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Africa’s green revolution stumbles at Congo project to solve food shortages

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DAKAR (Reuters) – In 2014, Democratic Republic of Congo officials trumpeted the launch of a sweeping initiative they said would solve food shortages in one of the world’s poorest countries.

The plan: to transform land covering more than 17,900 square kilometres of the central African nation – more than half the landmass of former colonial master Belgium – into use for industrial-scale agriculture to boost food production.

That summer, President Joseph Kabila inaugurated an 800-square-kilometre plot in western Congo called Bukanga Lonzo, the first of 22 planned projects across the country to produce everything from maize to sunflowers to poultry.

Three years later, the pilot had collapsed. Activity on site ground to a halt after the South African company brought in as a co-investor and to manage the park left, saying it hadn’t been paid by the Congolese government in nearly a year.

With more than 60 percent of the world’s unexploited arable land but struggling to feed its surging population, Africa has become the latest laboratory for governments, development agencies and researchers trying to lead a new green revolution.

But experiments like Bukanga Lonzo serve as cautionary tales for those in search of quick fixes, showing how weak investor interest, poor infrastructure and byzantine land regulations can stymie Africa’s agricultural potential.

These days, police guard the park entrance, where a billboard partially obscured by overgrown grass still displays the insignia of a hand cupping a stalk of wheat.

Congolese officials acknowledge the project’s collapse but express hope the pilot, and the broader initiative, can be revived.

In an interview, Congo’s economy minister Joseph Kapika said that Bukanga Lonzo “completely failed.” The minister blamed the South African company that had managed the park and said it had left “in bad faith.” He added that the government plans to re-launch the park with a focus on livestock.

The company, Africom Commodities Pty Ltd, disputes Kapika’s claims about what went wrong. Africom’s chief executive, Christo Grobler, said the problem was high costs and an unreliable government partner that would change its mind from day to day about the project’s direction. He said the company had incurred more than $50 million in losses at Bukanga Lonzo.

The company said it and the government spent more than $250 million combined on the project plus a related market and fertilizer factory but the park had produced at most 15,000 tonnes of maize in total – a fraction of the 350,000 tonnes annually forecasted by next year in marketing material.

The economy minister, in the interview, declined to comment on the cost of the project. Congo’s agriculture ministry declined to comment. The portfolio minister, who oversees state contracts, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Park officials declined to be interviewed or grant Reuters access to the site. Kabila’s deputy chief of staff did not respond to a request for comment. LIMITED SUCCESS

With a food-import deficit running into the tens of billions of dollars and a spiraling numbers of undernourished inhabitants, Africa is casting about for ways to boost agricultural productivity.

Some countries, including Nigeria and Tanzania, have turned to agro-industrial parks — concentrations of large farms, processing factories and related infrastructure – modeled after similar sites in India, Brazil and Vietnam.

But efforts in Africa so far have met limited success, according to a 2017 report by the United Nations.

Some specialists in agricultural innovation say industrial-scale farming can work but the approach in Africa is often flawed. “No one’s figured out the model that can make this work at sufficient scale,” said Patrick Guyver, who has consulted on agriculture projects across Africa.

The African Development Bank is nevertheless accelerating a push for projects such as Bukanga Lonzo, for which it provided about $1 million to finance a feasibility study.

The bank said it committed last year to 101 million euros for an Ivory Coast project and that it is due this year to consider funding for three others. It held a conference in Tunis in February to discuss new projects in Ethiopia, Togo, Mozambique, and elsewhere.

African Development Bank spokesman Chawki Chahed, in emailed responses to questions, said Bukanga Lonzo had not failed and could still be resurrected. He added that in general such projects “are complex and so their development and design are gradual.” He said the Bank plans to spend $2.2 million on feasibility studies for three more agro-industrial parks planned in central and southeastern Congo, without specifying when the studies would begin.

“PEOPLE ARE STARVING”

A key proponent of Congo’s plan was John Ulimwengu, an advocate of industrial-scale agriculture in Africa and a fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington D.C.

In 2013, Ulimwengu was advising Congo’s then-Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo and pushed for a pilot project to produce food for export and domestic consumption, according to Ulimwengu and other officials involved in the project.   Some people urged the government to do further research before embarking on the Bukango Lonzo initiative. That included Calestous Juma, a professor of farming innovation at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., whom Ulimwengu briefed on the project in a January 2014 meeting, both men told Reuters. Juma has since passed away.

The prime minister insisted on moving more quickly, according to Ulimwengu. “I remember the prime minister telling us, ‘I am a politician. I made some promises to the population. While we are doing this, people are dying, people are starving,’” Ulimwengu said.

