With over 70% of the Congolese population working in agriculture, the sector has the greatest potential for building the national economy and alleviating poverty. Yet legal constraints and competition from neighbouring countries have caused a decrease in access to quality seeds and consumer confidence. Furthermore, the market linkages to low-income farmers and agribusinesses are minimal, making it difficult for farmers to produce and sell quality crops and for agribusinesses to grow and prosper.
ÉLAN RDC has facilitated, for the first time, a partnership between public research institutes and private organisations to increase commercial seed production.
ÉLAN RDC is also linking agro-suppliers with low-income farmers in order to meet the demand for products, equipment and services in the provinces.
CASE STUDY: ACOMMER
Palm oil is one of the most economically viable perennial crops produced in Equateur province and at least 166,000 small scale farmers in the region are involved in this sector.
These farmers extract the oil without professional equipment and end up selling low-quality oil to traders at a low price. Traders subsequently face high transportation costs, and due to the low quality of the oil, receive low prices when selling the oil in Kinshasa.
ÉLAN RDC developed an integrated and economically viable approach to palm oil production in order to increase small scale farmers’ revenues through access to better extraction technology. We formed a partnership with an agro-processing company operating in Congo called ACOMMER.
The company’s director, Mathieu Nzakimwena, sources parts for his palm oil extractors locally so they are easy to maintain and competitively priced. While producing 200-300 litres of oil per day, far surpassing the 25-50 litres produced by traditional processing methods, ACOMMER's machines are also more energy efficient, consuming lower amounts of diesel/biofuel. Each machine can serve 60-80 hectares of plantation, which is equal to 20-50 small-scale farmers.
Previously Mathieu’s company was only present in Kinshasa and the majority of his clients were NGOs. He found it difficult to expand his services due to a low level of available capital and poor business management. ÉLAN RDC convinced ACOMMER to engage more with the private sector and supported Mathieu to set up an agency in Gemena, Equateur, to offer the sales and maintenance of machines for the processing of agricultural goods.
By providing these services ACOMMER engaged with palm oil traders, who can purchase the machines themselves, while maintaining the current system where farmers can choose to either sell their produce to traders or to pay for it to be processed and keep the oil themselves for domestic consumption or on-selling. Traders would then be motivated to increase the quantity and quality of their oil, so in turn would provide advice or training to the small scale farmers on agricultural practices and post-harvest handling.
By improving knowledge on machines, traders can increase their control of the extraction process, yielding higher quantities of good quality oil to be sold at competitive prices. Higher-qualified work can be created particularly for female farmers who traditionally manage the processing of agricultural goods. The extra time saved by mechanisation can be used to engage in other farming or commercial activities with positive effects on income-generation.
For Mathieu, the new agency will serve to establish him as the principal supplier of agricultural machines in Gemena and as the first point of call for after-sales services, repairs and the supply of spare parts. To kick-start the agency, ÉLAN RDC introduced Mathieu to interested parties and helped develop marketing materials to improve his outreach.
Mathieu said: “It is difficult to get your feet off the ground and to acquire new clients in a new region, but once the first customers have experienced the benefits of working with our machines I believe the message will spread and their associates will follow".
To date, two ACOMMER palm oil extraction machines have been purchased and delivered to two clients in the Gemena region. One to a palm oil trader who works with small-scale producers, the other to the owner of a larger plantation. ÉLAN RDC has engaged a specialist to support the set-up of the machines and to deliver training to agronomists in the area to further increase dynamics in this sector for the future benefit of the smallholders.