Your neighbor is your brother- agricultural stability in a war-torn country
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the opposing Twa and Luba tribes are on peaceful terms in Kabalo thanks to a joint resilience project implemented by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Since 2013, fighting between the Luba (Bantu) and the Twa, a Pygmy community who have long been denied access to land and basic services, has sparked tensions and violent conflict. It has also disrupted staple food production in the historically very productive province of Tanganyika, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Francis is chairman of the Twa community in the village of Monde, close to the small town of Kabalo. Gilbert is his equivalent in the Luba community. They represent a young generation of leaders willing to leave the past behind for the wellbeing of their community and the stability of the province. Having participated in the WFP/FAO resilience program since June 2017, they both consider agriculture a tremendous opportunity to change lives.
Today, they are with their communities, attending an educational session on peaceful coexistence called “Your neighbor is your brother” or “Irani ni ndugu” in Swahili. Both Francis and Gilbert are held in high esteem for having contributed to the reconciliation between their ethnic groups.
“The conflict started because of rumors and nothing more. People could not move from one village to another without serious risk of being attacked or killed. We learnt from WFP and FAO through dialogue and sensitization sessions, the importance of agriculture and peaceful cooperation,” says Francis.
The focus of today’s theatrical session, presented by the mixed Twa/Luba actors team, is the role of the Peace Village Committee, whose focus is conflict prevention. They are organized by a partner called Lokole, which is the local arm of the non-governmental organization, Search For Common Ground (SFCG). The communities listen and engage with the actors team, giving birth to dialogue among themselves.
“Both Francis and myself initially attended lessons that persuaded us that we could start working in our fields again, side by side. They were short lessons where we learnt how to create the right conditions for both peace and food to grow.” says Gilbert. “Despite the differences between our tribes, we are now all motivated to work together. What they saw at the skits sessions, they now apply in their everyday lives.”
At the end of the show, Gilbert and Francis were both testifying that this resilience program should be expanded to other locations to overcome the ongoing conflicts: “Here, we’ve achieved peace. It is possible indeed, and agriculture is a great tool for that.” they both say.
Roch Bashizi, Search For Common Ground’s Head of Office in Tanganyika province, says that a critical factor in building social cohesion is to focus on what communities have in common. “We observed that poverty affects them all and that agriculture, as a common interest, can be a solution. So natural resources such as fields, pounds or forests, become a “connector” between communities and not a “divider” factor.” says Roch.
Sensitization sessions organized by Lokole (SFCG) are one of the several tools used to bridge communities together. Otherwise, two local radio stations spread tips on good agricultural practices and the importance of peace and 12 Village Peace Committees and 147 cooperation clubs are the other essential mechanisms that bring together the different ethnic groups to discuss conflicts and how to identify win-win solutions to achieve common objectives within the mixed communities- whether it be in the field or construction of infrastructure such as roads or buildings.
While these activities are key to mindset changes and social cohesion, the heart of the resilience program is agriculture. With the support of Sweden, WFP and FAO currently supports 18,000 vulnerable households in Kabalo and Nyunzu to increase their agricultural yields, sustain production, and strengthen market engagement. The objective is self-reliance through improved livelihoods and higher incomes. The agricultural support brought to the communities is a life changing experience and a decisive step towards peace.
Both the Luba and the Twa community had a successful harvest in 2018. The healthy crop of manioc and ground nuts sold well at the local markets and profits were divided among community members.
For the past two decades, the most vulnerable people of DRC have been assisted with emergency programs. “This innovative WFP and FAO program provides the unique opportunity to support social cohesion and peace in the long term because when you support agriculture, you develop people’s access to food and markets, they become self-reliant, which diminishes conflict opportunities,” says Olivier Nkakudulu, Head of WFP Resilience Unit in DRC.
Agriculture is one of the DRC’s best asset as it could produce all the food it needs and become a food exporter to feed millions of people in Africa. However, only 10 percent of DRC’s 80 million hectares of farming land is used.