Following years of social turmoil and civil war, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was left without a solid infrastructure and faced an impending environmental crisis. Due to conflict, farmers along the banks of the Congo and Maringa Rivers had no way to sell their crops. As a result, many took to hunting bushmeat or practicing slash-and-burn agriculture to make a living, subsequently destroying much of the ecosystem and leaving people without a sustainable means of income.
To combat this problem, and in partnership with U.S. Agency for International Development-Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (USAID-CARPE) and Sustainable Opportunities Improving Livelihoods (SOIL), African Wildlife Foundation initiated the Congo Shipping Project. This effort provided local communities with a boat to transport crops from the forest landscape to DRC’s main markets in Kinshasa and Mbandaka as well as new methods of sustainable farming. These methods have allowed farmers to grow a greater variety of robust produce while keeping the forest intact.
The barge’s round-trip journey takes approximately two months. It transports up to 400 tons of product—crops traveling one way, humanitarian aid the other. The Congo Shipping Project has allowed farmers to sell produce for profit, increasing the overall income of their community. And, by helping farmers reestablish their livelihoods, including more sustainable ways of farming the land, AWF has also helped to prevent future damage to the Congo’s wildlife. Farmers, who in the past could only utilize a plot of land for two years before having to move on, can now farm in the same area for at least four years, thereby keeping more of the forest intact.
So far, the Congo Shipping Project has been a huge success, its successes even leading to a few interesting challenges. During one of its 2012 trips downriver, the barge was unable to carry all of the crops produced in the DRC. The barge’s carrying capacity of 400 tons meant that 200 tons of produce had to be left behind, produce that would be transported to other large markets nearby via canoe or sold and consumed locally. This overabundance is a direct result of AWF’s sustainable activities.
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