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The World Bank is driving a failed strategy in the DRC

April 23, 2019
The Africa Report

In the DRC, the Bukanga Lonzo Debacle shows that agro-industrial parks are a false solution to the challenges faced by the DRC and Africa when it comes to food, agriculture, and poverty alleviation.

“We have inherited these lands from our ancestors. This is where they are buried. These lands can’t be sold and we must preserve them for future generations,” emphasises Chief Nzasi Ndukupala of Baringa Ngasi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Chief is opposed to the takeover of 80,000 hectares of land for the Bukanga Lonzo agro-industrial park.

The park was set up in 2014, some 260km south-east of the capital, Kinshasa, through a public-private partnership between the government and a South African company, Africom Commodities. With $92m of public funding from the government, Bukanga Lonzo was supposed to produce corn and other crops on an industrial scale. It was a pilot project – the first in a plan to establish 22 agro-industrial parks across the country on over 1.5m hectares of land.

The Bukanga Lonzo Debacle, a report by the Oakland Institute, details how Chief Ndukupala, like the other community leaders in the area, was initially told that the government will set up an “agricultural village” (“village agricole”) that will support local farmers and bring development. He was then made to sign an “Act of Engagement”, a receipt for a consignment of goods received by his village, which included cola nuts, cigarettes, matches, blankets, loincloth, salt, soap, beer, one chainsaw, $7,000 in cash and a Haojin motorbike. In a sad reminiscence of colonial practices, for government officials these goods formed compensation for the land taken away from the people.

Instead of the promised “agriculture village”, the park turned out to be a mega-farm

After signing the documents, the local villagers lost access to their land and became subject to violence and repression by the police forces assigned to the park if accused of trespassing. Instead of the promised “agricultural village”, the park turned out to be a mega-farm, where production was to be highly mechanised, with some 300 machines, over 50 tractors, two planes for spraying chemicals, and limited job opportunities after the initial construction phase.

The park was hailed as a game-changer for DRC. “The time has come to transform Congolese agriculture from a subsistence sector to a powerful engine of global economic development,” stated President Joseph Kabila Kabange, while celebrating the first harvest of the park in March 2015.

However, after the 5,000 ha planted the first year, the surface cultivated dropped in the following years, until the project collapsed in 2017. The South African staff left the country, the local personnel was fired, and, in June 2018, Africom launched a court action against the country at the International Court of Arbitration in Paris for non-payment of their expenses. While activities remain on stand-by, the government announced in 2018 its plans to revive the park and pursue plans to establish 21 other projects.