For some seven million Congolese living in Kinshasa the only meat and poultry they could buy to eat since the 1980s was frozen imports from Western countries, distributed locally by a few local businessmen.
That was, until a few months ago, when government stepped in to develop the country’s livestock farming industry. “The government cannot accept that (the) Congolese live on a meager diet composed mainly of frozen chicken imported under questionable conditions while the country has a tremendous food production potential,” says Norbert Bashengezi Katintima, minister of agriculture, fisheries and livestock.
In December 2009 with financial support from the African Development Bank (ADB), the government launched a large poultry project in N’Sele, a rural town in the western outskirts of Kinshasa, the country’s capital. The project, which is entirely government-run, received funding to the tune of eight million dollars.
In an interview with IPS, Juvenal Bahun, livestock advisor to minister Katintima, said that “the ministry has adopted a roadmap laying the groundwork for a serious country-wide fight against the food crisis and food insecurity.” For now, he added, the ADB-funded pig and poultry farming pilot project will only cover Kinshasa, Katanga (South Eastern Congo) and West Kasai (in the South West).
“This project also aims to improve food quality for the Congolese and support small farmers with technical and practical advice in agricultural production,” he said.
The challenge for the ministry will be to “get 15 percent of the national budget funded by poultry farming profits”; one of the goals within government’s strategic policy document released in November 2009.
Freddy Nkongolo, project coordinator on the N’Sele site – about 4,000 hectares – told IPS that the project is off to a promising start. “After three months of work, we’ve reached a weekly output of four batches of 12,000 chickens sold throughout the city of Kinshasa,” he said. “I think there is hope that within two years, poultry farming can actually contribute to funding the national budget. But I can’t estimate to what proportion.”
As a result, the project initially planned to last six months has been extended for an additional eight months by government due to its positive outcomes, according to Nkongolo.
“There’s been an obvious improvement of food quality. Approximately 1,800 chickens are sold every day across eight sites scattered around Kinshasa. “Besides the quality aspect, the project also creates jobs.
Germaine Kitungwa, a chicken seller, says “she does good business with N’Sele chickens.” Indeed, while “an imported 160 gram frozen chicken is more or less five dollars, an N’Sele chicken of same weight costs only 3,000 Congolese francs, or about 3.5 dollars. Most mothers now prefer to buy those chicken to save money but also because it its fresher.”
According to Nkongolo, the low price of N’Sele chicken is a reflection of ADB policy to provide poor people access to food. The price is fixed by agreement between the ADB and the ministry and aims to stop imports of frozen meat, discourage importers and help them redirect their food industry investments with a focus on quality.