Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Integrated land use planning

One of the many State-building weaknesses of Congolese authorities and their international partners is the total absence of an integrated land use strategy. One blatant bit of proof is the allocation of mining and oil concessions within protected areas; another is the lack of effort to reconnect the fragmented national territory through an integrated road and rail network.

Agriculture, forests, energy and water tend to be viewed by policy-makers and development experts as distinct challenges: an integrated (sometimes referred to as holistic or systemic) approach is practically non-existent. This is one of the main issues discussed in Congo’s Environmental Paradox. The policy landscape relating to these sectors is covered by vertical silos with few horizontal connections.

There are however a few counter examples: USAID’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) has designed and adopted an ambitious ‘landscape’ approach and the European Commission is pursuing an integrated conservation management strategy in and around the Virunga National Park. USAID implemented its Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDPs) approach in Africa in the 1980s but with limited results.

More broadly however, efforts to improve the sustainable management of Congo’s forests focus on the forest sector sensu stricto. This is necessary but not enough because sustainable use of forests can only be achieved by looking beyond the sector itself. There are inevitable linkages between forests, water, energy (ranging from cooking charcoal to the mega Inga hydroelectric dam) and agriculture.

Deforestation throughout the Congo Basin and in the DRC in particular is driven by specific human activities (agricultural practices, the development of roads and cutting down trees) and social processes (demographic growth, urbanization, trade, governance and culture). All of these causes and processes are interconnected.

The underdevelopment of hydroelectric capacity causes deforestation and therefore contributes to climate change. Food insecurity in the DRC clearly stems from production and transportation weaknesses but there are other causes too. Artisanal mining is one example because it has tempted large numbers of farmers to trade their hoes and machetes for picks and shovels.

Inadequate transportation infrastructure, like the energy deficit, is a cross-cutting problem with negative implications for land, forests and water management. This pertains to difficulties in getting crops from field to market and timber from forest to sawmill or port.

Resolving ambiguous land tenure systems is an institutional challenge is something that no Congolese government has been willing or able to tackle. The conflicting logics that oppose customary views of land ownership with those the State appear to be intractable. Coming to grips with this conflict is also a social challenge because forests are embedded in social contexts that influence how and why people use, depend upon and exploit other resources, such as agricultural land and water.

This is just one more urgent priority that the government and opposition groups should be discussing in the months ahead of electoral deadlines.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Congo's underdeveloped agriculture sector

Political discussions in and about the Congo continue to be off track. The crucial debate about how to feed the hungry is completely absent from the political agenda - from both the government and opposition sides. Once an exporter of food, the DRC now grows too little to meet even the basic nutritional needs of its citizens. Congolese are amongst the hungriest people on earth today. Food production increases at a slower annual rate (2%) than demographic growth (3%). Only ten percent of Congo’s 800,000 square kilometres of arable land (a surface area larger than France and the United Kingdom combined) is under cultivation.

Congo could feed over a billion people – or the equivalent of approximately the entire African continent. But the gap between potential and development in the agricultural sector is striking. Historically this wasn’t the case. Although achieved at an exorbitant social cost, the Belgian Congo could boast a number of real accomplishments in the agricultural sector.

- Agricultural exports represented 39% of total exports in the late 1950s, down to practically zero today.
- Congo grew more cotton than any other African country.
- It was the world’s leading exporter of palm oil following World War II.
- Unilever, the world’s third largest consumer goods company after Proctor & Gamble and Nestlé, owed much of its early success to the Lever Brothers’ palm oil concession in Bandundu Province. It was established in 1911 to provide the raw material for their soap making factories in England.
- The Yangambi agricultural research institute in the heart of the country’s tropical rainforest was a world-renowned centre of excellence in the 1950s.
- The production of quinine, the only known cure for malaria, is closely associated with the microclimate of the South Kivu highlands.

The productivity of food production has declined steadily since the early 1960s. This is the case for subsistence farming and cash crops. As Congolese agricultural capacity deteriorated, other countries have been revolutionizing their food production strategies and boosting productivity rates. It has, therefore, become cheaper to feed Kinshasa with imported rice (primarily from Thailand, Vietnam and India) than produce and transport it from the hinterland. The same can be said for Malaysian cooking oil or American chicken wings. Local production cannot compete with these cheap imports.

Reliance on imports is a major economic problem but it is an even greater social calamity because no other sector could put as many people to work as food production and processing.

Economic policies that encouraged capital accumulation through agricultural exploitation were abandoned after independence. They gave way to a lack of vision that continues today. The beginning of the downward spiral came with the wave of Mobutu nationalizations in 1973. The lootings of the early 1990s and the two wars that shattered lives and the economy from 1996 to 2001 had devastating effects on production and ranching. President Laurent-Désiré Kabila never really had the opportunity to promote agriculture because much of his time at the helm of the nation was devoted to the war effort - and making shady deals in the mining sector to pay for it. President Joseph Kabila has also focused on mining without encouraging the government or investors to give adequate attention to food production. There has also been insufficient investment in agricultural research and training. The misguided tax system privileges imports instead of local production. The inexorable disintegration of transport infrastructure and poor distribution networks exacerbate these problems.

