Implemented in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 2011, the Voices of Africa Project aims to empower small farmers and family farmers in sustainable socio-environmental technologies developed by agroecology through innovative university extension. The project is based on a cooperation agreement between the Federal University of Lavras (UFLA, Brazil), the Free University of the Great Lakes Countries (ULPGL, Goma, DRC) and the National Institute of Agronomic Studies and Research (INERA, RDC); replicating, in a way, the "Carrancas Project" for family agriculture, financed by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq, Brazil) and executed in Brazil by UFLA. The "Carrancas Project" was recognized as a model of economic / social-environmental development by the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment.
The DRC government aims to reduce the proportion of the population whose earnings are less than one dollar a day and the proportion of the population starving. In this context, food security has become one of the main challenges of this country characterized by small farms and subsistence farming. The low productivity of these units is based on unsustainable agricultural practices, which often trigger deforestation, desertification, loss of biodiversity, as well as degradation of soils, springs, springs, and groundwater. One of the causes of this situation is the difficult access of the communities to the scientific knowledge generated in universities and research centers. When adjusted to the local demands, this knowledge allows leveraging the agricultural potential naturally present in the country. Moreover, the fact that small producers are not organized in cooperatives often makes it impossible to take advantage of collective benefits, especially the safe storage of products and the potential benefits of economies of scale.
The innovative university extension project "Voices of Africa" works to train Congolese teachers and technicians in sustainable socio-environmental technologies, developed, tested and approved by agroecology. Through the exchange of professionals from both countries, the project proposes the use of simple, viable practices appropriate to the local context, which will result in a better quality of life for the people and also in the preservation of the environment.
Promoting the development of economically viable, ecologically correct, socially just and culturally appropriate agriculture passes, in particular, through the use of native resources, dispensing inputs and products with high costs. The project emphasizes food security through the production of basic and staple foods, along with the generation of employment and a decent income, which will put people on their property, however small they may be, thus discouraging rural exodus and the consequent formation of violent and promiscuous communities around big cities.
Following a participatory approach, the knowledge of agroecology is transmitted to small family farmers and producers, through training workshops held in the communities themselves. Communities that excel in learning are called UEPs (Participatory Experimental Units) and become focal points for the dissemination of acquired knowledge in a growing spiral format.
Implemented as a pilot initiative in Goma (North Kivu province), the "Voices of Africa Project" was also taken to the capital Kinshasa and the province of Maniema. Regarding the results, by the end of 2013, the project had trained 60 Congolese teachers and technicians in agroecology and is estimated to have reached about 3,500 family farmers around Goma, Kinshasa, and Kindu. An agricultural cooperative of small-scale farmers (Cooperativa Agropastoril dos Grandes Lagos) was founded in Butembo (North Kivu province), and three radio stations were set up to broadcast educational programs in the province. In addition, the ULPGL started to develop university extension activities, focusing on agroecology and family farming.
Through university extension activities, the knowledge generated in the academy transcends borders, in a participatory dialogue with the communities, resulting in both the empowerment of the farmers and the consequent improvement of productivity, as well as the training of professionals more engaged with the realities found in the localities. The "Voices of Africa Project" is currently being replicated in Mozambique, in a partnership between UFLA and the Brazilian NGO Fraternidade Sem Fronteiras.
Brazilian Cooperation Agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil (ABC / MRE), UFLA and government of the DRC
On the Brazilian side: UFLA
On the Congolese side: ULPGL, INERA, University of Kinshasa (UNIKIN), Ministry of Agriculture and NGO Women's Solidarity
Additional information about the solution:
Federal University of Lavras, Department of Engineering (DEG / UFLA)
Full Professor Voluntary Extensionist