By Dace Mahanay, Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University graduate student
Note: Dace Mahanay is currently interning with the Borlaug Institute on an AFRICOM agriculture project in Kisangani, DRC. He is sending periodic blogs detailing the project’s progress.
At Camp Base, just outside of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture continues to work with Agriculture Company (AgCo), a company of Congolese soldiers (Forces Armes de la Republique Democratique du Congo, widely known as FARDC), in an effort to provide sustainable methods of food production for the training center and U.S.-trained light infantry battalion. From fish farming to the cultivation of cassava, the needs of soldiers are being met in a sustainable way that is positive for the future of Camp Base and the community of Kisangani as a whole.
The last few weeks have been an exciting time for the agricultural project. A fish farming expert from the U.S. visited the project and provided valuable recommendations for increased production of tilapia and African catfish. The first batch of harvestable tilapia will be ready in the next couple of months and will be an excellent source of protein for FARDC soldiers. The camp is anxiously awaiting the first harvest. It is rewarding to see the pride members of the AgCo take in the new skills they have acquired and their overall role in supporting the mission of the camp.
Local scientists, commercial farmers, and community leaders are playing a significant role in exchanging ideas with project leadership. Reaching out to influential members of the community continues to improve civil-military relations and will provide a valuable pool of expertise for the AgCo to utilize once Borlaug has completed its management of the project.
We are also continuing to work on training materials for members of the AgCo aimed at providing soldiers with a greater understanding of basic agricultural methodology. Local experts are playing a vital role in the production of these materials and will also help facilitate the training modules commencing soon. All training documents and handouts will remain at Camp Base to ensure that the farm managers have proper reference materials available to train new AgCo members and to maintain the sustainability of the project after the Borlaug Institute’s contract ends in October 2011.
The AgCo has already harvested eleven batches of amaranth (a leaf vegetable similar to spinach) and cassava leaves which are staples of the Congolese diet. Each harvest has been incorporated into meals for the camp, exemplifying the potential for the agricultural project to play a major role in camp sustainability. The harvests have been bountiful, allowing the soldiers to sell excess product to the local community. Not only does this show local civilians the independent capacity of the soldiers to feed themselves, it also provides the AgCo with income they can use to buy inputs for future crop production. This adds an extra layer of sustainability to the project.
September 15 was an exciting day for members of the AgCo as all of their hard work was highlighted as part of the light infantry battalion’s graduation from U.S.-led military training. The graduation ceremony included a tour of the fish and vegetable farms and an overview of the project for visiting dignitaries. Everyone was extremely impressed by the progress being made at the camp and the future of inventive U.S. Africa Command initiatives. This project is truly making a difference in the lives of the Congolese soldiers at Camp Base and we are excited about the future.
A previous project update blog from the Borlaug Institute outlined military food security .