Sunday, April 20, 2014

Congo Update 20 April 2014

Greeting from the Congo

Busy time lately with trying to harvest the first season crop and work ground and plant the second season crop.  The harvest of the first season beans went badly.  It was just too wet.  When the beans were dry enough to harvest, but not too dry so they would shatter when the combine cutter header hit them you had about 30 minutes and then it would rain and put the process off for a few days.  We got some of them, but others rotted on the plants.  Lesson learned is never plant beans during the first rainy season in the plateau region.  Its just too wet during the growing season for beans and too much rain to get them harvested.  We also harvested the potatoes from the first season as well that were planted from seed harvested from the planting in May 2013.  They did pretty good.  We did not plant that many as we gave or sold a lot of the production.  Here is the harvest crew for the potato harvest in Nkoumou.  The guys in front of me are from a nearby Pygmy village so they really are that short.

Got a year of rainfall data now for the Lekana farm and another David weather station set up now at the Nkoumou farm.  The totals are:

The southern part of Congo Brazzaville gets about half or less of this amount and is presently in a drought situation.  I am sure the northern jungles get more than these totals.  North Africa mostly gets almost no rain and Southern parts of Africa get some with some really dry parts as well.  Central Africa is the really wet part with very acid soils that are mostly washed out of most nutrients as a result.  That is the challenge here the soils and too much rain at times.  Since a came from an area that normally got 6 inches of annual rain/snow and we were in a serious drought the last three years, where even the native weeds were starting to die, this is an incredible amount of rain.

The first season corn harvest is really to start now.  We have made some test runs and are ready to get going once I get enough bags to store the harvested crop.  I’m in the capital city, Brazzaville now organizing that and other supplies.  The combine up north only has a grain cutter header.  No special corn header so we have to make due.  We tilted the header as far up as it would go to help gravity feed the corn ears into the combine, put some palm frond stems on the reel to help push the corn stalks into the cutter bars and tried things out till I found that you needed the header pretty low and then almost all the corn went into the combine.  Once the corn is in the combine that John Deere does a good job threshing out the corn.  Some friends in the US with combining experience helped me like you want to match the reel speed with the ground speed so the reel just holds the stems into the cutter bar.  They also told ne that beans are the hardest thing to combine so corn will be easy.  Now its time to just step back and have the tractor drivers learn by experience to drive this thing.

Worked up about 350 Ha or 790 Acres of ground up to plant this second season.  Wanted to do more, but the constant rains slow down the work.  You just cannot pull a disk through wet ground with lots of vegetation.  We need to get ahead next dry season in June - Aug in preparing new ground.  Now that all the equipment is in place and the workers are better trained  that should be possible.  Planted more corn, more beans that should do better this second season.  We also got some new Red potato seed from the US (Cheiftains and Red LaSodas from Washington state).  We planted some on the farms and also did some partnership plantings with local grower groups with the same seed.

I put a female tractor driver on the staff.  Traditionally in most of Central and other parts of Africa the women do all the farming work.  Clearing the land, planting the manioc, weeding it and hauling the harvested tubers home.  Very physical work.  The men traditionally did the hunting and protecting the village.  Nowadays with rifles the hunting is a lot quicker.  So why with mechanized agriculture shouldn’t women be part of the project.  I get very mixed responses to this action.  So far so good.

Planted a little rice (30 Ha or 74 acres).  They eat a fair amount of rice here, not near the amount of manioc which is the base starch eaten here.  Rice has been a target crop to plant in other projects in the past, but now we are going to try it again.  Not sure if we can compete locally with the cheap imported rice from India and Thailand, but I am excited to try.  It will be upland rice.  The next farm they want to open farther north they want to grow paddy rice and there are good places around Oyo for that, but that takes a fair amount of preparation to be able to flood ground and then dry it up for harvest.  The grain planted I used is so small.  Took a lot of passes to plant that rice.

