There are two Congos in Africa, a big one (pop. 87 million) and a smaller one (pop. 6 million). This visit was to the small one.
Smallholder agriculture in Congo Republic is heavily based on the cultivation of cassava. Very little cereals crops are produced, although several very large-scale farmers are now experimenting with rice and maize production, the latter mostly destined for the poultry feed market.
Smallholder farmers also produce, and consume, a broad range of legume crops, including common beans, Bambara groundnut, groundnut, cowpea, and soybean. But there is literally no organized production of commercial seed of these crops, or any other, so farmers must depend on recycled seed of mostly land race varieties to produce their harvest, and their yields suffer tremendously. There is no certified agronomic seed available anywhere in Congo, outside of a few agro-dealers who import hybrid maize seed from Vietnam and South Africa and sell it at very high ($10 per kg) prices.
We were welcomed into Congo Republic by Dr. Armand Mvila, Director General of the National Institute for Agronomic Research (IRA), a highly dedicated, informed leader of an institute which, in spite of being responsible for all crops research and release of varieties in the country, is stretched to its operational limits by a lack of funding.
Meanwhile, Congo Republic’s cassava crop is heavily affected by high incidences of mosaic virus and brown streak virus, and needs to be renewed through an intensive testing, selection, and multiplication of new varieties available from IITA or any number of national agricultural research institutes in the region which have developed new, virus-resistant varieties, including Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique.
The IRA team at Loudima, led by Lambert Moundzeo and Fridolin Moutsouran, inspired us with their dedication to crop R&D, inspite of the very limited resources at their disposal. I left Congo Republic with a sense that a relatively small amount of funding could produce a lot of impact in the lives of some of the continent’s most marginalized farmers.