U.S. Delegation Visits Ag Initiative Project

Today we had a delegation from the United States come to visit the Borlaug Institute farms and fisheries on the FARDC Base in Kisangani. The delegation included Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro, the U.S. Ambassador to D. R. Congo, and the U.S. General in command of AFRICOM. Over the course of the day they also watched marching and live fire demonstrations by the American-Trained FARDC Fast Deploy Battalion.

Overall, Assistant Secretary Shapiro was very impressed by the agricultural initiative, and specifically mentioned that he had never seen or heard of a project like it anywhere else in Africa. In a press conference later in the day he reiterated the need for the army to be able to feed itself in a sustainable manner and not return to living off the land, as was the method under both Mobutu and King Leopold. For 150 years the Congolese army has been taking their food from the people, and breaking this tradition is not an easy thing, but this sort of project is a start.

Our project philosophy is based on one thing: If an army doesn’t get paid, they will still continue to work, but if an army doesn’t get fed, they will rebel.

At this stage, we have 5 hectares of cassava fields planted, a 4 hectare fish pond stocked with tilapia and catfish, and 3-4 hectares for other vegetables. Last week the Ag-Company of the FARDC cleared another 5 hectares of jungle and this week they’ve begun clearing a further 5 hectares. Both of these clearings will be converted into additional fish ponds by the soldiers. Once complete, the total entire farm and fishery will produce enough cassava to feed a company of 1000 soldiers for a year, as well as give them fish multiples days out of the week. It will also produce excess cassava which will be sold in the markets to provide income for growth or other food items.

Next week, I’ll be spending my morning overseeing the clearing of the jungle area. Because of some corruption problems, we need to make sure that the number of civilian workers hired to clear the jungle matches the actual number who are working. There is a tendency for those two numbers to not exactly match and some money ends up in the captain’s pocket. While that is to be expected to a point, we would prefer to minimize our losses to corruption. Having lived in Ukraine for three years, I lost my American belief that all corruption is unacceptable, as it wasn’t too long ago that our own country had some serious problems. We need to understand that there is a way things work in some places. In many countries, if it weren’t for the bribes, it might take years to get a business started because of the government’s laws and bureaucracy. Here, it’s just not feasible to completely eliminate it. But watching over their backs will help to cut it a tad.

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