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DR CONGO: Access To Credit Hampers Farmers in the East

BUKAVU, Dec 22 2009 (IPS) - The hundreds of savings and loan cooperatives operating in South Kivu should be providing an opportunity to develop agriculture and fight food insecurity in the province, but few farmers have been able to take advantage.

Félicien Zozo Rukeratabaro, a human rights advocate for Social and Rural Action, an NGO based in the province’s main town of Bukavu, says “not one small-scale farmer is able to access financial support or credit from any of these cooperatives, which are primarily concerned with speculative transactions and activities only of immediate benefit to themselves.”

He tells IPS, “All cooperatives have structured conditions for access to credit. But most often, the guarantees they need cannot be provided by small-scale famers, who are often very poor.”

“How will we become wealthy? And how will we be able to produce more in order to sell the surplus and save or repay the credit obtained – if we cannot secure initial financial support from cooperatives?”

The question is asked by Augustine Baliahamwabo, who produces “lenga-lenga”, a vegetable widely consumed in the east. She also produces cassava on her farm in the village of Kabare.

Baliahamwabo tells IPS she “produces about 500kg of lenga-lenga per season and employs three women in the village to sell the goods in Bukavu. These women, each carrying about 100kg of vegetables on their heads or backs, walk the 55 kilometres from Kabare to Bukavu where they sell the vegetables and bring in approximately $25, earning a profit of $10 off the sale of each woman’s load.

“All I need is to be able to pay for more farmers and organise for the vegetables and cassava I produce to be distributed for just two seasons. Then I’d be able to produce more. An amount of $1,000 would allow me to become independent after only a year of work,” she says, pointing out that she employs farm workers daily.

Ever since the outbreak of the wars that have raged in the eastern DRC, the province of South Kivu has experienced food insecurity, particularly because of declining agricultural production.

“None of these cooperatives cares about us. Yet it is we who feed the entire city of Bukavu as well as our own villages,” says Jardon Ngabo Y’eka, a producer of sweet potatoes and carrots in Ngweshe, a village 70km from Bukavu. “We cannot produce enough to sell and are sometimes forced to limit ourselves to subsistence farming, even though we have large areas we could well be using to produce more food and flood the market.”

Ngabo Y’eka tells IPS, “In reality, the cooperatives are not asking us to give them guarantees of repayment of credit. They are simply scared because most of us are really poor. But we still have land to use as security.”

He adds, “I also have a small farm where I get regular milk from my two cows and eight goats, but this is only for family consumption. All this could serve as a guarantee of repayment of a small sum of $1,000!”  ?  Vénantie Mucuba is a farmer from Mushekere, another village located 45km from Bukavu. She tells IPS, “If I get credit of $1,500 to be repaid after one year, I can produce an average of two tons of beans. I would use this money to hire at least ten farmers, buy 50 kg bags and organise the transportation of the beans to Bukavu. There, I’d sell it and be able to realise a profit of over $2,000 by the end of the year.”

But Charles Kabashali, manager of the Christian Mutual Society for Savings and Credit, which also does not give agricultural credit, sees things differently. “Getting involved with producers who are mostly in the villages is a good thing,” he tells IPS.

However, “there is no security there and no electricity or infrastructure that would allow cooperatives to effectively support small-scale farmers, while at the same time being protected from any loss of capital invested by members of these cooperatives.”

Aimée Busime heads up the Credit and Savings Cooperative of South Kivu. She tells IPS, “If small-scale farmers could form groups, we could help them access credit not exceeding $2,000 each. But they must provide a personal guarantee; that is to say one of them must offer sufficient guarantees to repay the credit granted.” She adds, “It is for them to organise themselves and not for us to push them to meet the conditions to obtain credit.”

For his part, Bukavu resident Chikos Mushamuka tells IPS: “In reality, these cooperatives could have a little goodwill. If they did, they’d be able to significantly boost the agricultural economy of the entire province.”

“Throughout all the villages and even in Bukavu, several hundred small-scale farmers are bravely producing vegetables, beans, cow’s milk, sweet potatoes, bananas, goat meat and pork, as well as fish farmed from Lake Kivu. This could feed more than three million people,” says Mushamuka.

He adds that, “to support these farmers would effectively fight food insecurity, particularly in Bukavu where very few families still enjoy quality nutrition or regular meals.”

*The first of two articles on obstacles facing small-scale farmers in DRC.

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