United Nations peacekeepers are going beyond the call of duty in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), not only protecting local civilians from rebel militia but also helping them boost agricultural output as well as resurfacing roads and refurbishing a school.
Having watched the local population use hoes and shovels in labour intensive work to prepare their fields while their cows did nothing but eat grass all day long, members of the Pakistani battalion in the UN Mission in DRC, known as MONUC, suggested to farmers in the small community of Walungu in strife-torn South Kivu province that a cow can also be a good tractor.
“Some of the farmers were concerned at the beginning that pulling a plough might kill their cows,” Battalion Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Akif said. “But our troops managed to assure them that a little work wouldn't hurt them. In some of the communities where our peacekeepers come from, cattle are still used for ploughing.”
The use of cattle for farm work is something quite radical in Walungu, where herds are raised for prestige, milk and meat.
Two oxen, linked by a simple wooden yoke can plough fields five times faster than people with hand tools, and the crop yield per hectare using a deep furrow plough is roughly doubled. After discussing the possibilities with the local chiefs and administrators, the peacekeepers constructed a simple wooden plough and began training some farmers and their oxen.
Colonel Akif said that if more farmers decided to adopt the technology, peacekeepers would help them build more ploughs and harness equipment, and train their animals. “It is an easy thing to do and we know from our own experience, that they will benefit a lot,” he added.
The Pakistan Battalion has also rehabilitated five kilometres of road from Walungu village to Kashanja, where members of the MONUC Chinese engineering unit are currently working on a 200-kilometre stretch to Shabunda, further west.
The absence of roads connecting towns and villages in both North and South Kivu provinces has added to the isolation of thousands of small communities, preventing communication, trade and commerce between them. Without roads, efforts to improve security for local populations have also been seriously inhibited.
Turning to the local primary school building, which was in a state of chronic disrepair, the peacekeepers did a major renovation of the roof and supporting walls which were open to the elements, installed new windows, doors and flooring, plastered the internal walls and helped build new desks for all students. They also raised money through their families and friends in Pakistan to provide books, pens and pencils.
Future plans of the Pakistani Battalion to assist the Walungu community include similar support for other schools and construction of a vocational centre.