The Republic of the Congo, also known as the Congo and Congo-Brazzaville, is located on the South Atlantic coast of Central Africa. The country – two thirds of which are covered by dense rainforest – is sparsely populated, with most of its 4.6 million inhabitants concentrated in the south.
The Congo’s Human Development rating is high by regional standards but it masks unequal wealth distribution and high poverty rates. The country’s lower-middle-income status is the result of strong GDP growth in recent years, fuelled by expanding petroleum production. The global collapse in oil prices, however, has slowed growth and caused a reduction in government expenditure. Efforts are underway to diversify the economy with a view to boosting development.
National food production, which largely operates at subsistence level, is dominated by the cultivation of tubers and cassava. While calorific, these crops have limited nutritional value. The Congo’s climate, soils and hydrology would all support considerable agricultural expansion and diversification. However, the lack of infrastructure – devastated by two civil wars in the 1990s – is a significant impediment.
In the past 25 years, the proportion of land used for farming has risen only minimally. Meanwhile, the population has almost doubled and must import more than 70 percent of the food it consumes. Imported commodities are expensive and families are vulnerable to price spikes.
Nearly half the population lives below the poverty line. Poor child and maternal nutrition can cause disability and vulnerability to diseases, including malaria – the most common cause of premature death in the Congo. Malnutrition has remained the fifth leading cause of premature death for a decade, and iron-deficiency anaemia is the second most common cause of disability. Infant mortality stands at 3.3 percent, and 4 percent of girls and almost 5 percent of boys do not reach their fifth birthday. Life expectancy remains low.
More than half the population are under 20 years of age; almost 43 percent are under 15. Almost a quarter of pupils do not complete primary school, due to the expense of schooling and because many also have to work.
Indigenous people account for 8 percent of the total population, and are the poorest and most vulnerable population group. Indigenous children are the most disadvantaged in terms of access to education and health care services.
WFP’s work in the Congo targets school children, vulnerable families, and people living with HIV or tuberculosis (TB). WFP also provides assistance to refugees from conflict in the Central African Republic.
The Government of Congo is the main donor for the WFP's Country Programme. Falling oil prices have resulted in the government facing serious budgetary constraints, leading to a critical funding shortfall.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Congo
Based on the Humanitarian Response Plan launched by the Government and UN, WFP is providing food and e-vouchers to 70,000 people who have been displaced by fighting between security forces and armed groups in Pool department. WFP is also providing nutrition support to children under 5, and to pregnant and nursing women in Pool and Bouenza departments where global acute malnutrition reaches 17.3 percent.
WFP provides hot meals on school days to primary school children in rural areas to improve access to education, school retention rates, nutrition and learning capacity. By 2018, the programme aims to reach 132,500 students, of whom 50 percent will be girls, and 12 percent indigenous. Local purchasing supports smallholder farmers. WFP is working to build the Government’s capacity for an eventual take-over of the programme.
Social safety nets
WFP is supporting the development of a national social safety net by providing nutrition support to 117,600 individuals in 19,600 low-income families. In each family, at least one member is living with HIV/ TB, and/or is a pregnant or nursing woman. WFP texts them a monthly e-voucher that can be exchanged for nutritious food. In return, recipients must adhere to treatment and/or attend check-ups, and children must have growth checks and vaccinations.
People living with HIV/TB who are assisted under the safety net voucher scheme also receive specialized nutritious foods to help them adhere better to their medical treatments. Separately, in the Lékoumou department, where the chronic malnutrition rate is 38.6 percent, WFP is working with UNICEF on a pilot programme to provide micronutrient supplements to pregnant or breastfeeding women and children under four.
Disaster and risk management
WFP is providing the Congolese Government with technical assistance to strengthen national risk management capabilities, reduce vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters, and promote climate change adaptation. We are also providing tools for early warning, contingency planning and risk analysis, through training and crisis simulation exercises.
Food assistance to refugees
WFP is providing food assistance to 18,500 refugees who have fled conflict in the neighbouring Central African Republic. This involves general food distribution and targeted distribution of food or vouchers. Moderate malnutrition in children under 4, and moderate acute malnutrition in pregnant or nursing women, are treated with supplementary feeding.
Partners and donorsAchieving Zero Hunger is the work of many. Our work in Congo is made possible by the support and collaboration of our partners and donors, including:
- The Government of the Republic of the CongoMinistry of AgricultureMinistry of EducationMinistry of FinanceMinistry of Health
- Ministry of IndustryMinistry of PlanningMinistry of Social AffairsAgence d'Assistance aux rapatries et refugies au Congo (AARREC)Airtel
- Association of Spiritans in Congo (ASPC)Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)MTNOffice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
- Partnership for Child Development (PCD)Terre Sans Frontières (TSF)UN agencies via the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF)European Union (EU)Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED)