Farmer field schools bear fruit in Yangambi Engagement Landscape, DRC

Building food security and diversity through sustainable agriculture
Sakina Kalindula transports her first tomato harvest from the Farmer Field School in Yangambi. Dorcas Kanku/CIFOR-ICRAF

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“Big, ripe tomatoes in Yangambi? It was magical!” said Sakina Kalindula, a community facilitator who helped set up the first farmer field school in the Yangambi Engagement Landscape (YEL), in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s Tshopo Province.

Following a two-months-long, resident field training with the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), Kalindula and her fellow trainees had planted out market garden produce over an area of 25,000 square meters.

On the day of the harvest, she was amazed at the full, plump, red tomato fruits they had grown.

“After learning and working for all these months, I couldn’t describe my joy when I held big ripe tomatoes in my hands,” she said. “I’ll be sharing the knowledge I’ve gained here with my community and putting everything I’ve learned into practice in my own field.”

Producing food in a way that protects the environment, makes efficient use of natural resources, and ensures that farmers can support themselves – while enhancing the quality of life in communities – is the driving force behind CIFOR-ICRAF’s current interventions in the YEL.

Produce grown at the Farmer Field Schools on sale in Kisangani. Photo by Dorcas Kanku/CIFOR-ICRAF

Using the Farmer Field School (FFS) approach – a comprehensive and participatory training and learning process where small-scale farmers come together to learn and exchange knowledge on best practices and innovative techniques – adapted to the local realities, farmers from the YEL are experimenting with new crops and agricultural practices for increased and diversified food production. 

Under the expert guidance of master trainer Julianus Thomas, CIFOR-ICRAF has worked with local communities to establish 25 Farmer Field Schools across the YEL. Over the course of two months, CIFOR-ICRAF took community field facilitators like Kalindula through a series of hands-on workshops and capacity-building exercises on crop types and planning, seed selection, irrigation methods, weed management systems, and other good farming practices. 

“The Yangambi Engagement Landscape has an enormous agricultural potential, and the training offered here is a great opportunity to improve communities’ living conditions by strengthening the technical capacities of those who have been selected so they can in turn relay the skills acquired to the communities for them to put into practice,” said Anaëlle Mondenge, Acting Minister of Agriculture for Tshopo Province, at the training’s launch. 

“I sincerely believe it is just a matter of time before populations in the YEL widely produce, consume, trade, and live off agricultural products that are made in this landscape.”

The end goal is to grow each FFS to at least 30 members, and in so doing improve the yields of over 750 households across the landscape during the initial phase, while in parallel regularly increasing the number of FFS and farmers trained. Each FFS will establish a pilot plot or field to put into practice what they learn and, if possible, commercialize the products as well. Entrepreneurship training will also be provided to help the farmers form associations through which to sell their produce, particularly in nearby towns like Kisangani with its high food demand.

It’s a critical task, as food security and diversity remain vital for YEL’s growing population, said Maxwell Kibu, who coordinates agroecological activities at CIFOR-ICRAF’s YEL office. “Our main aim is to promote the use of appropriate agricultural technologies,” he said. 

“We also aim to raise awareness among communities on subjects like environmental sustainability, while encouraging them to adopt environmentally friendly farming practices,” said Kibu. “That’s why we’re not only looking to introduce new varieties, but also making sure that the existing ones are used to the best of their potential.”

About the Yangambi Engagement Landscape: Since 2007, CIFOR-ICRAF has been working in the Yangambi Engagement Landscape (YEL) to advance forest and agroecological research, local development, and conservation. Our goal is to support entrepreneurship, innovation, research, and natural resource management to transform the Yangambi Engagement Landscape into a place where forests contribute to the sustainable well-being of local communities. 

The above article is produced within the framework of the 2023–2026 Sustainable Production and Resilience for Food Crisis Prevention in the Yangambi Landscape project (FORETS-Food) – implemented by CIFOR-ICRAF with funding from the European Union that focuses on increasing food security in the YEL by improving production and harvests of widely grown crops, promoting crop diversification, and implementing post-harvest measures.

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