By Omotola Akindipe in Lunda Norte, Angola | August 27, 2021
It takes over an hour on foot to cross the muddy terrain that leads to the vast Antoinette paddy field in Chamassuia, a local village about five kilometers from the settlement of Lôvua in the Angolan province of Lunda Norte.
Nestled between the village and a local river at the foot of a hill, the rice field covers some 10 hectares of land, a sight to behold.
“Rice is my staple food, it’s what we ate at home in Maniema,” said Antoinette, 55, who fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) four years ago. “That’s why I wanted to grow it here in Lôvua.
Angola hosts around 56,000 refugees, mostly from the DRC, with some 6,700 Congolese refugees like Antoinette living in Lôvua camp. Here she has a large plot on which she has built four houses for her extended family of 16, including eight children.
“Rice is my staple food, it’s what we used to eat at home.”
Antoinette, also known as “Mama Antho”, runs an agricultural association with around 30 refugee women who work on farms inside and outside the site. Many of them brought their agricultural expertise to an area that is not known for agriculture. Women produce between 500 and 600 kilograms of rice per harvest, making them the largest rice producers in the province.
They also grow vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, carrots, onions, lettuce, okra and cassava and tend their own vegetable gardens, next to their homes in the colony. , when they are not working together on large farms.
As the land of the colony was not conducive to the creation of rice paddies, Antoinette drew up a plan and approached several traditional chiefs or “sobas” who oversee the territories near the colony.
“We have been here since 2017 and during that time we have built a good relationship with the host community,” she says. “We negotiated access to agricultural land near the river which we turned into rice fields. All over the province, people are calling me because they want to buy our rice!
The paddy field has contributed significantly to the peaceful coexistence between refugees and local Angolans living in neighboring villages. They work with refugee farmers to plow and maintain the farms and, as a result, have learned to cultivate rice in an area mainly known for cassava.
“We also benefit from it and our employees can learn from it. “
Soba Faustino, the traditional chief of Chamassuia, is satisfied with the rice cultivation in his village.
“We would like humanitarian agencies to provide more aid, but it is also a good thing that refugees cultivate here because we also benefit from it and our people can learn from them,” he explains.
He adds that many residents have seen their household income increase as they find employment in the rice fields. The alternative source of income also reduces the need for them to fell trees for firewood and charcoal, thus reducing environmental destruction.
Mama Antho also thinks it is important not to depend solely on food aid from aid agencies.
“We have to supplement the food we receive because it is not enough. We must also sell products in order to be able to manage our businesses and support our families, ”she adds, proudly showing the extent of the rice field, one of the two of Chamassuia.
UNHCR regularly supports refugee farmers with an assortment of seeds, farm tools, work boots, fertilizer and even farm animals like chickens and pigs. Some 60 farmers from three local communities close to the settlement – Muamucombo, Naginga and Sacatangui – receive regular agricultural training as part of an agricultural project led by livelihood partner Ajuda de Desenvolvimento de Povo para Povo (ADPP).
Robert Ahebwa, UNHCR’s Associate Livelihoods Officer, believes that the agricultural knowledge and experience of refugees can help the local community improve their products.
“We always encourage the sharing of skills because it promotes peaceful coexistence. Farmers easily adopt better farming practices when they learn from fellow farmers, ”he explains.
He adds that some refugees already know how to cultivate intelligently, using modern methods to increase the quality and quantity of their crops. If the local community can follow a similar approach, it improves its own food security.
Last May, the municipality of Lôvua organized an agricultural fair to celebrate its sixth anniversary as a municipality, where the authorities expressed their commitment to continue their partnership with UNHCR to increase rice production in the province.
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