The final crop will be around 50 HA of Soybeans.  Would have planted them earlier, but the seed got held up in customs.  I really wanted to get some soy planted and harvest this season as it is key to producing quality animal feed and a corn coy blend foods for the school lunch program.  We planted the beans in a cross pattern to increase the plant population to increase yield, help shade out seeds and help the combine do a better job as the plants in front help hold up the ones at the cutter bar so it cuts them and they do not just fold over.  Will do the same with the soybeans as soy growers in the US told me they are doing this as well and getting a 20% yield boost over just planting the lines closer together.  We planted some beans with close interline spacing as well as a comparison.

Final picture of the repair shop where we get out tires fixed, welding that we cannot do ourselves and grinding and machining work.  Since parts are hard to get we have to often just make them here.  You also do stuff like rewind an alternator here when it fails.  In the US we just get a new one as the labor costs to fix one are much more than a new one, but things are different here.  You have to make due and go to the back of the manual in the section titled "wing it"

Congo Update March 2014 - Animal production study to Reduce Bushmeat Consumption in the Congo

Greeting from the Congo

This blog entry is from a feasibility study to start animal production in the north of Congo and the Bateke area to reduce the hunting and consumption of wildlife in these areas.  This is not the whole report, just some excerpts.

Animal protein production to reduce the use of bushmeat in the Plateaux and Ouesso area


Bushmeat (antelopes, gazelles, crocodiles, monkeys, Sibiti, porcupines and sometimes other protected species ) is consumed widely in the Republic of Congo.  The prices for bushmeat are similar or higher than frozen chicken or fish at the market or Bouchieres.  The availability of bushmeat is harder to find the Plateaux area and very easy to find in the Ouesso area.  Another important issue is much of the bushmeat hunted in the Ouesso area is shipped south to Brazzaville for sale.  Almost all of the meat available in bouchieres is frozen imported meat.  Most butcher shops do not kill live animals but just resell frozen meat bought in Brazzaville or sometimes Cameroon.  Poultry (Chicken whole, legs and thighs, and wings along with turkey wings) is the most common meat sold and it almost all imported from Brazil and Czechoslovakia (though this is often labels as origin from France) Fish is the second most sold meat and mostly comes from Pointe Noire is frozen form.  There is also a lot of dried and smoked fish sold in the market from various local and imported sources.  The exception is beef that is butchered from cattle walked down from CAR.  Beef is relatively hard to find in the Plateaux are.  Local production of meat animals is very low.  Some small production projects have been started and most have failed after the initial donated feed was used up and local sources of complete feed were unavailable or too expensive.  Some of the projects continues feeding locally available feed (Raw manioc, With the increasing production of corn and soybeans on the mechanized farm program of the Ministry of Agriculture and IPHD animal feed could be produce high quality feed and prices that both units could realize profits necessary for both parties to be sustainable.  Although a lot of people like varying their diet with some bushmeat, price seams to be the deciding factor on what kind of meat to purchase. This seams to be true for both the consumers and the bouchieres.  In the Plateaux area availability seams to be the limiting factor in bushmeat sales.  In the Ouesso area where bush meat is readily available and the price is similar to domestic meat bush meat consumption is higher than other forms as noted in a PROGEP-PNOK report.

Local restaurant in Djambala advertising fresh monkey, porcupine, fresh antelope.

Crocodile and gazelle at the Ouesso market

Crocodile and Antelope meat for sale in the market and yes that is a monkey for sale as well.

Products and Market Analysis


Chicken is the most consumed domestic meat.  It is sold almost all from imported sources in frozen form.  Since electricity can be erratic in the areas of this study the cold chain can have major gaps.  Potable generators are used extensively to maintain the meat, but thawing does occur and many freezers at bouchieres smelled like bad meat and consumers are aware of this problem and concerned about the disease potential.  Prices vary going up as you get away from a distribution hub. Prices vary from 1500 CFA to 3000 Cfa per KG (about $1.36 to $2.72 per lb) for chicken legs and thighs.  Whole chickens are around 2000 CFa to 2800 CFA per kg ($1.81 to $ 2.54/lb) which is usually one whole bird as they ship really small butchered chickens here.
Butcher shop advertising the various cuts and prices.  Pretty much every shop offers the same thing.

