In Dekese, a small town in the Sankuru province, Oxfam supports local people to improve their small-scale farming practices. One of the associations and farmers’ groups benefitting from this support is the AVLP: Association of Volunteers in the Fight against Poverty.
The AVLP has a particular characteristic: the 30 members of the association are all former poachers who have swapped their gun for the hoe and spade.
What motivated this radical change?
Donatien Nathanael Tshikala Ndjondo, also called Nado, is the president of the association. He recounts his past as a hunter.
“It was my father who taught me to hunt. I was very famous in my village and I killed all sorts of animals. But it is a life full of danger,” says Donatien who knows hunters who have been arrested for poaching and that engaging in illegal activities and fleeing into the forest at night is dangerous. “In 2017, I met Oxfam officials who were raising awareness about hunting in the Salonga National Park. I was convinced by their explanations and I followed the sessions they were organising on agriculture. Together with other poachers, we realised that this was a very interesting alternative option for earning a living.”
Donatien Nathanael Tshikala is proud of his new lifestyle and urges hunters he meets to follow suit.
Donatien proudly explains how the support he received from Oxfam changed his life: “The guidance we received allows us to cultivate our fields successfully. We are planting cassava, rice and black-eyed peas. In 2018 and 2019 Oxfam organised two boat trips to help farmers sell their agricultural products in Kinshasa. With the money from the sale I was able to buy a new house: I now live in a house covered with metal sheets instead of thatch. I also bought a motorbike and radio equipment.”
Donatien humorously shows off his clothes: “When I was a poacher, I couldn’t imagine wearing nice clothes. This is a result of my conversion to agriculture.”
Donatien emphasises that he urges the hunters he meets to give up hunting. He explains: “We have hunted animals intensively for years. Now poachers are entering Salonga National Park more and more to find game, and hunting in the park is illegal. We didn’t know the role of the forest and it is thanks to Oxfam and WWF that we now understand why it is important to preserve nature.
When I compare my life when I was roaming the forests looking for game with my life now, the contrast is very big: in reality we were not really winning. The amount of money we got was rather small, even though we never ran out of meat to eat.”
Donatien takes great pride in what he can do now with farming and insists that he would never go back to his old job as a hunter!
»We realised that this [agriculture] was a very interesting alternative option for earning a living.«