KINSHASA, October 13, 2010—A World Bank-funded project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is helping isolated populations earn steady income by providing seed money for small scale, community-driven investments.
The district of Isiro in Orientale province includes many localities that are benefiting from the program. Nazareth, one such locality, is home to indigenous Pygmy people. Mukwale, a deacon at the local church, is full of praise for the nonprofit that has been helping them implement activities funded by the program. Thanks to the group, he says, his community has been able to maximize the equipment it received. This includes agricultural tools, two oil presses, and 10 water containers for use at a renovated water collection point. Mukwale is particularly grateful for the oil presses, which he says have made a real impact on the lives of the people in this community. “Proceeds from the presses have enabled us to buy pigs and our stock is doing well,” he says. “We started with two pigs and we now have four.”
Mukwale says relations with neighboring Bantu groups have improved since his community acquired these tools. “Since they started using our facilities, our neighbors no longer look down on us,” he says. Money generated by the presses has also helped the community purchase prized goods such as clothes and radios. The steady flow of money the community gets from operating the presses has reduced its dependence on hunting and gathering.
Micro-Interventions, Big Outcomes
Community empowerment is one of the components of the Emergency Economic and Social Reunification Support Project (PUSPRES), funded to the tune of US$214 million by the International Development Association (IDA), the branch of the World Bank Group that helps low-income countries.
With an initial allocation of US$10 million, this component sought to support participatory decision-making and build social capital to facilitate local recovery. To that end, funding was provided for investments of US$5,000 or less in sectors as diverse as health, education, potable water, agriculture, livestock rearing, fisheries, road rehabilitation and other small-scale works, as well as small-scale processing and transportation.
The program also aimed to improve services in poor rural communities by injecting liquidity into a cash-strapped rural economy, thus helping restore some purchasing power.
“This assistance was critical in a context where millions of Congolese people living in isolated rural communities had been forced to be self-sufficient because of the conflicts,” Mahine Diop, the World Bank project lead. “Poverty in these areas was so acute that bartering had replaced monetary transactions and it was impossible to produce in large quantities due to the lack of markets.”
The town of Isiro is one of many targeted by the project. Here, as elsewhere throughout Orientale province, residents took active part in the selection of the type of activities that should be funded.
Thus residents of the Sele community chose to build a small bridge to replace a precarious assemblage of wooden logs that served as the only way out of their village.
“You had to cross the stream to get to the market, the church, the school, and even the cemetery; so you can imagine the scene in the event of a collapse. Pedestrians, the casket, and bags would all fall into the water,” recalls Sister Anualite, who works for the nonprofit Caritas Isiro. “It was challenging for us to wade through muddy water every time it rained,” concurs Mama Françoise, another resident who uses the bridge frequently.
At Embaneba, a small village located 37 kilometers from Isiro, it is with relief that residents have welcome a newly acquired grain huller. For the 251 households in this village, the machine has made a real difference. Even children now take pleasure in showing off their hands that once were calloused by long periods spent hulling paddy for meals. What once was a two-hour task can now be completed in just about five minutes, they say. Here, too, there is revenue generation: for each kilogram of hulled paddy, the user pays 40 Congolese francs (US$ 0.06). As the community primarily engages in rice, groundnut, green bean, maize, and plantain cultivation, the huller is in constant demand every day.
A steering committee used the revenue generated so far to purchase machetes that were later distributed to each household for farming purposes. “The members of the community have used these machetes to expand the cultivated areas. As a result, rice production has increased,” says Ine, the committee chair.
She adds that money garnered through sales has led to other improvements in the lifestyle of the community. There are now 250 bicycles and nearly 50 motorcycles at Embaneba. Abongayase, the village school principal, says that attendance levels at his school have improved and dropout cases are now rare.
At Modiete, another community that benefits from the project, residents chose to tap a nearby source for water. They also used project funding to buy a hearse, as well as three sewing machines. Local nonprofits teach women how to use the machines at the community center. A fourth machine was bought using proceeds from the sale of clothes sewn here after only three months. “Before the nonprofits gave us their support, I didn’t know how to sew. So I was not gainfully employed. But, with the help of the community center, I have paid my children’s school fees in full this past school year,” Mama Suzanne happily says.
Quest for Sustainability
All told, projects and micro-projects financed by this subcomponent of the PUSPRES project have touched the lives of close to 1.4 million people across 1,977 villages. Taking into account the rural context, the project funded the purchase of 109,572 machetes, 81,355 hoes, 6,889 axes, 38,534 sharpeners, 13,652 spades and shovels, 4,450 rakes, 250 hens, 647 chicks, and 4,483 goats. An increase in planted crop areas, from 0.5 ha to 2.6 ha on average per household, was also noted. The acquisition of 187 hullers, grinders, brick presses, and oil presses has reduced the duration and laboriousness of tasks performed by women and children.
With respect to education, 518 schools have been rehabilitated, 53 new schools built, and 5,497 benches have been made available to schoolchildren. As a result, learning conditions have improved and school enrollment is on the rise.
Likewise, investments made in the provision of water have led to a reduction of water-borne diseases, as well as to improvements of the food supply and diet of beneficiary populations. These improvements will over the long run facilitate children growth.
Tobie Chalondawa, coordinator of the PUSPRES project, rejoices that beneficiary communities have been involved in all aspects of the project. This, he says, will help ensure that the impact of these investments will be felt long after the project has stopped receiving funding from the World Bank. “A number of individual initiatives have been noted in areas where the project is being implemented,” he says. For example, several members of the Bomoloma IV community are using the knowledge provided by a local nonprofit to manufacture artisanal soap. Elsewhere, Chalondawa says, the success of fish ponds has prompted individuals to create their own ponds.
The Emergency Economic and Social Reunification Support Project was approved in September 2003 and funded with a US$50 million credit and a US$164 million grant from IDA. Its objectives are to assist the Congolese government in its efforts to economically and socially reunify the eastern provinces to the rest of the country; and increase access to basic infrastructure and social services in the provinces of Orientale, Maniema, Nord Kivu, Sud Kivu, Nord Equateur, Nord Katanga, and Nord Kasai Oriental.