Butcher shops in this part of Africa are different than what we think of in the US.  They are not killing or dressing animals, just a freezer and a machete to hack up frozen pieces of meat that were bought elsewhere.

In the bigger towns the is a large cold room (which can be just a 20 ft refrigerated contain) that sells meat directly to consumers or to other smaller bouchieres.  Otherwise the butcher shops go directly to Brazzaville for their meat or refrigerated trucks arrive and somewhat regular intervals to sell these shops their meat.  Even though the meat is imported prices are affordable for the local population.  This is because the meat is coming from large modern production units and also the products sold in Congo are the less desirable cuts and products for their area.  Very small whole chickens ( 1 to 1.4 kg per bird), chicken leg sections and wings and you only see the turkey wings not any other pert.  Its actually kind of hard to buy a chicken breast in Congo which is preferred in the richer markets.  Volumes can be high for the sale of poultry products.
Eggs are also sold throughout the areas sold.  They are bought in Brazzaville in the case of the |Plateaux area and Cameroon in the case of the Ouesso area and sold in small shops.  The price seams pretty consistent throughout the area studied at 150 CFA per egg or 4500 to 5000 CFA for a flat of 30 eggs.  Volume sold seams quite low.

Raising broiler chickens locally could reduce the price of meat and shift some pressure from the local wildlife.  Complete and affordable feed is the key to these projects to succeed.  In the plateaux area this is easier as the open grassland with good soils are easier to convert to farms to produce corn and soya to produce feed.  Working in cooperation with he farms could be the key if we add local processing of the corn and soy to produce feed locally.  Presently I am getting info on soy and corn processing equipment for this transformation.  Chickens are not sold live often in the study area.  A butchering operation will probably have to be set up along with the broiler production.


Fish is sold the next most common domestic meat.  Fish is sold in various forms from frozen, fresh, dried and smoked.    In the Plateaux area fish is mainly available in dried, smoked and frozen forms.  Prices for smoked and dried forms are higher than other meat forms.  The advantage of these forms is they can be stored for a month.  Local butchers have more problems keeping their frozen fish good under the poor cold chain conditions of Congo.  Estimating the volumes sold is much more difficult in the local fish market as fish is sold by kilogram only at the bouchieres in frozen form.  The fresh, smoked and dried forms are sold by the small pile or piece.  Fresh fish is much more available near big rivers like up in the Ouesso area.  In the last two years bush meat consumption has gone up because the availability of fresh fish has gone down since a logging road has been closed that connected the towns to a fish rich river nearby.

Fresh fish caught in nearby rivers in Ouesso

Frozen fish mostly from the Ocean at a butcher shop

Smoked fish is available everywhere in the Congo and is good as it doesn't need refrigeration, but can be somewhat pricey.

There are some projects in the country where small fish ponds have been built and Tilapia are being raised.  The usual problem is that affordable feed is not available and the fish are not feed enough supplemental feed so their production is low.  Sales from these ponds is all to local people in the area and requires a special place to make the ponds.  The advantage of fish production is the market potential is present and there is little preparation needed before selling the fish.  It can be sold fresh or just put in the freezer for storage and sale later.  Tilapia and maybe carp are the best choices as they can withstand poor treatment, low oxygen levels in the water, have few disease problems  and eat almost everything though are primarily herbivores.  They gain weight fast if given high protein feed.  Again ample complete feed is the key in animal production.  Diseases are minimal for Nile Tilapia.  Pest problems include snakes which keeping the area around the ponds weeds clean will help reduce the problem.  Frogs can also be a problem which must be reduced or ducks brought in to eat the tadpoles.  

