Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The silent killers - mosquitos and the Aid programms


A week ago David took us with his vehicle out of Mbandka to a village called: Inyolo.
Robin, yet another French man, works on converting a part of the forest into Rice Paddy, among other things. This of course is no easy task and takes a group of 15 (originally 30, but a few dropped out), 2-3 months. With the lack of machinery, this is seriously back-breaking work.  

 So while we were exploring the rice paddy, barefoot, balancing over the remaining trees, Robin,  who has been working in the Equateur Region of the DR Congo for 5 years, told us a bit more about the situation...

 Along the road from Mbandaka to Lake Tumba, the only large road that exists out of the city, we have seen a lot of extreme poverty, and were informed that the rates or malnutrition are particularly bad. Robin however told us, that only 15-20 km away from the road people live self-sufficient and much healthier.

 The only other white woman that lives in Mbandaka, and works with Robin, told us similar things. She, a 80 something year old nun from Belgium, that has been working here for over 40 years, told us that the farmers along the road used to produce ample amount of maize during earlier times. Now, barely anyone produces anymore, and prices have dropped from 12,000 CF (€12) to 2 500CF (€2,50). 

Where does this change come from? Why do we have the crisis of production, as well as malnutrition along our road? The answer we have been getting is: The World Food Program (WFP). WFP is a branch of the United Nations with the Slogan to 'Fighting Hunger Worldwide'. In 2011 they spend $323 Million on relief operations - often involving 'feeding schemes (supplementary feeding centres, mother and child health programmes and school-feeding), in which bags of corn for example to the people in need. And there is many people in need indeed (see map of UN underneath)

Yet, what happens if you are a corn producing farmer and would like to sell your bags on the road to the city, while there is this benevolent organization that gives out Food for Free? Well, you can keep it all to yourself, because nobody will be buying it from you, if they can get it for free! And if you don't make any profits, have no saving and no access to credit, how will you plant the next season? Well, you won't....

But where do these bags of corn come from? Based on what they told us, it is US AID. This is far from surprising. In fact the US, as well as the EU, has long since 'dumped' their surplus of production onto African markets, and called (and counted it) as Aid. In the case of American corn it is genetically modified corn, banned to enter the EU. Recently a friend of mine working in Ghana was wondering about all the German chicken she saw for sale on her markets. Officially these schemes are meant to coordinate with local production. Meaning that they only deliver free food when no other supply is available. However, here in the Congo the (believable) excuse is: logistics. That they simply can not coordinate and dump often at the wrong time. 

Similarly another UN organization, the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) has benevolently distributed rice shelling machines. While this also seems like a good idea at first, it will put any traditional 'company' out of work, as these are also provided for free. However, what is lacking, as in many development projects, is the long term vision. So without maintenance the rice shelling machine will stop working, and without local expertise to fix it, and the traditional companies out of business nobody is left to actually help the farmers out. 

Tricky. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. First and foremost I am glad to see and hear more about the cases I have only read about over the last years.  Just like the mosquito here, the threat and easy be overlooked.The silent killer. 

  The most important is to learn from mistakes, so instead of continuing the on the same,  mistaken road. Development, as they call it, has been far from successful over the past half a century. There is no panacea, and the situation in the DR Congo is particularly challenging. But programs should be critically evaluated, to ensure that a bad situation is not turned into one even worse. 

Nevertheless all the bad news, we were able to pick up little tree seedlings (see pic below, in my hand) which currently siting outside the house. One all grown up it will attract caterpillars (in 10 years), which are a great source of protein, and regular option on the menu here.  Four banana trees were also taken and have been planted in our garden : ) Long term thinking- as they say here Malembe, Malembe - Slowly, slowly, thats how we have to take it. 


 And as an end note: A Belgium scientist (married to a German) that visited last week, and who was asked about the working situation here answered:
 " It is a catastrophe. If you supervise very closely you get 40% of your goals done. You need to bring A LOT of patience. It is perfect Hell for a German" : ) Well, good thing we got this established.... : ) 

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