Gloria Mangoni, who worked in the prime minister’s office at the time, also said they were under pressure to produce results quickly and that political considerations sometimes prevailed over economic ones. Matata, who was replaced as prime minister in late 2016, did not respond to a request for comment. In a recent speech, he blamed Bukanga Lonzo’s problems on the site’s poor soil quality.

Ulimwengu said he continues to support the agro-industrial approach and lays most of the blame for Bukanga Lonzo’s difficulties on political instability in Congo that has scared off investors. RED FLAGS In early 2014, the Congolese government signed a five-year contract with Africom, whose subsidiary was partnering with the government on a fertilizer factory in southwestern Congo. The government invested a total of $161.2 million in Bukanga Lonzo as well as a market in Kinshasa intended to sell the produce and the fertilizer factor, according to Africom. Africom said it invested $91.3 million in those projects.

The following year, in 2015, audit firm Ernst & Young raised red flags in a report commissioned by the finance ministry. Ernst & Young said prices the park paid for equipment from Africom’s sister companies were “excessively higher” than those offered by competitors and that promised infrastructure had not materialised, according to the report. In a response to Ernst & Young reviewed by Reuters, Africom said the audit firm failed to account for the high costs of providing warrantees and spare parts in Congo and also misunderstood the nature of some of the promised work. Ernst & Young declined to comment.

In early 2016, the government fell behind on its monthly $4.8 million payments to Africom to manage the park as low prices for Congo’s main exports copper and cobalt ate into public finances, said Grobler, Africom’s CEO.

After September of that year, the government stopped paying Africom altogether, he added.

Additional reporting by Patient Ligodi; Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low

Source: Reuters

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Livelihood

Witness Radio welcomes the World Bank’s intervention into Kawaala drainage channel project affected persons…

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By witnessradio.org Team

Kampala – Uganda – Witness Radio Uganda has welcomed the World Bank’s decision to intervene into its funded project which is dispossessing poor urban dweller at Kawaala Zone II, Lubaga division, Kampala district.

On March 4th, 2021, the World Bank Team held its first ever virtual meeting with other stakeholders including the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) over a forceful implementation Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP 2) project.

On top of running to court to stop an illegal eviction, the residents through Witness Radio – Uganda lawyers raised a complaint to the World Bank to restrain its grantee (KCCA) from imposing a project they (residents) never participated in from the start.

In 2015, KCCA acquired USD 175 million loan from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) for Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP) project. However, part of the money (USD 17.5 million, which is 63 billion Uganda shillings) was earmarked to construct Lubigi Primary Channel.

Without following business and human rights standards, KCCA started using tricks aimed dispossessing the poor urban community at Kawaala including; hiding under section 72(1) cap 281 of the Public Health Act, and issued a notice to dwellers to pull down what it termed illegal structures erected on their land or otherwise, KCCA would do so at the cost of residents, just to cause a property loss to them.

In a meeting chaired by Martin Onyach-Olaa, a Task Team Leader, Senior Urban Specialist at the World Bank, faulted KCCA for failing to engage community including taking the contractor to the ground without their notice.

“The project affected community have valid grievances, which must be attended to in the interest of Kawaala project” Said Onyach-Olaa

The representatives from the affected community accused KCCA of intimidation, undertaking a forceful survey, sidelining and usurping powers of elected local leaders, extortion and undermining business and human rights standards before and during the implementation of the World Bank project.

“I was threatened and forced to participate in KCCA valuation exercise of my properties and I never understood what was done. I was even lured to sign on certain documents that were in a language they never explained and no copy was left with me. I am opposed to the KCCA’s working and I will not allow them to come back on my property: Said Segue Abbas.

He added that when he sought wise counsel from his lawyers, he just realized that he had been duped.

Among other recommendations, KCCA was advised to embark on an inclusive exercise to identity project affected persons, properties to be affected by the project and ensure that surveys and property valuation exercises are undertaken in accordance within the law.

About the Grievance Redress Committee the KCCA claims they elected, the World Bank saw it important that the Grievance Redress Committee be put in place with a complaint book and functional internal appeal mechanism.

It was further emphasized that no Kawaala resident will be forcefully lose his/her under a project being funded by the World Bank.

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Livelihood

Oil palm growing threatening food security in Buvuma

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Some of the banana plantation gardens abandoned by farmers after they were compansented at Busamuzi sub county.

Buvuma, Uganda | Several people in Buvuma district have taken to oil palm growing at the expense of food growing. Fishing and subsistence farming were the mainstay of Buvuma residents prior to the introduction of oil palm growing.  

However, the residents have surrendered the biggest part of the land they used to plant food crops such as bananas, rice, cassava, maize and sweet potatoes on the main island to National Oil Palm Project-NOPP for the establishment of oil palm gardens. NOPP intends to operate on 10, 000 hectares of land.