Pork products

Pork is not commonly sold in Bouchieres.  This is partially because some Bouchieres are owned by Muslim owners who prefer not to sell pork and also the inavailablilty of frozen pork products.  As I mentioned before more butchers here do not kill and dress their own meat and just resell frozen prepared products.  Pork is the only animal sometimes killed and prepared locally from locally produced animals and sold in small amounts (500 or 1000 CFA bundles).  This happens in both small villages and the towns.  Djambala seams to have the most consistent supply of butchers pork.  Pigs are raised in small amounts widely in the villages.  The pigs raised in the villages are mostly allowed to roam free and feed some supplemental raw manioc and corn.  Villagers by salt mineral blocks for their animals and once a year in some areas a technician comes by vaccinating the animals for a fee.  There were some confined pig projects visited in this study.  Most had failed from lack of feed.  The most common project is the pig sty was donated along with the starter animals and on ton of feed.  The pigs did very well on the feed provided.  When this ran out sometimes additional feed was purchased for a short time but most often the pigs were fed raw manioc, other leaves(manioc, papaya and sweet potato), avocados and corn. Raw manioc can be a good supplement to other feeds but best not more than 20% of the feed ration.  The pigs start to decline with this poor feed and start to lose weight, get sick and mother can start to eat their young.  Then the pigs are let out to forage on their own again in confined areas and start dying as either they get sick or in their hunger eat things they should not be eating.  Only tow pig operations we saw did the animal look really good and in both cases these operations were subsidized.

A good but subsidized pig operation vs a local unsubsidized pig operation where the animals are underfed


In the Ouesso area beef is an important meat source from animal walked down from Sudan or Central African Republic and butchered locally.  Some of these butchers are subsidized by the lumbar companies to satisfy their food security portion of their certification process to sell their lumbar in the European market.  In the towns of Ouesso, Ngombe and Pokola beef volumes were about 2 to 3 animals a week butchers and sold.  There is some frozen beef sold as well in the bouchieres imported from India, but it seams a small part of the market.  In the Plateaux area the is much less beef available, its market share small and prices around 3000 - 4000 CFA/kg.

Goats and Sheep.

Although goats and to a lessor amount sheep are widely raise in the villages in the study area they are mostly sold and shipped to other areas (mostly Brazzaville) for consumption by the muslin community.  Goat and sheep production is higher in the Plateaux area compared to the Ouesso area probably due to the better feed availability in the Plateaux area.  There is some people trying to produce sheep in confined production units, but they are confined to too small a pasture area of poor quality pasture that is soon dominated by weeds the animals do not like to consume and insufficient amount of feed is provided.  We saw no advantage of confined these animals as a lot of feed is available in the area, especially in the Plateaux area.

The report goes on to explain in detail setting up a broiler chicken operation, hatchery and layer operation as well as fish production with detailed budgets.  It gets pretty technical and is beyond what usually goes in these blogs.

The north part of Congo is highly forested and the source of many big rivers in the area.  Here I am on a ferry boat we had to cross on the Sangha river.  The current looks calm, but when you swim in these rivers you quickly realize it is strong.

This part of Congo is also one of the stronghold of the Pygmy people.  Some still live deep in the forest and some have moved closer to the towns.  They also still make these temporary houses in the forest.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Congo Update 24 Feb 2014

Greetings from the Congo

Lots of different things going on now as the two rainy season collide.  The first seasons crops are maturing and we have harvested the dry beans in Lekana and are trying to start harvest of the potatoes.  But its been a little wet so far.  Installed tow 12 volt fans with solar panels into the roof peak of the potato cellar and the internal temperature dropped significantly to avoid a replay of too much harvest heat in the crop and rotting potatoes.

There are red potatoes showing up in the local markets here.  We gave and sold seed after last season to local farmers and their first production from this seed is being harvested now.  The red ones are also getting a better price than the traditional ones.  The bucket of reds goes for 700 CFA and the old variety goes for 500 CFA.  The sellers are quick to tell you how good the red potatoes taste.  

