Context and challenges

What is your role within the project and the Oxfam team in Dekese?

I work for Oxfam as Manager of the Salonga Rural Agricultural Conservation Project. I am responsible for a team of 18 people here in Dekese and in charge of planning financial resources and equipment. The Oxfam team is made up of a dozen community leaders, agricultural experts and support staff. On a daily basis, I ensure that Oxfam’s standards are met throughout the implementation of our activities.

What are currently the challenges for communities?

The communities around the park – in Oswhe, Dekese, Kole and Lomela – are very isolated compared to other parts of the country. Roads are almost non-existent and economic activities are limited. Therefore, communities are pushed into intense poaching for money. There is a strong demand from urban centres for bushmeat, including protected species and from the ivory trade. This is a real danger, first for these communities because it is illegal and second for the rest of the planet because it brings some species to the brink of extinction.
Indigenous communities in the region are marginalized for cultural and customary reasons. Generations can only access swampy land that is not suitable for agriculture. Arable land is not accessible to them, making them even more dependent on forest products.
I would also add that the communities are experiencing serious health problems, especially because of the river water they consume.

Thierry Tshitundu, Oxfam project manager of the PARCCS project (Agricultural and Rural Project for the Conservation of the Salonga Complex), based in Dekese.

"Nature is the great source from which we draw life and energy. I think it is everyone's duty to participate in its conservation. People must be at the centre of this process."

Pilot farms and the role of women

What is Oxfam’s work in the communities around Salonga National Park?

Oxfam works with communities to support them in environmentally friendly agricultural production. Pilot farms are set up as places where people can learn how to increase productivity. Farmers can then apply this knowledge on their own land.
We also accompany farming communities to get their produce to the main markets. This way, people can earn a cash income and are less dependent on the park’s resources. With the sale of their products, women farmers in particular improve their living conditions and have the opportunity to send their children to school, access health care, and even improve their sources of drinking water.

Can you tell us a bit more about Oxfam’s inclusive approach?

Although women play an important role in agricultural activities, they have few rights in the communities. In our training and activities we aim for equal participation of all genders.

Oxfam promotes women’s initiatives and educates communities on how to reduce child labour in the fields. We also support an advocacy space, the Rural Management Council that we have created with the community. The council was set up to provide consultation and to respond to problems faced by the communities, such as defending their rights against the private sector or the state. In a transparent process, the council already has an agreement on agricultural taxes. Currently, the issue of road accessibility is under discussion in order to reach a satisfactory solution that encourages the participation of public services (the State) supported by farmers’ organisations.

»Although women play an important role in agricultural activities, they have few rights in the communities. In our training and activities we aim for equal participation of all genders.«
Thierry Tshitundu

Impacts and next steps

What are the most significant impacts of Oxfam’s work so far?

So far, I would say that the greatest impact is the awakening of the associative spirit and community dynamics in the context of agricultural activities. Now, farmers’ organizations and local development committees are better structured. In associations, the work of farmers is less arduous. Messages to raise awareness about nature conservation are well received. In the first year, our activities around the 3041 households in Dekese have already been carried out. In the first short agricultural season of 2018, 90.600 tons of cassava, maize, rice and groundnuts were produced.

What are the next steps?

We are now developing public-private partnerships and preparing for the production of the big season. For example, we have developed a partnership with a company that is an expert in the installation of palm groves. This company will provide training to communities that wish to become more professionally involved in palm oil production. They will then be able to sell the palm oil produced back to the company.

Another partnership is underway with a company in the rubber sector.

Training is planned to strengthen the capacity of the cooperatives in processing agricultural products and stock management to ensure a good distribution of sales over time, taking into account household needs and planning for the next season.

Other training will cover road maintenance and the construction of storage facilities for agricultural products. We are also working on an agricultural recovery plan that allows communities to know their production levels and yields in order to improve their results from one season to the next.

»A successful sustainable development project must be designed to meet the expectations of the beneficiary communities. From the beginning, we invite everyone to think about the problems they face and to understand the underlying causes. Communities are actively involved in finding alternative solutions to their problems. Only true ownership of solutions will lead to greater resilience.«
Thierry Tshitundu