Congo

Congo: US $325,000 to introduce rice dehusking technology

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BRAZZAVILLE, 7 March (IRIN) - Rice dehusking technology worth about US $325,000 is to be introduced in the Republic of Congo (ROC) in an effort to promote local production and consumption of rice, thereby improving the nation's precarious state of food security and nutrition.
The initiative is a collaborative effort by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the ROC government and various NGOs. As part of the UN country plan in the ROC for 2003-2004, it will focus on four rice-producing districts: Mossendjo in Niari Region, Kindamba in Pool Region, Ewo in Cuvette-Ouest Region and Boko-Songho in Bouenza Region. The programme will also support the training of unemployed youths in the application of the technology.

After manioc, rice is the second-most important food consumed in the ROC. However, the entire estimated 25,000 mt consumed annually is imported, according to the agriculture ministry.

"These imports totalled more than 20,000 mt in 1988, meaning that we have had to allocate financial resources to meet needs in an agricultural domain for which we largely possess the capacity to produce for ourselves," Martin Okogna, a representative of the planning ministry, told IRIN.

The plundering of various rice seed reserves at the Loudima Agronomic Research Centre (Centre de recherche agronomique de Loudima) and the destruction of seed stocks at the Centre for the Promotion of Agricultural Technology (Centre de vulgarisation des techniques agricoles) during the civil wars of the 1990s largely reduced national capacities in the rice-growing sector.

Following an end to hostilities in late 1999, the ROC government, with the support of FAO and the US, initiated a programme to resuscitate the rice-growing sector. However, the absence of equipment for removing husks from rice has until now remained a major constraint.

The country's agricultural production has remained low due to widespread conflict and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in the past decade in the highly productive central region, thereby increasing the nation's reliance on imported food.

Food security has deteriorated considerably in zones of conflict, and inhabitants of these regions have seen their food reserves depleted.

Today, roughly 32 percent of Congolese suffer from hunger. In September 2002, Jacques Diouf, head of the FAO, announced the launch of a major nationwide food security programme to strengthen the capacities of farmers, herders and fishermen to increase the output of food for personal use, with any surplus to be sold commercially.

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