There really isn’t a dry season between these two up north I am finding out.  It’s just the rains slow down a bit in Jan-Feb.  The beans didn’t do very well in Lekana.  On both farms the beans have less pods/plant than the second rainy period.  I think the first season is a lot wetter and beans don’t really like things that wet.  There was also too many beetles and this small spinney bug eating the leaves and flowers.  You have to order everything so far in advance here with all the challenges getting the funds, logistics of moving product across the country.  Beans of every kind are the only things that seem to have pest problems and I guess we just have to plan farther ahead which I already did for the next planting in March.  The corn looks good with the ears filling out nicely It should be ready to harvest by April.  I had to learn how to operate a combine fast.  In the US we had all the grain combining done by custom operators so I just learned how to monitor them.  And of course the manual  disappeared so it was onto the internet to read and John Deere uses descriptive pictures on the control buttons which helped a lot.  I also called a profession combiner in the US for help as well.  Then it was time to train the guys and let them try it out.  When it first started spitting out shelled plants and filling up the bin with clean bins some of the guys were literally jumping up and down excited about the new technology.  Moments like that are fun.
Loading the harvested beans from the combine into a trailer for bagging

Nkoumou workers with their corn crop

We are clearing and working ground for the next planting with those big Russian tractors and the Brazilian tatu disks.  Using the anchor chain to knock down the grass, have people cut with machetes and carry out the small trees and since the grass is knocked down those big disks can chew through it.  We can work around 60 HA (150 A) a week this way. Slow but a lot faster than before.  We have been shipping the fertilizer and seeds these last weeks.  One container of seed is still stuck in customs, hopefully we get it in time. 

Cleared and worked ground on the Nkoumou, Ngo farm.

Me and the farm workers on the Nkoumou farm

After school and weekends you can boys going around with their slingshots trying to hunt birds. In Congo the school attendance rate is pretty high.   Later as men they will spend days with shotguns searching bigger game.  One day a group of people were driving a red Antelope they had spotted and tow old men came through the farm with spears with old hand forged spears.  The slingshots are made from Y shaped branches and rubber from old tire tubes.  The issue here on the Plateaux is there are no rocks at all.  So the boys find the red clay subsoil here, wet it and form it into small balls.  They then bake these clay balls in the fire to make them hard.  Then off to the hunt.

Making the slingshot with a carefully selected Y shaped hardwood branch

After making round balls with the red clay subsoil they put them into the fire to make them nice and hard.

Finally when I was young I was taught this game called Macala and told it was an African game.  Well I’m here and guess what they really do play it here, only its called awale.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Congo Update 27 Jan 2014

Greeting from the Congo

The first season crops are growing well mostly.  At the Nkoumou, Ngo farm which is on virgin ground everything look great with healthy crops and few weeds.  At Lekana it is a mixed picture with weeds in some places and beetles attacking the beans.  The sedge herbicides I tried (Sandea (Halosulfuron) and Dual (Metalachlor) both did an excellent job controlling the yellow nutsedge which was the worst weed issue but did little for the other weeds.  I didn’t expect much effect on what I call the forest weeds - bracken ferns, large weeds from underground bulbs and native bunch grasses.  Guess we will have to mix cultivation for these large weeds with herbicide for the sedges that you can not effectively cultivate.  The guys are driving straighter so they can actually cultivate now.  The new crops to the area like potatoes and corn have few if any pests.  There are a lot of native wild beans and peanuts grown in the area so the dry beans we plant have more trouble with insect pests.  Diseases I am looking for resistant varieties which we have already found some good ones.

We did try growing some angolan Beans as a green manure crop and to see if they could deal with the bracken fern problem and they actually did really well dominating the bracken fern.

Moving the combine up for the two north farms was a big job and it got damaged on the trip north.  Logistics and moving things is a big issue here.  There are few trucking companies and they charge a lot.  We had to adapt a trailer for the combine, but they attached it wrong and broke things.  We sometimes drive things up north by another route that bypasses the capital Brazzaville as taking large Ag equipment though the busy crowded chaotic streets of the capital would be a challenge.  Driving here you have to be aggressive if you want to get anywhere.  The issue is part of the back way involves a patch where there really isn’t a road.  People just drive across the open rolling plains and the soils are sandy so you can get stuck.  This is Ok for a tractor, but we worried about a combine.

