The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the largest country in Africa. Characterized by a rich biodiversity of plants and animals, as well as being home to over 450 ethnic groups, the country has long been shaken by successive armed conflicts. In this context, the Slow Food network plays a key role in pushing for food sovereignty and the valuing of local knowledge.
The economic giant of Central Africa
Within its borders, the Democratic Republic of Congo boasts a rich biodiversity thanks to the presence of vast forests (47% of the African continent’s forest cover) and rivers and lakes rich in fish. It is also the location of the world’s largest reserves of coltan and some of the biggest deposits of copper, two minerals that are essential to the manufacture of electronic devices. The natural wealth of the land makes the country a strategic site for industries around the world, but in many places the exploitation of these resources is controlled by armed groups (Mai-Mai, FDLR, LRA and ADF-NALU to name just a few) who monopolize the profits and fuel violence against the local people and between different ethnicities.
This means that many areas are suffering from bloody conflicts. The worst-hit provinces are Nord-Kivu, Sud-Kivu, Kasaï (central Congo) and Tanganyika (central-eastern Congo). Rural communities and indigenous peoples are the main victims, as the countryside is being systematically sacked and food insecurity is growing. The interethnic conflict between the Twa (Pygmies) and the Luba (Bantu) has been on-going since April 2016 and has displaced over 654,000 people in Tanganyika alone, 62.4% of which are children aged under 18, currently living in around 17 camps.
A community food garden for peace
Within this turbulent context, Slow Food wants to provide a seed of hope. Around 20 convivia organize activities and run biodiversity-protection projects. In particular, the Slow Food Tanganyika conviviun, based on the shores of the lake of the same name, is active in the Slow Fish campaign and the 10,000 Gardens in Africa project.
“The Slow Food gardens bring with them a message of unity, peaceful society and development,” explains Jean-Pierre Kapalay, the convivium leader. “The Kabalo community peace garden in the province of Tanganyika is a good example.”
The conflict between the Bantu people and the Pygmies is very bitter here, but, thanks to Slow Food, 21 Bantus and five Pygmies cultivate the garden together and distribute the local vegetables.
“The garden is useful for diversifying diets, but also for building peace between the two communities in conflict,” continues Kabalay. “The community food gardens are like a school for learning how to live and work together and share the results. Working together implies helping others by giving something of yourself. It means loving, undergoing the same trials together in solidarity, sowing the same hope and sharing the joy of the harvest. Producing food together and consuming the fruits of shared labor means coming closer together and forging a pact of tacit friendship. Slow Food Tanganyika brings a message of peace, cohesion, socialization and peaceful co-existence between the communities. We have received the Byungsoo prize from Slow Food Korea that we have decided to use to support the work of the peace garden. The aim now is to create other community food gardens to spread our message of peace even further.”
Slow Food in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Slow Food has been active in the DRC since 2004, but only in 2011 did the work of the various food communities start being officially recognized. The first six convivia were founded in the same year. Now the 20 convivia (local groups) work in coordination, focusing in particular on two projects: the community food gardens and the Ark of Taste (a catalog of traditional food products). In 2017, the leader of the Slow Food Goma convivium, Nicolas Mushumbi, was elected as Slow Food International Councilor, representing indigenous peoples.