Josephine Balila is a community mobilizer in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Since 2019, she works for an EU-funded project aimed at bringing degraded land back to productivity.
Yangambi, the town where she lives, was once home to an important agriculture research centre, surrounded by thousands of hectares of experimental plantations of rubber and oil palm, amongst other tropical commodities. These days, the land is mainly used by local farmers to grow subsistence crops such as cassava, but decades of overexploitation have depleted the soil and harvests are very poor.
Josephine’s work is to convince local farmers to plant trees in their fields through agroforestry systems. The benefits are tangible: trees enrich the soil with nutrients and improve yields, while wood can be used to produce energy. A biomass power plant is currently under construction, and it is expected that by 2022 Yangambi will have access to electricity for the first time in decades – a pressing need in a country where 99 percent of rural households remain off-the-grid.
Thanks to this project, people now have jobs. Things are moving forward in Yangambi.
Josephine Balila, community mobilizer
Like Josephine, Darius Lisendja also works in the restoration project, which is led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). His job consists of planting trees during two five-week-long rainy seasons a year. He is part of a well-organised team that grows thousands of seedlings in shaded nurseries before planting them in remote fields.
His job isn’t easy. Deadly snakes are common, so he must wear rubber boots to protect his ankles, and a first-aid team keeps antidote doses ready in case of need. Sometimes he spends hours under the scorching sun, a challenging undertaking even though water is steadily supplied to avoid dehydration. Moreover, due to the poor quality of the roads, tractors often break down causing delays in the delivery of seedlings. Yet, he is happy to have this opportunity.
With the money that he earned, Darius bought two milling machines to produce cassava and corn flour – a basic ingredient to prepare fufu, the local food staple. This activity provides him an income for the rest of the year.
The project has opened new opportunities and showed me that I can live better
Darius Lisendja, seasonal plantation worker
Like Josephine and Darius, over 400 people are employed each plantation season – in total, about 1,800 jobs have been created by this initiative since 2018. The roles are diverse, from clearing access roads, to loading seedlings in locally made baskets, to leading teams of planters.
Thanks to their effort, 1,200 hectares of land have already been restored and more than 1 million trees have been planted since 2018 – an important contribution to the national government’s goal of planting 1 billion trees by 2023.
About the project
This initiative is part of the projects Formation, Recherche et Environnement dans la Tshopo (FORETS) and Nouveaux Paysages du Congo (NPC), which are funded by the European Union through the 11th European Development Fund and the Global public goods and challenges Programme. They are implemented by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) with over a dozen Congolese and international partners.
The projects support CIFOR-ICRAF’s Yangambi Engagement Landscape, a long-term vision for economic development, conservation and applied research activities aimed at transforming the Yangambi landscape (an area of about 8,000 square kilometres) into a forestry hub where natural resources are sustainably managed to create opportunities for the local population.
Author: Ahtziri Gonzalez