Even the remote Tshuapa district of the Equateur Province is not immune to the effects of the pricing of agricultural products in the global economy. In 1970 I visited the Disciples coffee plantation in the Bokungu area of the Tshuapa. By the late 1990’s the plantation had been abandoned as coffee prices began their fall to unprecedented lows. The restoration of Vietnamese coffee plantations after the Vietnam War contributed to an over supply of coffee and the drop in prices. Farmers from Nicaragua to Congo couldn’t afford to grow coffee any longer.
Today, the need for increased food supplies and the leadership of a dynamic recently ordained woman minister have led to the recovery of the Disciples Bokungu plantation. The only female theology graduate to serve a rural parish, Revde. Regine Boole, has helped the parish of Lotakemela organize a team of 15 workers to clear the overgrown fields and begin new plantings. The team is assisted by Revde. Boole’s husband and plans an initial planting of 5 hectares of corn.
Profits from the sale of an estimated 5 tons of corn will, it is projected, enable purchase
of supplies for the cultivation of the remaining 20 hectares and rebirth of the initial project as a palm oil plantation. Expanding use of palm oil as a fuel alternative to petroleum means this crop, so widely grown in Equateur in the past, now promises price increases and viable profits for visionary growers.
In addition to the Bokungu plantation, the post of Boyeka has already begun planting of palm trees for oil production. As used palm oil can be processed for fuel, “oil palm planting and palm oil consumption
circumvents the food vs. fuel debate because it has the capacity to fulfill both demands simultaneously” in the words of Wikpedia. It does not, however respond to the concern stemming from deforestation wrought by vast palm oil plantations as in Malaysia and Indonesia. What the effects of the demand for palm oil will be on the Congolese rain forest remains to be seen.