to make them functional again. In 1990, this work ended. Now work to restore them has continued. The person responsible for fish farming has followed an internship in the aquaculture station in Butare (Rwanda).
The infrastructure is now in order. Several ponds are deepened and the bottom has been adjusted so that the ponds can be completely drained. This is necessary to make the ponds sterile by exposing them to the direct sunlight for a few days.
Masonry was performed in order to restore the channel system, and to adjust it. Also a channel was dug to redirect the river. During heavy rainfall, this is necessary because the flood affects many dikes and fish and food is lost. Twenty ponds are now under water. At regular intervals, the ponds are emptied.
The Clarias or catfish is traditionally highly valued by the native population. The breeding of it encountered major problems: the fish did not reproduce in artificial ponds. The breeding of Tilapia encountered another problem: the fish reproduced far below the normal marketable weight. For both problems solutions have now been found. The Tilapia is kept sterile or the sexes are separated after spending time in the breeding ponds. The reproduction of the catfish can be stimulated in a simple manner.
Just upstream of the city lies the island Mbiye. It is 17 km long and 4 km wide. The northwestern part is clear-cut and there are some villages along the shore. In the southeastern part there is original equatorial forest. We want to save this forest. In order to do so we need the support of the authorities of the city.
To monitor the preservation of the forest, paths are constructed. The circular paths, 1 to 2 m wide, have a combined length of 16 km. These are crossed by longitudinal (6 km) and transverse (9 miles) trails with a width of 1m. Around the forest a thousand saplings were planted. These form a buffer zone. Four foresters are responsible for the supervision. Visits by different authorities are provided at regular intervals. We also have meetings with the locals.
In several villages on the island (Batiabetua in the west and Puku in the east) we teach the residents agro-forestry methods. These are farming methods with green manure. Pigs are also grown in a pen so their manure can be used on the fields. We want to prove to the people that they can grow food without having to chop down the forest. The project on the island is an example of a rural development with nature conservation.
On this island there has never been a school. The children have never gone to school, because it is too hard to cross the river and walk the long distance on a daily basis. Since 2010 our local friends started a school in a small building in Puku, the largest village on the island: 1st and 2nd grade. This year we plan to start a school with three classrooms. Now these children will be able to attend primary school on the island. Here too, children will learn how to cultivate their fields in a durable manner and breed pigs and rabbits.
In 2011 we handed out the first school reports in Puku, much to the parents’ satisfaction.
The rural school in the village Batiamaduka
Located 15 km on the road Kisangani-Buta is the primary school of Batiamaduka a rural school of the city of Kisangani. The goal of this primary school is the formation and awareness of children concerning the environment: education by example.
At the beginning of the 2003 school year the number of students fluctuated around one hundred. At the beginning of the 2003-2004 school year we donated supplies: notebooks and pens to the children and to the whole school chalk board sweepers and board paint. A few weeks after this gesture, the number of students increased to 400, the school is now thriving.
Thanks to the effective participation of teachers and students, we have achieved a model field of one hectare. This field is located behind the school, on previously undeveloped, poor soil. With this project we want to show the students that they can make poor soil fertile again by composting with organic and home waste, animal manure and by planting hedges for green manure. We also built a pigsty here and we also consider breeding rabbits.
We want to prove to the people that it is possible to bring the fields closer to their homes as opposed to the habit of many farmers to build their fields in the middle of the forest, far from the village. The school’s field is surrounded by barbed wire to keep rummaging goats and pigs at a distance. Pets roaming freely in the village are also a reason for the people to make their fields far from the homes, hence causing a destructive continuous deforestation.
A school committee composed of students, teachers, the school principal and the village chief manage the school field. The parents of the children are involved as well. The proceeds of this farm will support school activities. The students, the teachers, the director, the village chief, parents and faculty members work together to produce at school and in this way to develop ecological understanding, with the preservation of natural resources.
This support for the school is very beneficial to the village and others will surely follow.
In 2008, the following project has taken off: there is now a full-time paid monitor. Meanwhile, former employees remain involved. Surveys were conducted among the villagers. The collaboration has now become more intensive. The monitor supports the villagers in the forestry field. The families who provide a pigsty and/or rabbit hutches get a pig and pig sow and/or a buck (male rabbit) and two female rabbits so they can start breeding. Once the first young get bigger, families must give some animals to other families, so they too can start breeding.
The rural school in the village Masako
Located 15 km on the old road Kisangani-Buta is Masako, a village near a nature reserve where the people of the faculty have been working for many years. Here, with the support of Pierre Godfroid and the BTS (Belgian Technical Cooperation), a primary school was built. The village children can now go to school.
Here, too, a demonstration field is used. There is a pigsty built from local material. The parents of the children are also involved, like in Batiamaduka. In Masako we have been working with a forestry field for years. Because of the school and it’s teachers, we hope to do this even more intensively. In Masako we have already succeeded for several years in interesting ordinary villagers in aquaculture. Several villagers formed a group that breeds fish for their own use and for sale.
In Masako the school has another positive result: adult women (not just young women) have asked to learn to read and write. They now get regular lessons. They themselves asked for this. This adult education really helps to develop the village.
In addition to these activities, we also work with individuals, people who want to start a business. We mention here: the ponds of Mr. Dechaux in the middle of the city, and the plantation and ponds of Mr. Djasia on the left bank.
In Kabondo, part of Kisangani, our friends trained a new breeder. They explained how to build rabbit hutches, and gave him a few rabbits to start…now he grows rabbits to sell.
Importantly, the project provides employment to more than a hundred workers. This is important in a city like Kisangani with very low employment. These workers all have a family, which means that the project in addition to all previous activities, is responsible for the welfare of more than a hundred families.
Better food for the population. This would improve the population’s health and quality of life.
Better protection of the forest, due to a rational and sustainable plan of exploitation.
The Faculty of Sciences will demonstrate an example of development based on well thought out soil management.
We want to teach all of this to the youth of Kisangani.