“When I worked as farmhand, I would earn 50 cents a day. I’ve been fishing since I was a kid, but only with a simple fishing rod, because I couldn’t afford anything more.”
Charles Livingstone is a father of seven kids. He’s the president of the Pygmy community in Idjwi, a land of green hills surrounded by the fresh waters of Lake Kivu in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He’s one of many on the island fighting for survival with modest means.
At once beautiful and isolated, the island of Idjwi faces a number of social and environmental challenges.
The densely-populated area has a struggling economy and few functional social services, leaving the majority unemployed or, as in the case of Charles, with poor job prospects. More than 80 percent of its inhabitants work in the informal sector, living off agriculture, fishing and farming.
Despite its isolation, or perhaps because of it, the territory is known as a haven of peace in eastern DRC. Idjwi has often welcomed refugees fleeing violence, as with the survivors of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. But the resulting overpopulation has led to vast deforestation of the island. Soil erosion is now impacting crop yields; malnutrition plagues many families.
Since the beginning of 2015, the proliferation of plant diseases has seriously compromised the harvest of main staple foods, such as bananas and cassava. Food insecurity is a constant threat.
Everybody knows how to fish in Idjwi. Most families on the island have at least one member who goes fishing regularly. Yet, this doesn’t necessarily translate into income.
The situation is even more dire for the indigenous Pygmy community, who often work for the Bantu populations without recognized access to land or basic services like education or health.
An UNDP initiative on the island created six fishing crews with full supplies. The teams employ Bantu and Pygmy fishermen together, generating jobs while creating opportunities for social cohesion.
Charles: “Before, there was a lot of tension and misunderstanding. Now we eat and work with the Bantou. The more we work and fish together, the better off we both are.”
When a team of 11 fishermen goes fishing, they earn around US$80. Twenty-five percent goes to the cooperative; another 25 percent to the amortization of their equipment. The remaining 50 percent, as well as some of the catch, is divided among the members of the team and their families. Charles now earns approximately $2 per day, a modest sum but four times what he made as a farmhand.
Despite an abundance of pineapple fields on the island, pineapple juice is imported. That’s because until recently there was no capacity for local production.
That’s set to change with a new pineapple juice production facility. The unit is part of an ongoing effort to generate more jobs and income in the community. Now, not only families raising pineapples have access to an income, but young people are also getting a chance to build their skills.
With a production capacity at 2,000 litres per hour, Idjwi’s pineapple juice might just be the next big thing on the market.
Turkey farming is another specialty of the island.
Many women and men across the remote villages on the island raise poultry. Until recently, though, the isolation of the territory meant that farmers had a hard time seeing profits from their labour.
Now, with a farming cooperative centre built close to the island's harbour, exports to Bukavu and Goma are creating livelihoods for many families. The cooperative not only helps to sell the poultry, but also provides essential trainings to the farmers.
Veterinarian Jean Pierre works at the turkey breeding centre: “The turkey cooperative will improve food security for families and send more kids to school.”
The coffee farmers on the island have not been forgotten.
Created in 2011, the Kivu Cooperative of Coffee Planters and Traders supports the efforts of close to 700 coffee farmers, nearly half of them women.
Saouda, 23 years old, grows coffee together with her husband. The young couple has 250 coffee trees. They also cultivate cassava and other vegetables for their own consumption.
"Before the cooperative, my husband would cross with a canoe to Rwanda to sell our coffee. It was a dangerous and poorly paid effort. Now we benefit from stable prices. When we bring coffee, we are paid directly according to the establish price per kilo. It helps me manage the household's daily expenses and send our three kids to school."
UNDP's work in Idjwi is supported by the Government of Japan.
The partnership has helped 6,750 households, 13,000 children affected by the conflicts, and 1,248 children formerly associated with armed groups and forces in the eastern part of DR Congo.
4,500 cassava and banana producers learned to fight local plant diseases.
500 households were trained to fight soil erosion.