Farming communities abused at troubled DRC mega-farm, campaigners say

April 4, 2019
Source
Mongabay

Ashoka Mukpo

  • The Bukanga Lonzo agro-industrial park, located nearly 300 kilometers (186 miles) east of Kinshasa, was conceived as a way to boost mechanized food production in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • But now, the park is in shambles, and a new report by the Oakland Institute says that community members were misled and abused during its construction.

  • The primary investor in the park, Africom Commodities, is currently seeking nearly $20 million in damages from the Congolese government for non-payment of expenses at the park.

When then-President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila hoisted himself into a tractor to celebrate the first harvest of the Bukanga Lonzo agro-industrial park on March 5, 2015, it was supposed to be a triumphant moment. Just under 300 kilometers (186 miles) to the east of the capital city Kinshasa, the park had been heralded as a cutting-edge solution to food shortages in the DRC.

Bringing the Congolese government into a “public-private partnership” with a South African company, Africom Commodities, Bukanga Lonzo had the ambitious goal of transforming nearly 800 square kilometers (309 square miles) of land into a mechanized farming behemoth that could supply Kinshasa’s hungry residents with maize, cassava and other food products.

But four years on, the park has nearly collapsed, with production halting amidst finger-pointing between Congolese authorities and the management of Africom Commodities. In May 2018, the company filed a claim worth nearly $20 million at the International Court of Arbitration in Paris, saying the Congolese government had stopped making scheduled payments needed to keep the park running.

A report released Thursday by the U.S.-based watchdog group, The Oakland Institute, states that the park was flawed from the beginning. It alleges that farmers in nearby villages were misled and stripped of their customary land and that a leaked audit report suggests corruption may be partially to blame for the park’s failure.

“You can’t move forward and develop with this idea that you’re going to take resources away from your own people and give them to some foreign investor,” Frederic Mousseau, author of the report and policy director at the Oakland Institute, told Mongabay in an interview.