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 rain forest – is sparsely populated, with most of its 4.6 million inhabitants concentrated in the south. Two thirds of the population are based in the cities of Brazzaville and Pointe Noire.
The Congo’s Human Development rating is high by regional standards but it masks unequal wealth distribution and high poverty rates. Thanks to oil-fueled GDP growth, the country achieved middle-income status. The global collapse in oil prices, however, has slowed growth and caused a reduction in government allocations to social programmes.
National food production is largely based on subsistence farming of tubers and cassava. While calorific, these crops have limited nutritional value. The Congo’s climate and soils 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. As a result, Congo imports more than 75 percent its total food requirements. 14 percent of families are food insecure.
Nearly half the population lives below the poverty line. 24 percent of children under 5 years of age are chronically malnourished. 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.
A conflict affected the Pool department of the Congo between 2016 and 2017. As of December 2017, 100,000 people had been displaced and in May 2017 Global Acute Malnutrition rates in the department exceeded the critical 15 percent threshold. A ceasefire agreement was signed in December 2017 and the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that over 160,000 people need humanitarian assistance.
Since 2014, the Congo has been hosting refugees from the Central African Republic and the World Food Programme (WFP) has been helping 200,00 of them in the remote northern Likouala region.
WFP’s work in the Congo aims to provide emergency assistance to people displaced by fighting in Pool department; assist refugees from the Central African Republic; and promote access to education by ensuring that primary school children have a balanced diet based on local produce. WFP's nutrition efforts also target vulnerable families, people living with HIV or tuberculosis (TB), pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under 2.
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 for emergency operations and the country programme.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Congo
Emergency assistanceBased 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.
School mealsWFP 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 netsWFP 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.
NutritionPeople 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 managementWFP 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 refugeesWFP 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.
Support for smallholder farmersWFP and its partners promote smallholder farmers' access to markets and the improvement of the quality, volume, and competitiveness of bean crops. Funded by the European Union, the project targeted 200 small bean producers and is expected to produce 1,600 metric tons of beans between 2017 and 2019. WFP will purchase 30 percent of the produce to be used in the school meals programme.