The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the richest—and poorest—places on earth. The country abounds in mineral and natural resources such as copper, diamonds, gold, and wood, but after decades of conflict, it is economically destitute. Between 1960 and 2001, the country’s economy shrank by about 3 percent per year—the largest economic decline in the world. An estimated 70 percent of the population is facing food insecurity of some sort, and an estimated 37 million Congolese suffer from undernutrition. Many families can afford to feed their children only every other day.
The country may, however, be turning a corner: in November 2011 the DRC held its second democratic election in 40 years, although post-election political unrest threatens this positive trend. Nevertheless, there is new recognition that agriculture, on which the vast majority of people depend, holds the key to the country’s development. The government is working to develop strategies for economic growth and poverty reduction, and IFPRI’s Country Strategy Support Program in the DRC aims to contribute to these efforts.
Through an intensive and sustained program of research, capacity building, and policy communications, IFPRI researchers based in Kinshasa and Washington, DC, are working with government officials, policy research and agricultural institutions, and others to provide policy-relevant research results and promote evidence-based decisionmaking in areas that affect agricultural development.
To begin with, the research team focused on one of the country’s most important development bottlenecks: crumbling and nonexistent transportation infrastructure. Using geographic, crop, and demographic data, researchers simulated what would happen if transport networks were improved and extended. Their findings strongly suggested that increasing investment in ports—and the roads that lead to them—would allow the country to take advantage of its dense river network, boost agricultural production by giving farmers access to markets where they can sell their goods, and ultimately reduce food insecurity. “Even a 10 percent reduction in travel time to a river port can increase production by 3.7 percent, whereas a 10 percent reduction in travel time to a 50,000-person town would increase production by only 1.6 percent,” explained acting program leader John Ulimwengu.
The program also focuses on institutionalizing capacity building through training, collaborative research, and policy communication. “We have a long-term commitment,” Ulimwengu said. “We want to leave behind a legacy of policymaking that improves the lives of the poor through agriculture.”