The Republic of Congo is an oil-rich middle income country which has a young and mostly urban population, with more than half of its 4.2 million inhabitants under the age of 20 and 62 percent of the population living in cities. According to the 2013 UNDP Human Development Report, the Republic of Congo is classified as a middle-income country and ranks 142 out of 186 countries on the Human Development Index. Income is unevenly distributed, however, and over half of the population is living below the poverty line. The mortality rate for children under the age of five is 96 deaths per 1,000 live births, and the prevalence of stunting stands at 30 percent.
In spite of a GDP of more than US$ 14 billion and a growth rate of some 5 percent, the economy remains fragile due to lack of diversification and high dependency on oil. Even though Congo has a relatively strong position in the international market, it lacks competitiveness due to its poor business climate, persistent poverty, lack of infrastructure, poor human capital and limited access to new technology.
Congo has a lot of natural resources, including timber and minerals, and the fertile soil is ideal for agriculture. However, successive waves of armed conflict for close to a decade have left agricultural infrastructure devastated and market access remains limited. On the plus side, foreign investors from South Africa, Malaysia and Brazil have made large-scale investment in the agricultural sector in the last three years.
Only two percent of the country’s 10 million hectares of arable land are currently exploited. National food production is dominated by cassava and tubers, while more than 70 percent of all food consumed, including cereals and livestock products, is imported. As a result, food prices are high and subject to volatility. Agriculture remains at subsistence level and cannot feed the growing urban population. Food insecurity among vulnerable groups is consequently high, affecting 5 percent of the population (some 216,000 people). Food insecurity and under-nutrition impede human development and are major factors in the transmission of HIV, which affects 2.8 percent of the population aged 15-49 years. WFP, in collaboration with the Government of Congo, is this undertaking a Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment, the results of which should be available later this year.