The soils here seam to be three types.  In the south it is red loamy clays that are very acid and weathered.  Up north it is mostly these white sands.  On the Plateaux there is this rich black 6 % organic matter layer on top of a yellow clay that can support those 8 ft grasses and patches of thick forest, but as soon as you go off the flat top of the plateaux it is miles and miles of these rolling hills of sand where the grass and trees are shorter as the low water holding capacity of the sands limits growth.  I have not visited the swampy jungle areas of the North part of Congo yet where the big Central African rainforest is located along with parts of the DRC and CAR.
They are making a new road in this area putting gravely sand over the white sand.  You can see the old ruts on the hill where other vehicles went before

There are just miles and miles of these sandy hills in Central Congo

Starting to prepare for the second season new ground and it will be time for harvest of the first rainy season so things will get busy soon.  The rains have slowed down between the rainy season, but you still get these afternoon rains where everyone finds somewhere to wait out the rains including the goats.  This one day these boys did this informal dance and singing session using an old palm oil drum for the beat.

Waiting out the rain.

These boys started up a informal dance and singing session using a palm oil container as a drum.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Congo Update 30 Dec 2013

Greeting from the Congo

This is a little late but here we go in any case.  The first rainy season crops have been planted.  Here there temperatures are pretty constant throughout the year and since we are just about on the equator the days are 12 hours long year round.  The main difference is between wet and dry seasons.  The first and usually longer rainy season starts late-ish Sept through Dec and the second starts Late-ish Feb through June.  There is some rain between the two season, but last year there was no rain from July to September.

Got new equipment so we had to unload it and put it together first.  The equipment here comes from mainly tow sources - this Turkish company, Agromaster, that makes basic Ag equipment and a Brazilian company, Tatu, that makes these heavy duty tillage equipment.  No electronic, oil bath bearings instead of greasible and simple design - just what we need.  The planters are pneumatic which is nice, but not set up for no-till.  I do not want a to till planter to not do any tillage, but to reduce the amount of tillage and still be able to get the planter though all the surface trash left over from the huge amount of grass and vegetation you start with here so we don not have to overwork the ground and can preserve more of the organic matter which is important as a buffer to the soil acidity.

Unloading the equipment by hand.  Here it is nice to have extra hands.

Assembling a Tatu disk

 Assemblying the pneumatic planter

 Planting beans

Got the second season crops in.  Some replanted potato seed, some corn and a lot of dry beans - navy, pinto and reds.  The dry beans are a big push as they will go directly to the other program IPHD runs a school lunch.  This was one of the reasons to start the agriculture program - to produce locally food for this program.  The planting went a lot smoother and the rows a lot straighter as the tractor drivers have more experience now.  I am also trying out some new herbicides for here that ate more matched to the weed problems here.  The first indications are pretty good for sedge control with Halosulfuron.

Corn and dry beans in Nkoumou, Ngo

We only planted a few onions and carrots as the pneumatic vegetable planter has not arrived yet, but I bought two Earthway planters and put them in a seed container to use for trials, but they worked just fine to plant a couple of acres.  These planters are actually pretty adapted to conditions here and everyone wanted to have a go at them.

The insect pest pressure has not been that bad here with the beans mostly being affected the most.  The second season though there were these giant crickets that cut the new plants off at the ground.  Was a good time to explain economic threshold in pest control where you only treat for a pest when the damage done by this pest is grater than the cost of the treatment.  In this case it was not true as well as in the case of some beetles eating some of the bean leaves, but not many.  The thing is that they also catch these big crickets and eat them.    I didn’t try any of these but did try a palm grub - it was not terrible.

Some ladies with kids in tow that stopped by the farm to see what we were doing.

One final pic of another tractor including a plow that the local boys have made as our activities are changing the toys made.