As the country emerged from war, Congo’s international partners funded all kinds of state-building initiatives but they also neglected agriculture. With so many other urgencies to address, their focus was on reform of the security sector, economy and public finance, improved governance and rule of law and the physical rehabilitation of infrastructure. Some important donors such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the European Commission do however have specific projects targeting improved food security. Others, like the Belgian Technical Cooperation fund initiatives that benefit farmers such as work on rehabilitating rural feeder roads. In the past decade, international partners have spent between $100 million and $150 million per year on agriculture. For reasons of comparison, the United Nations peacekeeping and stabilization operation in Congo (MONUSCO) costs $1.5 billion per year.

President Joseph Kabila signed into law a new Agricultural Code in December 2011 (Loi portent principes fondamentaux relatifs à l’agriculture) which responded to a serious policy gap. Congo had lacked a comprehensive agricultural policy framework for several decades, just as it did in other sectors such as mining and forestry. In an attempt to address this policy vacuum, the Code sets outs general guidelines. Its stated purpose is to promote and increase agricultural production to ensure food security and rural development. Provisions apply to food production, training and research, taxation and customs, financing, marketing and environmental protection. It does not, however, apply to livestock, fisheries and aquaculture, which undermines its capacity to deal sufficiently with food security issues.

Application of the law is contingent upon two prerequisites. One is respect for the decentralisation process outlined in the Constitution. Agricultural policy, according to the law, must be implemented at the national, provincial and local levels, involving stakeholders from the government, civil society and the private sector. But decentralization has not been given adequate political attention and is on hold. This has direct negative consequences for the implementation of the agriculture law. The second problem pertains to the slow progress made in elaborating the law’s operational by-laws. They are needed to stipulate funding and taxation issues and rights and responsibilities of the different stakeholders. The general framework is not enough to meet targets without these by-laws.

Although the government signed the Maputo Declaration in 2003, it has devoted only between one and two percent of the national budget to the sector in recent years. The little money that is available in this envelope is largely spent on salaries in Kinshasa with minimal trickle down into the field. More than 95% of state-employed agronomists and veterinarians work in Kinshasa or provincial capitals. Like the forest and water sectors, agriculture is far from being a real priority for key decision makers in Congo today. The absence of government funding is one indicator. The fact that Parliament does not have a permanent agricultural commission is another.

On the institutional landscape, there is an overall lack of professionalism and capacity in terms of human resources and material. Government offices responsible for agricultural priorities are under-funded, under-staffed and in need of competent experts with up-to-date professional skills and vision. They also lack data management systems and basic equipment such as filing cabinets, copiers and computers, let alone Internet access.

An additional hurdle is the number of Ministries involved in managing the sector. The Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Rural Development, the Ministry of Environment Conservation, Water and Forests, the Ministry of Scientific and Technological Research and the Ministry of Women and the Family all share rural development and agricultural responsibilities. In theory, the Ministry of Planning coordinates the financing of these five ministries but is, in reality, overwhelmed with other urgencies. The problem here is that when priorities are supposed to be dealt with by multiple partners, responsibility essentially lies with none - so no one really does anything. There is an absence of coordination, tasks get passed on to someone else, disagreements arise over costs and there tends to be a generalized absence of accountability and ownership.

These priorities need to be addressed in public debate by the government and opposition politicians before they can be taken seriously.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Congo’s natural resource development hostage to electoral politics

It won’t be a surprise to anyone if the presidential elections slated to take place the end of this year don’t take place. Not a surprise but certainly a disappointment; especially to opposition politicians, ordinary Congolese and some Western partners who have stuck their necks out voicing the importance of rule of law and democratic process.

President Joseph Kabila doesn’t care what the Constitution says about two mandates and will cling to power as long as he can. Some analysts consider he will more likely be assassinated than walk away from power voluntarily. Why? Because he controls access to substantial natural resources; so the incentive to remain at the top of the pyramid is strong.

Legal instruments relating to the mining and oil sectors (designed with international advisory – mainly World Bank) put him at the top of the decision-making process. His signature is needed in the awarding of exploitation concessions in these sectors. 

Oil is the country’s third most important export earner (after copper and cobalt). Global Witness has reported frightening stories involving Kabila, Dan Gertler and the Congolese oil business.

Mineral exports may have slumped in the past year, negatively impacting export earnings. But Congo’s resource base is resilient and will bounce back. One indicator is China’s increasing control of cobalt supply chains and investments in DRC. About half of the world’s cobalt comes from Katanga and demand is going to increase as automotive manufacturers from Teslar to General Motors increase production of electric batteries. Cobalt is necessary to build them.

Some natural resource sectors are more sensitive to the political context than others. Last month the World Bank suspended financing to an Inga 3 technical assistance project. The underdevelopment of energy capacity is a major driver of deforestation.

The Belgian Federal Parliament, also last month, adopted a resolution to freeze direct aid to Kinshasa if elections aren’t held. Belgian projects in the agriculture, conservation and infrastructure sectors would consequently be put on hold.

US Senators Richard Durbin, Edward Markey and Christopher Murphy introduced a Senate resolution calling on Kabila's government to fulfil its constitutional mandate for a democratic transition while calling for targeted sanctions such as visa bans and asset freezes.

Opposition candidates/Kabila rivals like Etienne Tshisekedi and Moise Katumbi are preoccupied with getting into the Presidential palace but have been relatively silent about their macro-economic and social programs. 

They should be called upon to outline their strategies for regaining sovereignty over the Congo’s natural resource base.