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Farmers in DRC learn new techniques as fertilizer costs rise

Justine Lumbwe Konde has used skills from a Feed the Future program to decrease her dependence on fertilizer, fight pests and increase her community’s crop yield.

Justine Lumbwe Konde photo

Justine Lumbwe Konde in her maize field. Photo Credit: Thierry Bikuba / Land O’Lakes Venture37

Justine Lumbwe Konde witnessed the impact of fall armyworm on her small farm in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which was recently announced as a new Feed the Future target country. Fall armyworm, an invasive and damaging pest particularly to maize, ravaged Konde’s farm. Determined to find solutions to protect her vital staple crops, Konde joined a farmer field school organized by the Feed the Future DRC Fall Armyworm Activity led by Land O’Lakes Venture37. The school, which works with communities across the DRC, teaches local farmers new techniques to mitigate harvest loss as a result of this pest.

At the school, Konde learned how to observe maize crops for fall armyworm eggs, an approach called scouting, as well as other techniques such as hand removal, safe use of pesticide, or a neem or pepper extract to mitigate the pests’ damage to maize plants.

Since implementing the techniques she’s learned, Konde has controlled these pests on her farm. With good agricultural practices like these, Konde can grow healthy maize free from pests and make the most of fertilizer she has to grow her crops – especially important with rising fertilizer costs due to supply disruptions as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The farmer field school supports local farmers to stay resilient in the face of shocks.

This sense of empowerment grows in Konde’s farming community.

“When other people see what we are doing on our individual plots, and see we learned this from the farmer field school, they join directly because they are encouraged, given the increase of our maize yields,” Konde said.

FOCUSED FARMERS

Jean-Paul Nshombo, who oversees the project to support farmer field schools, said that since 2021, the school has worked with nearly 6,000 farmers in the DRC.

André Kitengie Yatshimbu in his maize field.

André Kitengie Yatshimbu in his maize field. Photo Credit: Thierry Bikuba / Land O’Lakes Venture37

Promoting better agricultural practices that increase harvests with fewer resources like land, fertilizer and seeds, especially in the face of threats like climate change, have been a high priority for the school.

Fertilizer prices in the DRC more than doubled from $30 to $80 for one 330-pound bag since the beginning of the year, he said.

“Now as fertilizer prices are very high, the simple practices are helping [farmers] to maintain and increase maize yields,” Nshombo said.

To spread the word about the benefits of participating in farmer field schools, instructors initially introduce the program to community leaders, such as village chiefs, who then select someone to act as a community facilitator as well as use the radio to promote the program locally.

Nshombo pointed to another example of a farmer who worked with a school, using what he learned to increase his maize yield from 400 to 1,000 pounds of food on his five-acre farm.

SOWING SEEDS, SPREADING KNOWLEDGE

Meanwhile, Konde’s farm has grown from a little under one acre to 17 acres of maize, allowing her to produce more for her family and community, and make extra income to support her children’s schooling.

Konde now has a passion for sharing her farming knowledge, speaking about what she’s learned from the farmer field school to nearby churches and her peers. Konde also uses her own plots to demonstrate to others what she has learned.

“My role is now to spread the information among other farmers in my village,” Konde said, “To unite us in knowledge.”

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