Congo: Jobless Miners Dig Route Out Of Malnutrition

Published on 08 April 2010

 A woman waters salad plants as part of a WFP-sponsored project to teach locals of this mining community to farm.

Copyright: WFP/Stéphanie Savariaud

In Katanga, a mining province in southeastern Congo, the global financial crisis left a deep swathe of unemployment, bringing more hunger and malnutrition. Now, families of jobless miners are re-learning forgotten farming skills and at the same time gaining insights into healthy eating.

LIKASI  — The long tail of the global financial crisis is still being felt in the Katanga province of Democratic Republic of Congo, where the copper mining industry saw many companies close down or lay off staff. Predictably levels of malnutrition in the area have gone up. Read news release

Aggravating the problem is the almost total loss of farming skills among the local population caused by decades spent concentrating on mining.

Many mining families, having lost their connection with agriculture, tend to have unbalanced diets. Nutritionist Hyppolite Logi sees hundreds of mothers arrive at the Likasi health centre with malnourished children every year.

Improving diets

“These women often come back a few months after the treatment has finished because of unbalanced diets, lack of proteins and vitamins,” he said.

A local NGO, Vipatu, came up with a novel way of responding to the situation. The project, which is now supported by WFP, targets families who bring their malnourished children to the Likasi health centre for treatment.

“Basically, we teach them how to farm,” explains Vipatu coordinator Fidel Mwayile.

After the children have been treated, the families are enrolled in the farming project. As well as teaching agricultural techniques, it stresses the importance of diversifying food production and on that basis developing better nutrition habits. Finally, it paves the way for families to increase their incomes by selling food on the markets.

Picks to plowshares

Today, on the little green hills of Likasi, dozens of women are busy planting and watering. Half of the produce is sold, the other half is consumed by the 2,400 households who work on the project.

“Before my husband used to dig in a mine and was making US$100 per week,” says Nelly Bapile, one of the participants, as she waters salads in the Vipatu project. “The mine closed down last year and we could not find a job. My parents were farmers but we have never learnt or had the time.”

Now, after several months of training under her belt, she says she can buy fish thanks to the vegetables she can sell. According to Vipatu, children of families who take part in the project rarely fall into malnutrition again.