Market-Based Solution Helps Displaced Families in Eastern D.R. Congo

Action Against Hunger organizes innovative seed fairs in conflict zone
Vouchers for seeds.

Action Against Hunger is doing something new in war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo: using a local market-based solution to provide people with what they want.

We’re organizing seed fairs across areas of eastern Congo where people displaced by the war have lost access to their fields, and the cycle of saving seeds from one planting to the next has been interrupted. In addition, the brutal conflict, which has raged for well over a decade, has often disrupted markets, making seeds unavailable and inaccessible to small farmers.

Action Against Hunger is changing this, and our philosophy is simple: local populations can choose what works best for them.

Rather than deciding which seeds to give people, Action Against Hunger finds out what crops people want to grow and helps make those seeds available. And we encourage buyers and sellers to work with seeds that are well adapted to the location and produce nutritious foods.

Seed Fairs: How Do They Work?

First, Action Against Hunger teams survey how much and what kinds of seeds families need. Then we reach out to local seed producers to see if those quantities of seeds are available. Action Against Hunger also checks the seed quality and then sets a convenient time and place for the seed fairs to ensure both producers and consumers are able to gather.

In addition, we provide families with coupons that represent a certain amount of money, which they can use to purchase the seeds. In typical fashion, buyers negotiate with vendors to find a price they can agree on. After the fair, the seed sellers turn in the coupons to Action Against Hunger in exchange for real money. As part of the process, participants also receive training in agricultural techniques and participate in nutrition education activities.

Boumylia, a woman displaced in 2009 by a massacre in her village, now lives with a host family. With 30 dollars-worth of coupons, she bought five kilos of beans and 18 kilos of rice at a seed fair in the town of Walikale. Planting the seeds in her host family’s fields will give her a guaranteed source of food in the coming months.

Another woman, Elena, also got a boost from a local seed fair. Over the past year, she only had enough money to plant crops in one of her four fields. But through the seed fairs, she was able to buy enough peanut and bean seeds to fill two fields. She is confident she will be able to harvest enough for her family to eat for several months.

Buyers aren’t the only ones to leave happy. The innovative program also injects money into the local economy, helping seed producers financially and boosting their capacity to continue growing. As one female seed seller said, “We’ve all got coupons. We all made money!”