The investor Buvuma – Oil Palm Uganda Limited-BOPUL, a subsidiary of Oil Palm Uganda Limited and Bidco Uganda Limited in Kalangala will use 6, 500 hectares of land while the out-growers will use the remaining 3, 500 hectares.

However, since their compensation in 2012, most of the residents have failed to secure alternative land for settlement and food production. Sarasino Namuyimba Ssekajjolo, the Buvuma District Council Speaker, says they have compiled enough information proving that most of the residents have not benefited in the first stages of the project.

He says they are considering tabling a motion halting further land acquisition in areas where NOPP has not concluded the exercise.  Ssekajjolo reveals that over 1000 residents have failed to make good use of the money they received as compensation for their land. 

A report compiled by Mary Namaganda, the Principal Assistant Curator at Makerere University Collage of Nature Sciences shows that land use change in Bugala [Kalangala] from natural vegetation to monoculture plantation has caused biodiversity loss due to the destruction of the natural habitat, soil degradation and pollution of soil and lake water resulting from the use of nitrate fertilizers, agrochemicals and effluents from the palm oil mill.  

BOPUL also intends to setup a mill. Godfrey Yiga, a resident of Kirongo says that he secured another piece of land in Jinja using the Shillings 59 million he received in compensation for his 5-acre piece of land containing a banana plantation, sweet plantains and mangoes. He, however, says that he couldn’t use the remaining balance to setup a new garden.   

Nasta Nantongo Kwagala, another resident and widow of the late Yosefu Kavamawanga who cares for seven children and three grandchildren, says NOPP compensated the tenants on her late husband’s land without her consent. She explains that by the time she applied for compensation, she was chased and stopped from farming on the land.   

George William Telebajo, another resident says the project took advantage of poverty in Buvuma to trick them into selling their land cheaply. He notes that several residents have ended up in jail for stealing food while others are now sleeping in wooden cubical at landing sites. 

Reports from the District Security Commit-DSC point to increased cases of food theft in different camps on landing sites and settlements in forest reserves. Juma Kigongo, the Buvuma Deputy Resident District Commissioner, says about 10 cases of food theft are reported at police and local councils-LCI every month in the four sub counties on the main island.  

These include Nairambi, Buwooya, Busamuzi and Buvuma town council. He, however, says most of the people involved in criminal activities are residents who accepted compensations but failed to put the money to good use. 

Wilson Sserunjogi, the Buvuma District Oil Palm Project Focal Person, says that many people have failed to put their compensation money to good use much as the project has tried to support them. He notes that for the past years they have been handling complaints and compensated thousands of residents fresh but they keep on coming back for more money after misusing it. 

“Residents and leaders are scared for nothing, Buvuma still has land for growing food and also NOPP is here to support them. We also compensated residents with land over 5 acres and above,” he said.         

Original Post: The Independent

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2,000 Karimojong flee to Teso in search for food

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Many Karimojong children are getting emaciated as a result of lack of enough food.

Kampala, Uganda | Several families in Napak district in the Karamoja sub-region have fled their homes into the Teso region to search for casual jobs. This follows the current food shortage which is hitting the region.

Joseph Lomonyang the Napak LC V chairperson says that over 2,000 people mainly from six sub-counties of Matany, Lopei, Lokopo, Lorengechora, Iriiri and Apeitolim have crossed to the neighbouring  Teso districts of Amuria, Katakwi, Kapelebyong and Soroti looking for food.

According to Lomonyang, the number of people to flee the district is most likely to go higher given the current hunger situation.

“Last year, very many people planted crops but all the crops got destroyed by floods making our people vulnerable,” he said.

Elijah Lobucel, the Lokopo sub-county chairperson said everyday mothers and their children walk while those who can afford the costs pay for transport to Teso.

“What we are advising them is not to go to Kampala streets, but if its going to Teso for work to get food it is not bad since the Itesot are brothers and sisters under Ateker cluster,” he said.

Jimmy Tebenyang, the district councillor for Ngoleriet sub-county in Napak district said many children were getting emaciated as a result of lack of enough food.

“There are families where you find children yawning from morning to evening without eating anything and that is why we are calling the government to come to the rescue of people,” he said.

Robert Okitoi, the LC V chairperson Amuria confirmed the presence of Karamoja families in the district and urged the Itesot families to treat the Karimojong as their brothers and sisters.

He also appealed to other district leaders in the Teso region to receive the people of Karamoja with a good heart and share the little they have.

“This is the situation that requires to share, I call upon the people of Amuria and Teso at large that not all the Karimojong are bad people, those who are bad disturbing to raid people of Teso are few and so we should not victimise every one because the law will deal with those raiding but let’s support the Karimojong families,” he said.

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Source: THE INDEPENDENT 

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