The Democratic Republic of the Congo has inaugurated the first of a series of agro-industrial parks designed to boost the country’s development and showcase the enormous potential of arable land at its disposal.
The agro-industrial park of Bukanga Lonzo covers 75,000 hectares and already employs three hundred people according to the government, which boasts its “production potential with very high added value – high-yielding arable land, water availability and irrigation, proximity to the city of Kinshasa which constitutes a market and a commercial outlet of more than ten million people”.
Ultimately, the state plans to launch twenty agro-industrial parks to highlight the enormous agricultural potential of the country.
The bottom line is that the land, and the villages within it, have been integrated into the Bukanga Lonzo Agro-Industrial Park and the farmers in the area have lost access to their farmland.
Bukanga Lonzo, the first of eighteen agro-industrial parks (PAI) planned for the whole country, had high ambitions, including to base development on agriculture, to achieve food self-sufficiency: 80,000 hectares to be cultivated, an investment of $83 million, land leased for twenty-five years and entrusted to a South African company, Africom commodities Group of Companies, as part of a public-private partnership.
Everyone is clear that the population of neighbouring villages was not consulted and that to date no one knows the exact boundaries of the park. The disappointments of the young people are numerous: “we hoped to find work in the park, but when we applied, we were chased away. The most recalcitrant were tied up and sent to prison”.
The villagers, supported by the CNONG (National Council of NGOs of the Congo) are not against the park however; they still hope to benefit from the promised spin-offs, the modernisation of villages, the construction of the school and clinics they had been promised, the training and hiring of local executives. We are far from it: “Everyone over there speaks English and we are treated like intruders..”
The day labourers complain that they are regularly sprayed with planes spraying insecticides, “we do not count, these people (the South Africans) are slavers..”
How could so much land be transformed into an agro-industrial park, without the consent of local communities? The leaders explain the misunderstanding: “According to Congolese law, (the Bakanjika law, of 1973) all the lands belong to the State, which can therefore grant usage to whomsoever it wants. But we consider it to be the land of our ancestors. In our view, only “land chiefs” can grant permission to occupy and cultivate these lands. However, we were not asked anything, while the park deprived us of access to our cemeteries and our sacred places..”
This contempt for the local population annoys the dignitaries who note that in the same region, other companies such as the Moulins du Congo or Kwilu Ngongo sugar refinery have a much better relationship with the population.
Villagers, for their part, find that they do not even have access to their traditional fields and that chemical inputs, sprayed by air, are devastating “while we used to go and look for caterpillars on the edge of the forest, not only are we hunted, but the caterpillars have virtually disappeared, eliminated by insecticides and fertilizers.”
Initially, Bukanga Lonzo Agro-Industrial Park was set up to supply the markets of Kinshasa with corn and food products, but so far this contribution is not very visible in the capital. The problem is that the lands, whose property is negotiated in Kinshasa, are most often obtained to the detriment of the local populations who, paradoxically in this immense country, find themselves lacking arable land.
Since the road was redone, access to Kinshasa is easier and newcomers have acquired large properties in Bandundu. Displaced and despoiled, the small farmers are now denouncing the lack of arable land and the increase in the pyramid of taxes.