By Guest Blogger: Amanda B. Edgell, Borlaug Graduate Student Intern
Amanda Edgell, a summer intern for the Borlaug Institute, is working at Camp Base in Kisangani on the agriculture project. She is sending periodic blogs on the project’s progress.
Contracted to produce a large-scale agriculture project on Camp Base outside Kisangani, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture has been working with a small unit of soldiers from the Armed Forces of the DRC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, widely known as FARDC) since March 2010 with the end goal of making the training base self-sufficient in food production for the permanent cadre.
An opening ceremony was held here at Camp Base February 17, 2010 marking the establishment of a light infantry battalion that is being trained by the United States. This Department of State funded train-and-equip mission, which will end in mid-September 2010, is just one part of a long-term, multiagency, international approach to promote defense sector reform in the DRC.
The FARDC have a history of pillaging local communities for food and other supplies. So as part of the U.S. Africa Command training mission at Camp Base, the Borlaug Institute is working to ensure food security for the soldiers and their families, thereby decreasing the frequency and hopefully eliminating this looting all together.
As a summer intern for the Borlaug Institute, I have had the pleasure of working on this unique project that will have a large impact on how the FARDC soldiers view themselves and how they interact with their local community.
So far, a local construction company has cleared 11 hectares of land for staple food, fish, pig, goat, and vegetable production. Soldiers from the agriculture unit planted 5.5 hectares of maize and cassava in May and June 2010. Two fish ponds amounting to about 25,000 cubic meters have been stocked with 40,500 tilapia and African Catfish fingerlings. Another 150 hectares of land on Camp Base have been designated for cattle grazing. A starter herd of 25-35 cattle will be purchased in the next few weeks.
The key to the Borlaug Institute’s project at Camp Base is sustainability – with a large focus on integrating traditional hand farming techniques with modern practices to produce the highest possible yield over the long term. This requires a concentrated effort to ensure systems are put in place to sustain the Camp Base farm after the U.S. completes its training program. For example, the Borlaug Institute has made use of a natural spring on camp for the fish ponds and for vegetable irrigation. This has eliminated the need for expensive water filtration equipment and fuel-powered pumps that would require maintenance beyond the FARDC capacity in the future.
When I arrived in Kisangani in mid-May, I wasn’t sure what to expect from such a unique project. Despite studying development in both undergraduate and post-graduate work and visiting various projects while in Uganda, Rwanda, and South Africa, the Borlaug Institute’s project at Camp Base offered something much different. It is an opportunity for the FARDC soldiers to produce their own sources of basic food needs, the benefits of which will extend not only to their families, but to the city of Kisangani itself.
Over the past two months, I have seen 40,500 fish stocked into an area that was little more than a giant mud hole when I arrived. I have seen an open field transform into a thriving maize and cassava crop. And I have seen a muddy hillside grow into a beautiful landscape of horticulture beds.
Honestly, I can’t wait to see what happens next!