DRC: War-Weary Families Find A Future In Farming

Thousands of families fled the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008 amid a brutal civil conflict. Many came back two years later to find their homes and farms destroyed. Now they’re building better ones with the help of a WFP programme that provides them with food while they get back on their feet.

MWESO—On a balmy Congolese morning, Francois Shizirugu, 45, wipes the sweat off his forehead while he measures the distance between one seed hole and the next. A few yards away, men and women are sowing the soil with pick axes and hoes.

“We are planting vegetables and cereals that will feed us and give us something to sell for cash at the market,” he says.

congolese woman standing with her goats

This is a deceptively simple ambition for a farmer in restive North Kivu province, a part of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where civil violence in 2008 forced thousands of people to flee.

Shizirugu and his family fled with them and spent over a year in a camp for displaced people. They were enticed to return amid a still fragile peace, only to find their home and farm in ruins.

“There was nowhere for us to go. For a long time, we lived in a little hut with banana leaves for a roof,” he said.

Food for work

To help resettle people like Shizirugu, WFP launched a “food-for-work” project in the area which currently feeds some 3,000 people while they get their farms up and running. As part of the project, farmers like Francois are also learning new skills to help them grow more and better crops.

They’re also learning the ins and outs of fish farming, which will both enrich their diets and provide them with a sustainable source of income.

“Even before the conflict, fresh vegetables and fish were only available during certain periods of the year and we couldn’t always afford them,” said Shizirugu. “We can grow crops year-round and have fish whenever we want.” 

congolese woman watering her young garden

Better living

Simeone Bitawha, who works with WFP’s local NGO partner, APREDESI, said that living conditions have improved for many of the participants. “Most of them have built new houses with better materials and even bought extra land to grow on,” he said. 

“Now they have the capital to buy small livestock and, crucially, to send their children to school.”