Communities near Eurasian Resources Group’s (ERG’s) Frontier mine, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have been benefiting from the company’s agricultural development project called Chawama.
The project involves equipping local farmers with the technical, business and marketing know-how needed to improve and sustain community livelihoods.
ERG saw an opportunity in the agricultural space, since only ten-million hectares of 80-million hectares of arable land is being used in the country.
The mining company says that, if more land is used for farming, it will benefit socioeconomic development and food security.
Chawama, meaning “it is well now” in Bemba, was launched in collaboration with a local farmer’s cooperative. The project has, so far, involved the transformation of 60 ha of bush and rough terrain into functional and fertile farming ground.
Going forward, the team will expand the project to 510 ha in the next farming season, allowing for more communities to benefit.
An added bonus is that the project has strengthened the camaraderie between the two neighbouring villages of Kimfumpa and Kabumba, in the Haut-Katanga province of the DRC.
Fifty farmers are currently involved in Chawama, with select individuals specialising in operations, administration and finances.
A hybrid model – a combination of both commercial and domestic farming – has been applied, with on-the-ground expert agronomists actively involved in capacity building through skills and knowledge transfer for seed selection, soil preparation, pest control and maximum yield.
The Frontier mine’s partnership with the Institut National De Preparation Professionnelle, the government’s institution for vocational and professional training, has assisted the various stakeholders in developing and sharing optimal techniques for industry standard business practices by empowering the farmers on administration, finance, operations and marketing.
Currently, ERG is focusing on seasonal farming, but irrigation options are being explored for potential implementation in the future.
Chawama project manager Christophe Losembe says the initiative has notably transformed the lives of farmers and their families. “Our approach with Chawama has been to forge strategic partnerships to foster sustainable agricultural transformation, in particular for the smallholder farmers that are the backbone of this society.
“The positive offtake has been the opportunity for farmers to sell maize on a larger scale to the local mill. Further employment opportunities have also been created through the additional round-the-clock field security that is required,” he says.
ERG has also been upgrading roads that lead to the farming site, which helps with the transportation of goods to the established milling facility. The facility forms part of a parallel project called Mwabombeni.
This project is the next step in the agricultural value chain. Here, farmers are presented with the opportunity to generate a profit and have their raw produce processed into sellable “mielie” meal bags.
Frontier’s catering firm will buy a significant amount of product, while mine employees will receive two bags of maize a month from the production as part of the existing company incentive.
The remaining product will be sold to the local markets.
“We have successfully facilitated a substantial shift in mindset; creating a thriving and economically viable ecosystem that will continue to benefit the community long after mining operations have ceased,” says ERG acting CEO Sergei Verbitckii.