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Smallholder agriculture in Congo Brazzaville is far from being productive as most support goes to a few large and modern cash crop producing farms. Its importance is however key to tackling widespread rural poverty, malnutrition and high youth unemployment. Worthwhile strategies include filling the yield gap of crucial staple crops like groundnut with better access to improved seeds, improving quality standards and linking small farmers to markets. 

85% - Share of Congo Brazzaville's  revenues coming from oil (World Bank)

20.5 - Alarming Global Hunger Index 2013 in Congo Brazzaville  

65% - Congo Brazzaville’s territory covered by forests

98% - Share of staple crops coming from smallholder farms in Congo Brazzaville  

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General context

The Republic of Congo, also called Congo Brazzaville, is a former French colony in Central Africa. It suffered several civil conflicts during the 1990s, after three decades of Marxist governance. This was fuelled by the fight between Northern and Southern ethnic leaders over oil wealth, leading to the destruction of infrastructure, displacement of population in the Southern Pool region and worsening of the already alarming poverty and hunger situation.

Oil is still the mainstay of Congo's economy which is not diversified, and unemployment is high (50% in 2009). Congo stands at 185 out of 186 in the World Bank's Doing Business ranking.

Human development indicators are still poor as a majority of the population does not have access to basic services such as potable water (10% in rural areas), electricity or health care.

Congo benefits from an equatorial and tropical humid and warm climate. Forest cover is significant (22 million hectares - 65% of the territory), the rest being covered by bush savannah (12 million hectares). Forests lose about 15,000 hectares a year, especially around the major cities of Brazzaville and Pointe Noire and in the Pool region. Family farming is mostly concentrated along the dense river network and bas-fonds, and around cities. The main staple crops are cassava, banana, maize, groundnut, other tubers, vegetables (periurban production) and fruit trees.

Despite huge potential, the agricultural sector accounts for only 3.3% of the GDP but employs almost half of the population. Small farmers do not have easy access to modern farming technologies or to markets, especially since the closure of state companies such as Staple Crops Office and Office of Cocoa and Coffee which were in charge of marketing farmers' produce. In recent years, agricultural development is being led by leasing land to foreign investors who prefer investing in cash crops like maize, palm oil or sugar. Traditional family farming, which accounts for about 140,000 farms of one hectare on average in the last census, accounts for 80% of the cultivated farming lands and provide the bulk of staple foods (source: Congo report on phytogenetic resources). They are poorly supported. An increasing shortage of essential staple crops jeopardizes the food security of a booming population, increasing the vulnerability and malnutrition among the poorest.   

Inclusive and sustainable development of smallholder agriculture could provide better employment opportunities for the youth in rural areas, slowing the rapid exodus to congested cities, as well as regaining food sovereignty.


ICRISAT research in Congo

ICRISAT's dryland cereal and legume crops research could benefit Congo's smallholder farms and support the recovery of its national food security. Support could include for instance access to improved pest-resistant varieties of key food crops : groundnut (work with Loudima research station), pigeonpea and millet.

ICRISAT’s collaboration with Congo’s agriculture and agribusiness institutions has recently strengthened with the setting up of a food testing laboratory under the South-South initiative.

Photo: ICRISAT
The setting up of a food testing laboratory will help better manage aflatoxin and other food contamination.
Photo: ICRISAT
Groundnut is a key food crop in Congo. Access to improved pest-resistant and high- yielding varieties is an issue.
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