Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dr Congo : Lets add land reform into a civil war equation.

A roadside in Masisi territory.  All around are green hills, lush pastures for herds of cattle.

The VOA team here is discussing how to get the cattle to make a noise. You may have heard one cow there but the rest are just contentedly grazing on this unfenced, seemingly boundless grassland.  But some of the neighbors are not so happy with this state of affairs - like this smallholder farmer who asked for his name to be withheld.

He says the number of cattle in the area has increased because large farmers have bought up the surrounding hills for pasture.  He went on to say that it’s difficult for local people to find anywhere to grow their crops.

It would be interesting to know the quality of the cattle, I am making the assumption that they are beef beasts. If there is a dairy industry then it has made huge strides since 2002. In cattle an emphasis on the quality of the herd is usually far more important than an emphasis on quantity where profitability is concerned.  

Milk yields and proportion of dairy animals

Milk yield (kg/year) 
               1980  1990   2000  2002 

Cattle 838  848   825  833

Traveling around this area one notices an odd feature of the landscape.  The plains and valleys, and where the hills rise to a plateau, all areas suitable for growing crops, have been taken for pasture.

That is a major concern meat commands premium prices in  the context of the current anarchy. Add to this the looming food crisis facing sub Saharan Africa and issues that the world faces with regard to food security and the importance of arable cropping land takes on a new focus.

Most of the cultivated areas are on steep slopes.  And those slopes are eroding fast.  Farming advisers say that after a few agricultural seasons they should be left fallow for ten years, but they aren’t.

If it isn't sustainable it isn't farming. It sounds glib but it is a hard reality.

This territory of Masisi is where land conflict first turned into ethnic war in North and South Kivu provinces.  Nearly 20 years ago fighting broke out between the agriculturalists and the ranchers, and many of the cattle were killed.  But since then the ranchers have expanded their territory.

Farmers’ organizations met at a forum in the North Kivu provincial capital Goma this month, to discuss land shortage and land law.

In some ways I am struggling a bit with this. Goma as any reader of this blog would know is at the centre of a huge armed standoff that could revert to civil war in an instant. However that observation aside this issue is one that needs solving.

The speaker is listing the land problems in Masisi.  A major problem, he says, is the competition between agriculturalists and ranchers, and one sign of that are the herders, or cowboys, carrying guns.

Is anyone not carrying weapons in the DR Congo ? I guess just another layer of complication in an already complicated situation.

One of the small farmer representatives from Masisi was Augustin Munyanziza.

OK I can accept that but updating the legal code will do nothing with regard to the security situation. Fiddling while Rome burns springs to mind.

Peasant famers’ rights to their land are based on custom, meaning recognition by their traditional chiefs.  They often have no written documents granting them land rights, and if they do, the documents were usually granted by the chief, and are not recognized by the law.  This can be quite convenient for the chief if he wants to sell the land to someone else.

The land law, which was last updated in 1973, says customary rights to land will be defined by a presidential decree, but that decree has never been issued.

Well that if nothing else sounds normal. " Where sanity ends the Congo begins " .

Oumar Syllah is advising the government on changes to the land law.

"We need to think about how we can have a kind of democratic system for access to land. Right now we have military involvement and influential people involved, which is not in favor of local communities," he said.

​​The organizers of the three-day forum in Goma earlier this month have yet to circulate a clear statement of what was agreed as farmers’ recommendations for land law reform.  In a newspaper article they said it was agreed that the new law should recognize documents given to farmers by traditional chiefs.

That could potentially massively complicate things.

A farmers’ representative at the forum, Safari Gasimba, said that that recommendation should go further.

He said if they are going to lobby for legal recognition for documents issued by chiefs, they should at the same time lobby for democratization at the local level, as laid down in the constitution, so that chiefs will be advised by representatives elected by the local community.

Which of course is another way of moving the chiefs into a ceremonial role. They are going to love that idea. 

The chiefs’ authority is increasingly being challenged in North Kivu, and especially in Masisi, where population movements have meant that many inhabitants no longer recognize the traditional chiefs as their clan leaders.

Is there really in the modern world a place for tribalism ?

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