By Jane Okoth
Millions of people around the world still face the challenges of food security and malnutrition. One of the main targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2 of Zero Hunger is to ensure sustainable food production and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity.
On the west side of Lake Mai Ndombe is an indigenous forest community that is part of the Wildlife Works Mai Ndombe REDD+ Project. The area protects over 740,000 acres of rainforest, which is home to chimpanzees, bonobos and forest elephants, and includes some of the most important wetlands in the world.
Despite the rich biodiversity of the region, the community still suffers from lack of food and water, education, and infrastructure, among others. Food insecurity has been one of the major issues affecting the indigenous community living in the area and it is not just about sufficient food production and availability, it is also about the poor quality or nutritional value of the food.
According to Francine Mbonsimba, an Agronomist at Wildlife Works, because the community lives close to the lake, they have a diet that is high in fish causing a problem with food balance. In addition, farmers in the area predominantly grow and sell cassava, a land-intensive crop with little nutritional value. Cassava also reduces nitrogen from the soil and requires a new plot of land to be cleared each year.
In response to these challenges, Wildlife Works launched a community agronomy training program on diverse agricultural practices using demonstration fields and gardens. The main aim is to co-design solutions for farmers to diversify crops, improve health, and increase revenue, as well as minimize the slash and burn agriculture methods.
The program has been teaching the community techniques to produce alternative crops by preparing and planting nurseries and then distributing crop seedlings such as onions, tomatoes, celery, cabbage, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant to villages. These fruits and vegetables contain more vitamins and minerals, and have been crucial in improving food security and wellbeing for the local community. As a result, the demonstration fields and gardens have allowed the community to maximize improved yields of the cultivated varieties. The training has also led to an introduction of rearing livestock in the area, as well as sustainable fish farming to reduce the depletion of lake resources.
For Francine, the training has had a significant impact on women. “The training has been much more important for women because we are mostly involved with farming while the men are concerned about fishing,” she says. According to Francine, there’s potential to improve processing cassava tubers into fufu, a popular African dish that is served with vegetable, beef or chicken soup.
All these initiatives are decided upon based on by community-led decision-making processes and funded by carbon revenues. They believe that this training will go a long way in reducing dependency on the lake or clearing forest for agriculture, while also ensuring farmers get enough nutritious yields.