P4P DRC: Rebuilding infrastructure to link smallholders to markets

Copyright: WFP/Lori Waselchuk

In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), P4P has explored how infrastructure improvements can catalyse agricultural development. Nearly 200 km of rural farm to market roads have been rehabilitated in partnership with the government, FAO and UNOPS. This project, combined with community-led maintenance on another 300 km of rural roads, has successfully linked previously-isolated farmers to traders and more profitable markets.

The post-conflict environment presents unique challenges for P4P’s work promoting smallholder market access.  In DRC, the country’s transportation infrastructure has suffered from destruction and a lack of maintenance due to armed conflict. Lack of road, rail and water transportation in combination with large distances between smallholder farmers and markets often limit smallholders to selling their crops through barter systems close to their farms. In the Kabalo and Bikoro territories, where P4P works, communities have been fractured by years of armed conflict. The country’s agricultural production has also been reduced to a subsistence level despite DRC’s agricultural potential.  DRC has more than 80 million hectares of fertile land that could be cultivated year-round, but less than 10 percent is cultivated each year.

Photos of the same location before (top) and after (bottom) rehabilitation.

Partnerships and community ownership for improved infrastructure

Implementing P4P in DRC meant that WFP not only needed to design a programme that developed the capacities of farmers and their organizations, but also focused on rebuilding infrastructure.

P4P is working in close collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Through a joint funding mechanism supported by the Belgian Government, the two UN agencies are working hand in hand to support the government to strengthen the capacity of smallholder farmers and rebuild agricultural markets affected by years of disruption and armed conflict.

Since 2009, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), as a P4P partner, has worked with local companies to reconstruct sections of roads and build culverts. P4P and partners have facilitated community cohesion and ownership by supporting the formation of community-led road maintenance committees and involving local government and local businesses in the work. Communities were encouraged to contribute with materials and labour through WFP’s Food for Assets programme, which provides food in exchange for work on the rehabilitation projects.

Making connections: positive impacts      

Road rehabilitation has been crucial to revitalising markets and connecting farmers to economic opportunities, allowing smallholders to transport their products to larger structured markets with shorter transportation times. With access to these markets, farmers are able to obtain a better price for higher quality grain than at the farm gate. P4P also partners with OXFAM to better facilitate the aggregation of crops and to reduce post-harvest losses by constructing warehouses along the rehabilitated roads midway between communities and markets.

“This project taught us how to farm and how to save in order to increase our production.” says Florent Banza, a P4P-supported farmer who opened a small village pharmacy with profits from increased production and sales.

Roads open new business opportunities

One of P4P’s key objectives in DRC is to link smallholder farmers to traders in order to re-establish trader networks and link farmers’ organizations to sustainable markets. Before the road rehabilitation project started, traders were wary of buying from smallholders due to their unreliable and long transportation times. As a result of the new roads and improved transportation, traders started negotiating with smallholder farmers directly, now more confident in receiving their purchased crops on time.

Road rehabilitation efforts have also had other benefits. Links to urban centres have improved, which has increased access to health services for nearby communities. Plus, the warehouses constructed along the rehabilitated roads have provided new employment opportunities to rural individuals and have reduced post-harvest losses, successfully enabling farmers to sell higher quality grain. In the future, links between smallholders and processors along these rehabilitated roads could open up possibilities for the production of value-added foods.

More efforts needed to support smallholders

Despite the many successes of the rehabilitation project in Kabalo and Bikoro, challenges remain for smallholder farmers. Due to limited access to vehicles, smallholders still require WFP logistical support to transport commodities to warehouses. Transportation over greater distances, where roads have not yet been rehabilitated, still proves challenging.

Due to the limited production among smallholders, storage facilities were operating at only 20 percent of their total capacity between 2010 and 2013. Further capacity development is needed for smallholders to increase their production and maximize the use of warehouses.

Article by Daphne Hendsbee, P4P