The island of Idjwi is a land of green hills surrounded by the fresh waters of Lake Kivu in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). With a surface of just 310 km², it is among the most populated areas of the country with a population of around 300 000.
There are few employment opportunities on the island. More than 80 % of its inhabitants work in the informal sector, living off agriculture, fishing and farming.
Because of its isolation, the territory is a haven of peace in the East of the DRC. Idjwi has often welcomed refugees fleeing violence, such as the survivors of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. But immigration and overpopulation have resulted in a vast deforestation of the island. Asa consequence, soil erosion is impacting crop yields and malnutrition plagues many families
To fight poverty, diversify livelihoods and strengthen ties between Pygmy and Bantu communities on the island, the government of Japan and UNDP partnered to launch a rapid response programme for social cohesion and economic recovery.
500 temporary jobs were created to cultivate terraced crops. Combined with reforestation, agricultural terraces are very effective in combatting erosion and bringing back soil fertility.
“Our territory is well positioned for sustainable development projects and can serve as a pilot experience. We have continued security; and the population is hardworking and united ” Mr. Karongo Kalajo Kadiyo, administrator of the Idjwi territory.
Soil depletion and the lack of organization in the coffee sector in the previous decades have negatively affected the production and quality of the main cash crop of the island. But times are changing!
Created in 2011, the Kivu Cooperative of Coffee Planters and Traders (CPNCK) supports and coordinates the work of 672 coffee farmers, 317 of which are women.
The members have access to eight small coffee treatment plants to pool their production efforts. The cooperative is backed by ONG VECO, a project partner supported by Japan and UNDP.
A new stripping machine allows for the transformation of raw coffee from harvest to ‘ready for export’, whereas farmers previously sold semi-processed coffee at a third of the price.
Saouda is a member of the cooperative. She explains: “Before affiliating with the CPNCK, my husband crossed with a canoe to Rwanda to sell our coffee. It was dangerous and our production was poorly paid. Now we benefit from known and stable prices. The women bring their coffee to the micro-plants and are paid directly according to the established price per kilo. It helps me manage the household’s daily expenses and save up money to send our three kids to school.”
The coffee processing plants work thanks to a micro-hydro facility launched recently thanks to Japanese funds.
This facility produces renewable energy, a rare commodity in a territory without a power production source. Pending the completion of a second penstock, the capacity will be at 700 Kw, enough to power households and essential infrastructure such as health centers.
Women from remote villages on the island are among the immediate beneficiaries of the project. Many of them raise turkeys, and being isolated, had trouble selling their poultry
A farming cooperative center built close to the island’s harbor benefits 300 vulnerable households. Women sell their turkeys directly to the cooperative, which helps commercialize them. Members are of the cooperative are also trained for the development of their own farming units.
Jean Pierre is a veterinarian and works at the turkey breeding center. “Helping develop the turkey business on the island will improve food security for families and send more kids to school.”
Facilities completed through the project include a new office for territorial administration, which will help to strengthen the authority of the state, and offer improved services to citizens.
The important fishing sector has not been forgotten. Six fishing crews were created and fully supplied. They employ 90 workers from the Pygmy and Bantu communities, which contributes to social cohesion.
« This project is a priority of the Japanese cooperation with UNDP and the Government. Japan reiterates its commitment to the continuous support of the stabilization efforts in the east of the country » said the Ambassador of Japan during the project visit.
Thanks to Japanese funding, UNDP has helped 6,750 households, 13,000 children affected by the conflicts, and 1,248 children formerly associated with armed groups and forces in the East.
Text and photos: Aude Rossignol — UNDP DRC
Translation: Jonathan Bentsen & Laurence Lessire
For more information on the work of the UNDP in the DRC: www.cd.undp.org