A walk through the past and the future of Congolese rice: an interview with Ivan Godfroid. RIKOLTO website. [Rikolto (a Belgian NGO) ag value chain article that briefly notes their work with SRI and ISFM in DR Congo.]


Food security in the DRC affects 26% of the population. According to the IPC 2022 report, “the DRC has the largest number of people suffering from food insecurity in the world.” What role does the rice value chain play in the fight against food insecurity?

Rice consumption has evolved considerably. 50 years ago, rice was hardly ever consumed except during festive occasions. Today, rice is the second-most produced cereal at national level and its consumption doesn’t stop rising. The population of cities such as Bukavu, Goma or Butembo is rapidly growing, with up to a 10% increase per year. Unfortunately, the people rely on fragile food systems due to the following interrelated macro-level issues:

  • In rice-exporting countries, cities are expanding, reducing the hectares of cultivable land.
  • Only 6-9% of the world’s rice production is dedicated to export, meaning that a reduction of 1 or 2 percentage points due to production shortages and increased domestic demand would have a massive impact on rice availability in importing countries.
  • Congolese local markets are strongly orientated towards foreign markets, and local production can’t meet the demand.
  • Climate change is strongly affecting farmers. The alternation of increasingly frequent floods and droughts is detrimental to their harvests.

Stronger actions need to be undertaken to strengthen local food systems and develop short value chains in the fight against food insecurity. A growing urban market is a big opportunity to increase farmers’ living income while ensuring access for a large number of consumers to sustainable, affordable and nutritious rice. The opportunity needs to be seized.

In your opinion, what is the biggest added value of Rikolto?

Rikolto is strongly committed to the dynamic it creates. The duration of our support is not determined by the duration of the donor funding: we build long-lasting relationships between and among the actors we collaborate with. For instance, the Bralima brewery has been sourcing its paddy from our partner farmers’ organisations locally since 2010. Their business relationship has resulted in greater access to seasonal credits and better incomes for farmers. However, Bralima’s volume requirement is limited to 3,000 tons and the rice is exclusively used to produce beer. To ensure the sustainability of our interventions and provide consumers with nutritious and affordable food, we’ve broadened our reach, acting on several fronts:

  • We look for new markets and business opportunities in growing cities.
  • We invest in mechanisation to increase the quality and production capacity of farmers’ cooperatives, reduce production costs per tonne as well as to create new job opportunities, primarily targeting young people.
  • We foster the local production of organic fertilisers to face shortages caused by shocks like the Covid-19 pandemic or the war in Ukraine.
  • We support the development of new kinds of food based on rice by-products. For instance, we have developed recipes with a local university, to turn broken rice into final added value products. Our vision is to accompany the birth of small and medium-sized enterprises led by women and young people and to create new off-farm job opportunities.
  • To improve farmers’ resilience to climate change, we promote an optimal water management in combination with sustainable agricultural practices like ISFM. The Integrated Soil Fertility Management ensures a high level of organic matter in the soil for a better retention of fertilisers and humidity.
  • We strive to develop a collaborative environment for cooperation and create incentives for all actors in the value chain.

For the first time this year, the national government has increased the budget allocated to agriculture. However, historically it has always remained below 2% although 70% of the employed population is engaged in agriculture (USAID). What is the power of influence of Rikolto and its partners over public institutions?

As Rikolto, we are a partner of AfricaRice, a pan-African Centre of Excellence for rice research which has supported several African governments in formulating a national strategy for rice development. The first Congolese national rice strategy was very ambitious, but its implementation never saw the light of day due to a lack of funding and national ownership. An updated version, to which Rikolto has also contributed, has now been finalised and the same errors should be avoided. Because of a lack of political willpower at national level, as well as agriculture being a decentralised policy component, we have been focusing on strengthening linkages with provincial public institutions. Despite political instabilities, there is room for moving an agenda for change forward.

We have established strategic relationships at provincial level where implementation units for the PICAGL project were set up. Moreover, Rikolto is one of the founding members of AgriCongo, an informal network of NGOs supporting federations of farmers’ organisations at provincial level to join their advocacy efforts through CONAPAC, the national confederation of farmers’ producers. For instance, CONAPAC recently succeeded in promoting the constitution of a fund for agricultural development through taxes on imported food products in two provinces. The challenge now will be to also ensure the full implementation of these provincial funds.

If you could launch an appeal to the actors of the rice chain, what would it be? And to whom would you address it?

The new national rice development strategy, as mentioned before, has finally been formulated. International and African experts have revised the document and given their precious input. In March 2023, several years after the beginning of the revision process, a national validation workshop has been organised, with CONAPAC representing the organised farmers’ movement. The next challenge will be to translate the strategy into a concrete action plan, make sure appropriate funding is available, including from DRC’s national budget, and take accountability for its implementation at provincial and local levels.

Can you suggest a book to our readers who may wish to explore this complex and fascinating country?

I have three recommendations:

  • “Congo” by David Van Reybrouck. The book is also an anecdote: to welcome every new colleague in our DRC team, we present them with a copy of this magnificent account of Congolese history.
  • The Belgian-Congolese magazine “Beauté Congo”. Along with a rightful decolonisation movement, it offers a common ground for new forms of collaboration between two countries sharing a long history. This magazine unveils the beauties of Congo through the contributions of Belgian and Congolese artists and writers.
  • The newly-published book “Congo, peuples et forêts”, written by Alain Huart. His lifetime experience as an agronomist in Congo has enabled him to make this an impressively well-documented account of challenges and hopes for rural Congo.

Photo credits – hero picture: Isabel Corthier

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