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Butoke’s work on Food Security and Nutrition

The Food Problem in Western Kasai

Butoke’s analysis suggests that the most pressing priority in Western Kasai is for simple investments in food and nutrition. Alternative sources of employment are rare, and other investments – for example in health and education - will not yield sustainable results if people do not have enough to eat. Following a long period of instability and civil unrest, the food situation in Western Kasai is dramatic, approximating famine conditions. Even “middle class” people eat only one meal a day and obtain only about 60% of the calories they need.

Food is scarce, unevenly distributed, and difficult to access due to defective transport and primitive marketing structures. Access to food is most problematic in many of the rural areas and for biologically vulnerable groups, such namely children under 10 years old, mothers, and people over 50 years old. To this group can be added the socially vulnerable, notably widows and the handicapped, who are disadvantaged by their very low social status.

Group of widows at Catholic church getting organized to undertake a collective farming project supported by Butoke. Teams of 30-40 women and 5-6 men can work one hectare (2.5 acres).

Food production is hampered by many factors. For much of the population, there is no tradition of food cropping for consumption, so even basic farming skills are limited. In addition, the extreme poverty in which people find themselves makes it difficult to make a start, since there is no money for tools, seeds and other inputs, and hunger robs them of energy for engaging in fieldwork.

In colonial times, cash cropping of cotton was obligatory, and in the past more generally, there have been better opportunities for men to obtain salaried work. Now, cotton and other industrial cash crops cannot be marketed, given the state of the economy and its disorganisation. And while salaried work remains the local ideal for men it is virtually unavailable for 90% of the population or more, even in town.

Butoke coordinator Jean Lumbala negotiating male participation in widow’s agricultural project.

Yet, the potential exists for improving this situation, thanks to the availability of land and labour and the return of relatively peaceful conditions to the region. Intervention by Butoke can play an important role to help people to get re-established in agriculture or to enter such activities for the first time, and to promote the introduction of new crops and nutritional practices. This is where Butoke has decided to concentrate the bulk of its efforts and resources.

However, any serious program in food and nutrition will also require attention to social and cultural practices in the region. These include unhealthy food habits and the inadequate attention currently accorded to the food needs of the biologically vulnerable and of certain social groups such as pregnant mothers, small children, orphans, widows, the elderly, and the handicapped.

Butoke’s experience


Butoke’s work on Food Security and Nutrition is coordinated by Jean Lumbala Muamba, an agronomist with ten years experience both as teacher and director of an agricultural college and as field supervisor of major agricultural extension projects. He works with four field agronomists, who are all experienced in this type of work.

Last year, the Butoke team undertook to promote the cultivation of collective fields of maize, peanuts, soybeans and pistachio nuts in four localities. We encouraged farm groups to adopt proven approaches to ploughing, sowing, weeding and contractually arranged for them to keep seeds for the next season. This experience was highly successful, and generated widespread enthusiasm to extend the experience. People are clearly ready to make a great effort to restart the agricultural cycle and to feed themselves more appropriately (see report below on Butoke’s more recent experience).

Corn sprouting. Farmers will retain a part of their harvest as seed, reimburse a second part to the seed bank, and keep the rest.

Objectives and Approach

Butoke’s aim is to make a lasting contribution to the improvement of food security in a number of food deficient villages of Western Kasai, with emphasis on the nutritional status of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in those villages. To achieve this, Butoke has adopted a holistic approach that includes:

·        The provision of seeds, simple tools and extension services for the local production of major food crops such as maize, beans, peanuts, soybeans and cassava

·        Provision of support to village associations that existed in the past, but that need to be revitalized

·        Provision of support also to individual households, where this is considered preferable

·        Contractual arrangements to conserve a part of the crop as seeds for the next crop year

·        Nutritional education, targeted in particular at mothers and children under 10 years old

·        Special attention to people suffering from malnutrition

Encouragement of associations and other church or temple-related groups to promote solidarity with the elderly and the handicapped, widows, orphans and abandoned children.

Child feeding her sister in Butoke’s Nutrition Centre. This baby has since recovered.


Based on pilot activities successfully undertaken in 2004, the Butoke team prepared a proposal for a three year project on Food Security and Nutrition in Western Kasai. This project was submitted for consideration to a number of Canadian NGOs in July 2005, and Butoke consultant Cécile de Sweemer visited Canada at that time to discuss the project.

Although Butoke was not able to find a partner to engage with it and to commit funding for the three-year program it had proposed, it was able to move forward on the basis of short-term funding.

By the end of 2005, the Food Security and Nutrition program had secured funding of over $60,000 CDN ($US 51,600) from Canadian sources.  This includes a $5,000 contribution from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and a $5,000 grant from Help the Aged Canada. The rest came from individuals working in a coordinated way to support the project. These funds have been channelled through ADRA (about $45,0000) and Help the Aged Canada ($15,000).

Butoke’s nutrition centre

At the end of 2005, Butoke prepared a revised proposal budgeted at $300,000 CDN ($US 258,000), in partnership with Africa Inland Mission Canada, for consideration by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). This proposal was approved in February 2006, and activities will commence on April 1, 2006. CIDA will provide $200,000 over two years, an amount to be matched by $100,000 in private funds raised by AIM and private contributors in Canada. Click here to see how you can help. Click here for access to the full text of this proposal.

An innovation of this proposal compared to the previous version is that Butoke will invest in its own seed farms. This will help reduce the cost of seeds for Butoke, and help to ensure the financial sustainability of Butoke’s activities, while also improving the stock of seeds available to the associations and individual farmers that Butoke supports. In anticipation of the CIDA project, and in order to take full advantage of the secondary season extending from December 2005 to June 2006, Butoke secured private funding of $18,500 for a Seed Farms Head Start project, under which it launched 23 hectares of seed farms for beans and 2 hectares of seed farms for cassava cuttings. This Head Start project is helping us to prepare for the larger project, both financially and administratively.  Click here for access to the full text of this proposal.

In December 2010, Butoke secured support from World Hope Canada for a small project to establish a stock of food for its orphanage. Funding for this project is open ended, but by the end of December 2010, $15,000 had already been mobilized. This project will allow us to purchase a stock of food for the orphanage as the harvest comes in during the month of December, where prices are low, thus saving considerably on what the same purchases could cost us later in the here. Click here for access to the text of this project proposal.


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