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364. Controlling the future without arms

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Country: Belgium
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Photo Credits: Nick Hobgood, vredeseilanden, Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

To survive, at least temporarily, in the Congo between 1996 and 2003, both adults and children took up arms. Many who did not do so voluntarily were forced to participate. War became their means of subsistence. Those who did not fight suffered starvation and displacement.

When war ended in 2003, the job of re-establishing basic food supplies and returning displaced people to work began. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) stepped in as part of a program to reintegrate ex-combatants with the agricultural sector.

The Demobilized People’s Association for Community Development was established by 15 women and 35 men, with a management committee, a board of directors and a general assembly that met once a year. Of the 50 members, 12 were fishermen and women, 26 were herders and 12 were farmers. Under the program, the fishermen and women organized themselves into teams of two. Each received 150 metres of fishing net, four Coleman lamps, one fishing line, five ropes, two canoes, six hoisting poles, six pulleys and two poles to link the canoe hulls. Those in herding received a bicycle, goats, feed and veterinary products. Those in agriculture received axes, machetes, seed (either maize or groundnuts) and a bicycle.

Organised co-operatively, the farmers were able to use their bicycles for a taxi service, which then provided the income to buy land. The fishing groups kept 60 per cent of the proceeds from their catches, and deposited the remaining 40 per cent into their co-operative’s bank account. The goat farmers pooled their skills and took turns caring for the goats. Any offspring became the property of the association.

The members’ work has guaranteed food and seed supplies in their region, and the association is building its cash reserves to enable it to diversify its operations – for example, by opening a carpentry and sewing workshop. Not only has the number of members doubled since the association was formed, their standard of living has also risen.

More importantly, there has been a collective realisation that these displaced people can take control of their own future without resorting to arms.

This story was made possible thanks to research by FAO personnel and was published in the ICA book “Building a Better World: 100 stories of co-operation“.

Author of this story
Kate Askew
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