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Zaire Table of Contents




Cassava plants at a government showcase farm

The major food crops are cassava, corn, rice, plantains, and, to a lesser extent, bananas, beans, and peanuts. Millet, sorghum, yams, potatoes, and various fruits are also significant (see table 11, Appendix). The food most universally eaten is cassava (also known as manioc), annual production of which was estimated at 18.2 million tons in 1991. Cassava is grown throughout the country under all climatic conditions; not only do the tuber and its products form a major element of the diet, but the leaves are also eaten as a vegetable.

Corn, like cassava, is grown nationwide, but its principal culture is centered in the south. In much of Shaba Region, corn is the preferred staple; cassava is eaten chiefly during periods of corn shortage. Rice is grown mainly in the humid climate of the Congo River basin, particularly along the Congo in ╔quateur Region and also near Kisangani in Haut-Za´re Region. Plantains and bananas are cultivated throughout the country but are of special importance in the northeast and east, particularly in the former Kivu Region, where in some places they are planted on about half the land devoted to agriculture and form the principal staple.

Millet and sorghum are grown exclusively in the savanna areas and are important only in the relatively dry far northern and southeastern parts of the country. A considerable part of the sorghum and millet harvests is used for making beer, a profitable activity for Zairian women in particular.

Yams and potatoes are cultivated principally in the forest zones of central Zaire, where they occasionally constitute the main staple. Peanuts are grown outside the central forest zones, and, before the turmoil of the 1960s, peanut oil was a significant export crop.

The principal cash crops have traditionally been coffee, palm oil and palm kernel oil, sugar, cocoa, rubber, and tea. All are grown on large plantations. Cotton and tobacco are produced mainly on smallholdings.

Coffee has long been Zaire's most important agricultural cash crop. Coffee is grown by both smallholders and large plantations. However, plantation owners reap proportionately much larger profits. Moreover, large exporter firms often buy coffee at low prices from small farmers. Then the exporters and the state, through the official Zairian Coffee Board, reap large profits when world prices are high, such as in 1986 when the International Coffee Organization suspended export quotas in the wake of the 1986 Brazilian freeze and failed harvest.

To circumvent state controls, low prices, and quotas, many producers have engaged in illicit trade. By some accounts, as much as 30 percent to 60 percent of the coffee crop has traditionally been smuggled out of the country each year since independence--a tendency increased by the economic crisis of the early 1990s.

Two varieties of coffee are grown: robusta, used primarily in the manufacture of instant coffee, and arabica, exported in bean form. Cultivation of robusta is widespread and accounts for approximately 90 percent of the coffee grown; arabica requires the cooler temperatures of highland areas. In 1988 an estimated 99,000 tons of coffee were produced. In 1989 approximately 107,000 tons of coffee were produced, and the 1990 crop was 120,000 tons. But the coffee crop was reported to be threatened by the fungal disease, tracheomycose, and production is estimated to have dropped to 102,000 tons in 1991. In the early 1990s, coffee production and exports also suffered because of the shortage of fertilizers, credit for farmers, and low world prices.

In August 1993, Zaire and other African coffee producers joined the Association of Coffee Producing Countries (ACPC), formed by Latin American producers in July 1993. The association aimed to force a rise in coffee prices by withholding a portion of production from export. World coffee prices did rise in the last quarter of 1993.

Prior to independence, Zaire was the second largest producer of palm oil in Africa, producing as much as 400,000 tons annually. Production dropped during the 1960s as civil disturbances damaged palm plantations and farmers switched to the more lucrative coffee. Plantations also deteriorated as the decline in the price of palm oil reduced profitability. In 1988 and 1989, Zaire produced 178,000 tons annually. Subsequent production figures were unavailable in 1993.

Information on tea, cocoa, and rubber is meager. Tea is grown in the highland areas of northeastern Zaire. Although the government has made various attempts to increase its cultivation, annual production of tea in the late 1980s (about 3,000 tons) was less than two-thirds of the amount grown in 1978. The increased use of synthetic rubber also led to a decline in rubber cultivation; tonnage for the late 1980s, between 17,000 and 24,000 tons, was less than half the amount for 1978. In 1990 and 1991, production was estimated at only 10,000 tons. Cocoa is grown in the more humid areas of Bas-Za´re and ╔quateur regions. Cocoa production levels remained fairly constant through the 1970s and early 1980s, but generally declined in the late 1980s and early 1990s, from 6,000 tons in 1988 to 4,000 tons in 1991.

The colonial state relied on coercion--fines and prison--to force peasants to invest the labor-intensive energy needed for cotton production. The imposed system of export crop production still existed in the early 1990s, and fines were levied for noncompliance. In 1952 some 102,000 tons were produced; 180,000 tons were produced in 1959. Since that time, cotton growing has diminished steadily as farmers, where possible, have chosen to grow the more lucrative cash crop, coffee. Only 26,000 tons of cotton were produced each year from 1988 to 1991. By 1992 production reportedly had dropped to 11,000 tons.

Cotton output has been affected by farmers' difficulties with credit, supplies of seeds and insecticides, and the lack of agricultural extension programs. Cotton imports, which grew as local production fell in the early 1990s, have also discouraged local production. Zaire imports large quantities of used Western clothing and foreign-made traditional African textiles. Nearly 7,500 tons of cotton were imported from the United States for spinning in 1986.

Data as of December 1993

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Zaire Table of Contents