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Why Women Farmers are Key to Addressing the Food Crisis in the DRC

Isabelle Niyotwagirwa showcases her organic Luffas on her farm in Mutaho. Having identified a gap in the market, Isabelle switched from selling wares in the market to farming. Through farming she not only supplies fresh fruits at pocket friendly prices to the community but also employs women and youth on her farms.

 All photos by David Mutua/CARE

 All photos by David Mutua/CARE

Isabelle Niyotwagirwa has grown her farm from 2 to 5 acres and up to 10 staff thanks to smart business decisions and support from local savings groups.

In the foothills surrounding the Mount Nyiragongo volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Isabelle Niyotwagirwa and two farmhands are hard at work breaking ground to begin another round of planting after a successful harvest. Dust rises in the air as their hoes hit the soil, readying it for new crops of prunes, banana trees, arrow roots, amaranth, and cabbage.

Isabelle switched to farming after running a small kiosk at the market. “I saw how people used to import food and fruits from outside the country and I noticed I that it was not only low quality but very expensive. So, I decided to farm, as the soil here is full of nutrients that are very beneficial to our bodies,” she says.

The DRC has an estimated 200 million acres of available arable land. It is home to the second-largest rainforest in the world, receives over 58 inches of rainfall per year, and boasts a variety of soils ideal for farming. The government says the country could feed close to two billion people. Unfortunately, this is not the case as only 10% of arable land is being utilized for agriculture.

Amount of arable land being used for agriculture in DRC

The DRC is currently experiencing the world’s largest food crisis with 27.3 million people facing hunger and malnutrition. Several factors have made the country unable to meet citizens’ food needs. Recurrent epidemics – including EBOLA, Cholera, and COVID-19 – have negatively impacted the economy and caused businesses to slow down or close altogether. The protracted conflict has caused many to abandon their farms for fear of losing their lives. Dilapidated transport networks mean that the supply chain between farm and market is near non-existent, driving up prices of farm products and resources.

Isabelle faced such challenges when she began farming. “It was quite difficult to get seeds. Getting pesticides was also a big challenge and without them, the plants can be destroyed by pests. My farm is next to the forest and so when it rains, flood waters sweep away my crops.”



people facing hunger and malnutrition in DRC

In 2019, Isabelle joined an AVEC, a savings group that allows members to pool resources, take out loans, and mutually benefit from the interest collected. AVECs also connect members with job training and support through partnerships with other organizations.

“These groups help in the fight against food insecurity because the training the women receive helps them engage in farming and animal husbandry,” says Pacifique Murabaze, Technical Officer at Amis de Justice (ADJ), a project partner.

ADJ connected Isabelle with the Mawe Tatu Project, which works with women to improve their socio-economic status, which in turn improves households and communities. “The program supports project participants with not only training on bookkeeping, savings, and best practices but also provides seeds, farm implements, and monetary support. So far, in the Commune of Nyiragongo, 16,525 are involved in groups and 50% of them are involved in agriculture,” Pacifique says.

Mawe Tatu has helped Isabelle’s business thrive. “Farming has helped my family and me because when I work on the farm, I can sell the produce and get money to pay for things. This has enabled me to depend on myself. It has also enabled me to engage in other projects and get money to buy more land to farm.”

Isabelle started with two acres but through savings from selling produce, she now has five acres and employs five permanent workers. During the growing and harvesting season, she’s able to double her staff to 10 farmhands.

CARE International in DRC has reached 27,000 women through Mawe Tatu and aims to reach even more in its ongoing efforts to address the country’s serious food security issues. “Mawe Tatu believes that investing more in supporting women to develop value chains in agriculture would be a good thing to cover not only the needs in their communities but also beyond their provinces, to their country. That’s why we think that if we can introduce agricultural funds in the AVECs, it will allow the women who work in agriculture to improve their businesses and to cover their needs as they fight against famine in our community,” says Dr. Caroline Kasongo, Mawe Tatu Project Manager.

“Thanks to the collaboration with the AVECs, my children will study well and not sleep hungry. I call on women to be involved in farming as it not only helps the family but also enables us to be self-dependent,” says Isabella.

Mawe Tatu is implemented by CARE International in DRC in collaboration with partner organizations, COMEN, Guichet d’Economie Locale (GEL), Amis de Justice (ADJ), and ZMQ Development.


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