Know-how from China

DO-reportage_cdta_vegetable_experiments.jpgCDTA vegetable experiments. © M N Massala

A Chinese agricultural technology demonstration centre has just been set up at Kombé, south of Brazzaville, to help boost agricultural production by changing the farming techniques used by Congolese farmers.

At Kombé, a village located 17 km south of Brazzaville, the Centre de démonstration des techniques agricoles (CDTA) opened in September 2012. This technology demonstration centre, funded by the Chinese Cooperation Programme, is currently set up on a 59 ha site and is geared towards the dissemination of agricultural technology to local stakeholders. Ten Chinese experts are already studying six cassava varieties, 12 maize varieties, and 60 vegetable crops belonging to 24 species, including Chinese cabbage, pepper, watermelon, green vegetables and mushrooms.

In 2013, 120 farmers aged 20-55 years, and from all 12 Congolese departments, attended 20 1-day training sessions. On completion, these farmers trained other farmers in their respective departments. The courses, given in Chinese with simultaneous translation into Congolese languages (Kituba and Lingala), consisted of theoretical classroom training and practical field-based training and were devoted particularly to cassava and maize cropping practices. This provided an opportunity for farmers to upgrade their cultivation practices. “I have now changed my old cassava planting habits, where I didn’t respect the required distance between cuttings, which had an impact on production,” says Christian Tsama, a successful trainee. Georgette Maboumou, another trainee, noted that once the language barrier was overcome, “These courses helped me understand, in simple terms, the origins of some plants and their crop cycles.” The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock encourages farmers to participate in these CDTA training sessions and Paul Rafael Ongouala, managing director of CDTA, says that the training costs are borne entirely by the State.

DO-reportage_new_production_techniques.jpgThrough practical, field-based training, Congolese farmers are learning about new production techniques and equipment. © M N Massala

A showcase of Chinese technology and expertise, this demonstration centre, like others set up elsewhere in Africa, operates completely independently without links to local research centres and irrespective of national agricultural policies. According to the agreement signed between China and the Congo, the centre is authorised to operate for 15 years, which is renewable. Knowledge transfer from Chinese experts to Congolese farmers is planned during the first 3-year implementation phase. At the outset of the second 12-year phase in 2016, a Chinese state-owned enterprise will take over administration and management of the centre. The agreement stipulates that this company will not be accountable to Chinese or Congolese authorities and will generate its own source of revenue for its operations, focusing primarily on farming and sustainable development.

The centre’s autonomy is clearly outlined in the agreement, but a Chinese state-owned company holds the keys. This is one way for China to shape the agricultural future of the Congo - a country with substantial potential - with crop varieties, production techniques and equipment.

From the Congolese standpoint, “What is interesting [...] is the new range of skills and expertise. This will boost research on aspects of production and productivity throughout our food production chain, which is essential because we are also seeking to achieve food sovereignty,” declares Rigobert Maboundou, the Congolese Minister of Agriculture and Livestock. China represents an invaluable alternative opportunity for the Congo as funding for ambitious development programmes is otherwise currently hard to acquire.

DO-reportage_cdta_compound.jpgCDTA compound. © M N Massala

A senior staff member at the Congolese Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock is, however, more reserved. He considers that, “Chino-Congolese cooperation, which is firmly established in the Congo, is not consistent with farmers’ needs because the projects are designed elsewhere and imposed on them. Certainly Congolese farmers require new agricultural practices, but they should be based on their different training needs,” he says, before adding, “whereas North-South cooperation is often participatory and followed up, which is more effective.”

Marien Nzikou-Massala

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