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North Kivu egg project provides food for thought

North Kivu egg project provides food for thought

UNHCR hatches a pilot project aimed at improving the nutritional needs of displaced Congolese in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
25 March 2008
A Congolese woman holds one of the hens she was given under a UNHCR-funded programme aimed at boosting nutrition and generating income for displaced people in North Kivu.

GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, March 25 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency and an implementing partner have hatched a pilot project aimed at improving the nutritional needs of displaced Congolese in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC).

UNHCR and Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VSR) also hope that their chicken-rearing and egg production programme will help to make some of the neediest internally displaced people (IDPs) in volatile North Kivu province more self-sufficient through the consumption and sale of poultry products.

The project began last November in the UNHCR-run Bulengo IDP site near Goma with a focus on female-headed households, abused women, the disabled, the elderly and the young in a region where there are some 800,000 IDPs, including around 400,000 forced to flee fighting over the past year. The IDPs have little money, while child malnutrition rates are high.

The 150 families chosen to pilot the project were each given 20 egg-laying hens, feed, medicines and help in building a hutch and chicken run.

But the UN refugee agency and VSR have also had to change mindsets to get the project off the ground because, explained Assistant Project Manager Justin Oderwa, while North Kivu's Congolese are used to rearing a few chickens at home, they rarely see the commercial potential in the birds.

The partners have taught beneficiaries to see their chickens as a multifunctional commodity that can be eaten, traded or used to produce eggs for consumption and sale. Oderwa said UNHCR and VSR were delighted with the results after an initial two-month trial.

"I sell the eggs and make extra cash," said 70-year-old Hangi Kyanakera in Bulengo. "The profits buy us a variety of foodstuffs," he added. On a good day, some people report a daily harvest of more than 40 eggs.

"Food sells very well because everybody has to eat," noted 69-year-old Sabina Namasi, adding that poultry rearing was more profitable than most other small-scale enterprises run by IDPs. None of the project beneficiaries go hungry and some now have disposal income which they use on things like school uniforms for their children, extra food or little luxuries for the home.

That said, there have been some teething problems with the programme. The main hiccup has been late delivery of feed and drugs, which both have to be flown to the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, and then trucked to distribution points in this remote, strife-torn region in the heart of Africa.

"The past three weeks have been particularly bad. Without their daily feed, chickens cannot lay eggs. There are no eggs to sell in the markets," said Oderwa, who was talking to UNHCR visitors in February.

"I have lost two chickens and I will not be compensated," said Sanata Nabiti, 64, who was worried that she would lose more fowl if the valuable stocks of feed and drugs did not get to Goma soon, as promised by UNHCR.

In spite of these problems, the UN refugee agency is happy and has decided to extend the project to Buhimba IDP camp west of Goma, where 250 vulnerable persons have been identified to receive training in poultry management.

The skills they learn - as well as the poultry assets they own - will stand them in good stead when the security situation settles down. "The idea of this project is that the beneficiaries take hens back with them when they return home," explained Eddy Botela, a VSR coordinator.

To ensure sustainability and self-sufficiency in the longer term, UNHCR has set aside funds to train the displaced poultry farmers in chicken feed processing techniques using local ingredients and making feed from kitchen leftovers.

Their success is sure to provide food for thought for thousands of other IDPs hoping to rebuild their lives - as well as aid agencies looking at ways to help them reintegrate.

By David Nthengwe in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo