BRAZZAVILLE, June 26, 2017 – Didas Ngono plunges his naked arms again and again, delicately, in the milky and thick pulp of cocoa beans, to the top of his elbows, in a circular to-and-fro motion. He stops a minute to get his breath back, then resumes. “That is the last and most difficult stage in the process,” he explains, perspiring, once the task is over. “If you don’t carry out each stage properly, you may lose the entire batch.” Didas Ngono is one of the 360 beneficiaries of the Forestry and Economic Diversification Project (FEDP) financed by the Congolese Government and the World Bank. Support from the project enabled him to develop his first, 5-hectare cocoa plantation in the forest surrounding the urban community of Pokola, approximately 1,000 km to the north of Brazzaville, in the department of Sangha. This 42-year-old farmer has impressively succeeded in setting up his cocoa plantation and managing the cocoa beans fermentation phase in only two years. “The FEDP offered me technical training in cocoa farming, and provided me with plowing equipment and cocoa seedlings. That is how I was able to obtain my first, 700-kilogram harvest of cocoa pods. I have now gone on to the cocoa beans fermentation phase.” Paul Mbouti, another grower in the area, has been able to expand his cocoa plantation from 6 hectares to 8 hectares thanks to the FEDP. Moreover, the provision of seedlings of banana and fruit trees, particularly lemon, butterfruit and avocado trees, enabled him to diversify his production. The banana trees, which offer temporary shade to the cocoa trees, are the source of a considerable supplement to his income. Actually, it is the sale of the banana produce, available six months after planting, that allowed Paul to recruit three people to help maintain the farm. “With my small agroforestry business, I created environment-friendly jobs that ensure the livelihood of at least three families, in addition to my own,” he proudly states. It is precisely such social development leverage that the FEDP seeks to generate. The Project aims to build the capacities of forest administration, the local communities and the indigenous population by encouraging sustainable and participatory forest management. In October 2015, the Project, launched in March 2013, signed a partnership agreement with Congolaise industrielle des bois (CIB)-Olam, a private logging and wood processing and marketing venture. This agreement was designed to promote income-generating activities for the local communities. Four years after the Project’s inception, the impact of the FEDP is noticeable in its two main areas of action, the departments of Sangha and Likouala. The financing of 885 micro-projects in fields as varied as beekeeping, afforestation and agroforestry favors economic diversification and environmental protection. These micro-projects have thus contributed to improving the households’ standard of living. Roger Mobandzo, CIB-Olam regional coordinator for cocoa in northern Congo, is categorical: ‘Pokola was not a cocoa production area as it is now, with a developed land surface of approximately 2,700 hectares used for the cultivation of cocoa. People who knew cocoa only by name now use their own cocoa pods to carry out their own cocoa beans fermentation, thanks to the training that they have received.” The story of Colette Aya, a cocoa farmer in the district of Kabo at approximately 130 kilometers from Pokola, sounds similar: “I had heard that, at the time of our grandparents, cocoa farming ensured retirement on good terms. Now that we engage in that work ourselves, we see the results and find them increasingly convincing.” Moreover, cocoa is clearly a crop that offers perennial protection against recurring environmental hazards in the region, notably in connection with the cohabitation of man and fauna. “Elephants constantly ravaged our cassava plantations for food,” explains Collette. “Cocoa, however, does not interest them.” The project places great emphasis on communication. Michel Ndabela, a young grower in the village of Bène, was designated by his peers to collect and transmit any complaints. “The FEDP provided us with cell phones to allow the growers to report any difficulties that they encounter to the Project management unit in Brazzaville,” he explains as he sets up the phones. That simple arrangement enabled the project to closely follow the beneficiaries’ activities and to adjust its action to the growers’ specific needs. This is how cocoa farming is being revitalized step by step in the Sangha department. Roger Mobandzo is certain of the success: “Once you’ve dived in the water, you’re no longer reticent about getting wet. We have committed to cocoa farming, and now have no choice but to succeed.” Support for forest management is also an important component of the Project, which has improved working conditions for 2,556 employees by rehabilitating decentralized administration buildings and providing technical, computer and audiovisual equipment. Moreover, 931 management staff members, or approximately 68 percent of the personnel of the Project’s supervising public authority, were provided with technical and data-processing equipment and relevant training. Lastly, the provision of 33 vehicles, 118 motor bikes and 30 boats improved the mobility of the staff of Water and Forests departmental units. As a result, the revenue of those decentralized services increased tenfold and the relevant activities on the ground became more effective. Funded with US$32.6 million, of which US$22.6 million was contributed by the Government and US$10 million by the World Bank, the FEDP took up the challenge to promote community action in forest areas with a view to diversifying the Congolese economy and reducing its dependence on oil products.
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